Japan skater sent home for failed test

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Japanese short track speedskater Kei Saito failed an out-of-competition doping test on the day of his arrival in Pyeongchang and has been expelled from the Winter Olympics, Japan team officials said yesterday.

Saito, a reserve athlete who had not yet competed in South Korea, was provisionally suspended after testing positive for masking agent acetalozamide and a final ruling would be issued after the Games, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said.

Masking agents are often used to cover up banned performance-enhancing substances.

This is the first doping case during the testing period of the Olympics in South Korea and comes as Tokyo prepares to host the Summer Games in 2020.

Team Japan officials said Saito was tested hours after arriving in the athletes' village on February 4.

The athlete said he was stunned by the finding. "I am shocked by this as I have never tried to commit doping," Saito said in a statement. "I have been trained in anti-doping. I have never taken a steroid so there is no need for me to mask something, and I never had to drop weight by using this medicine. So I have no motivation to use this. I want to prove my innocence but I do not want to burden my team so I accepted this decision."

Team chief Yasuo Saito said Saito had also been tested at a training camp on January 29 on the order of the International Skating Union and he tested negative.

He said it was "inexplicable" how the athlete could have tested positive but in order not to burden his teammates he agreed with the International Olympic Committee proposal to have him removed from the Games.

Doping cases are rare among Japanese athletes and this is the first for the country at a Winter Olympics. Last month, however, sprint canoeist Yasuhiro Suzuki admitted to spiking a rival's drink with an anabolic steroid to scuttle his Olympic dream, and was banned for eight years.

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