World champion Aregawi puts career ‘on ice’ at 28

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Abeba Aregawi wins the 2013 European Indoor 1500m title in Gothenburg on her Sweden debut. Guillaume Baviere via Flickr

2013 world 1500m champion Abeba Aregawi is said to have put her career “on ice” at 28-years-old.

The Ethiopian-born runner, who switched allegiance to Sweden five years ago, has been removed from the list of active athletes by her national governing body.

Aregawi was suspended by the Swedish Athletics Federation (SFIF) after testing positive for meldonium in February 2016, but the ban was lifted because of “a lack of clear scientific information” on how long it takes to exit the body.

Having not competed since, the SFIF’s Karin Thorneklint said the accusation had “taken a lot of her pleasure in sport” and that she now has a settled life and family in Ethiopia with “no desire to practice”.

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Aregawi is best known for a thrilling 2013 season, in which she marked her Swedish debut with European Indoor gold at home in Gothenburg.

What followed was a great run to a global title in Moscow that summer, where she beat the likes of Genzebe Dibaba, Jenny Simpson, Nancy Langat, Hellen Obiri and Faith Kipyegon. Those five now have six world or Olympic titles between them, with Dibaba the 1500m record holder.

This came a year after Aregawi represented Ethiopia at the 2012 Olympic Games and finished fifth. But now the result is a whole lot more complicated than that.

Both the gold and silver medallists have since had their results scratched out for drug-taking. In March 2016, before the allegation against Aregawi was withdrawn, The Independent newspaper questioned whether it was the “dirtiest race in history“. At the time the article was written, six of the first nine finishers had some sort of doping offence on their record.

Earlier this year, the International Olympic Committee said Russia’s Tatyana Tomashova – who initially finished fourth ahead of Aregawi – had been reallocated the silver medal after a retest of her sample came out clean.

This announcement was criticised because from 2008 Tomashova served a two-year ban for “tampering with the doping control process“. A sample she submitted was found to contain someone elses urine.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is thought to be against the medal presentation taking place at its sanctioned events.

To this date, the official Olympic standings put the Russian in second and Aregawi in third, but stress that “anti-doping rules violations procedures are still in place” and the information “is not final”.

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The women’s 100m final at Sydney 2000 set the precedent for medals not being upgraded, because athletes who were set to benefit were themselves suspected to have been doping.

Whether Abeba Aregawi will get an Olympic medal remains to be seen. Thorneklint describes the original meldonium suspension as “the WADA mess”, saying the allegation she was investigated for “did not make sense”.

The World Anti-Doping Agency banned the drug just eleven days before her sample was taken in January 2016.

Meldonium is classified as a “metabolic modulator”. That means it can change the way hormones accelerate or slow down different reactions in the body. For example, it can block conversion of testosterone into oestrogen.

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The agency later said that “tests showed that it could take weeks or months for the drug to leave the body”. The suspension was lifted in July 2016 and Aregawi hoped to gain a place at the 2016 Olympic Games, which wasn’t granted.

The 2014 World Indoor champion was pardoned and welcomed back into the Swedish team last year, but a return to the track didn’t progress.

Thorneklint says she could compete in longer distances like the marathon in her 30s, suggesting it’s “very possible” she’ll miss it and come back.