LAUSANNE: Former Olympic champion Park Tae-hwan of South Korea was banned 18 months on Monday for doping after testing positive for testosterone in an out-of-competition drug test, the latest in a series of high-profile doping cases in swimming.
The ban will begin retroactively the day of the positive test in early September and expire March 2, 2016 — putting Park's participation in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in doubt.
It will also prevent him from competing in this year's world championships in Kazan, Russia. Swimming governing body FINA said that Park's results from Sept. 3 onward will be annulled and prize money forfeited, meaning he will have to return the three individual medals and three relay medals he won at last year's Asian Games.
The 25-year-old Park won the 400-meter freestyle at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He also took silver in the 200 free in Beijing and silvers in both events at the 2012 London Games. No other South Korean swimmer has won an Olympic medal and he is one of the most popular athletes in the country.
When the positive test was made public in January, Park's representatives blamed it on an injection administered by a local hospital, which offered him free chiropractic and other treatments in July.
Park told investigators he was given the injection without knowing what specific substances it contained, while the hospital said it didn't know testosterone was a prohibited substance. Park has also won three golds at the long-course world championships.
Park becomes the latest in a long list of accomplished swimmers to be handed doping bans recently, with Chinese rival Sun Yang — a two-time Olympic champion — having served a three-month suspension last year.
Russian swimmers Yuliya Efimova, Vitaly Melnikov, Sergei Makov and Vladimir Dyatchin, and Brazilians Joao Gomes Jr and Evandro Vinicius Silva have also been banned for doping in the last year.