Pedersen defends 200m title as Efimova has ban lifted

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London (AFP)

Rikke Pedersen successfully defended her 200m breaststroke title at the European Championships on Friday just hours after it emerged that Russian rival Yuliya Efimova's temporary doping ban had been lifted and that the pair might meet again at the Olympics.

Efimova was banned by governing body FINA after testing positive for meldonium in March and the case will now go straight to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The ban had meant that not only could she not compete but the Russian could not train under Dave Salo in the United States where rules prevent coaches working with any athlete while they are suspended.

Now she is free to train under Salo at the University of Southern California.

The Russian, however, is still staring at a lifetime ban given it was her second doping offence having already served a 16-month ban after testing positive for the steroid DHEA in late 2013.

Competing at the Olympics in Rio is a real possibility, four years after she won bronze in London, Pedersen locked out by one place in fourth.

Pedersen finished second behind Efimova at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona and when the Russian was stripped of her European short-course medals following her first positive test, Pedersen was upgraded to gold in the 200m.

On Friday, the Dane won a controlled race in 2min 21.69sec ahead of Jessica Vall Montero of Spain and Iceland's Hrafnhildur Luthersdottir.

She was reluctant to discuss the Efimova controversy, saying: "I have no comment on that" before adding when pressed: "I think that what people are already thinking that might be the right thing (to think)."

Ruta Meilutyte is another swimmer who has been caught in Efimova's ripple effect, the Lithuanian Olympic champion second in the 100m at last year’s World Championships after the Russian returned from her ban to compete in front of a home crowd in Kazan.

Her coach Jon Rudd described the decision as "an extraordinary precedent" adding that both he and Meilutyte were losing faith in the governing body who had declared themselves robust in the fight against doping.

He told AFP: "FINA have declared through various people in high office they have a zero tolerance when it comes to drug offences.

"That is the rhetoric, they have said it clearly and loudly and they have said it quite often.

"Then today you get something that I think - because I don't know what the story is, there is no extra information to go with the decision - I see something today and so does the world, that doesn't stand anywhere near that statement.

"It is the opposite of the statement. So either that is just hot air or they do believe what they are saying but there is something with this particular case that they have not disclosed and either way we are left floundering."

- Delicate -

He added: "They must understand how delicate and tender this particular story is. It has been written about so much across the world. This particular case is an extremely high-profile and so they have made a decision it would seem but they’ve not covered their bases."

Back in the water, Sarah Sjostrom won her third title of the meet with a commanding victory in the 100m butterfly, her time of 55.89sec a championship record and one only she has bettered in 2016.

The Swede was just 14 when she first won the title in 2008, going on to win the first of her three world golds over two lengths in Rome the following year.

Defending champion Jeanette Ottesen of Denmark was second with Italy's Ilaria Bianchi third.

Gregorio Paltrinieri ensured an Italian clean sweep of the distance freestyle events as he led home compatriot Gabriele Detti in the 800m.

The Italian, coached by his uncle Stefano Morini, was inside his own European record pace until the final 100m, finishing 1.52sec outside in a championship record 7:42.33.

Detti, who had got the ball rolling with victory in the 400m freestyle on the opening night, was second with Mykhaylo Romanchuk of Ukraine third, in a repeat of the 1500m podium.

Fellow Italian Luca Dotto won the 100m freestyle in 48.25 ahead of Sebastiaan Verschuren and Clement Mignon.

It means that Italy have won all but one of the men’s freestyle events with just the 50m to go.

Adam Peaty produced the fourth fastest time in history in the 50m breaststroke, heading the semi-finals in 26.66.

The Netherlands won the mixed 4x100m freestyle in 3:23.64, a championship record, ahead of Italy and France.