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Russian swim star Efimova suspended over doping violation

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova faces a possible life ban after being provisionally suspended for a second doping violation.

The 23-year-old Efimova, a breaststroke specialist who has won four world titles and an Olympic bronze medal, is the latest high-profile name caught up in the series of doping scandals that have dogged Russia over the past two years. She was considered one of Russia’s top medal hopes for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.

In a brief statement, the Russian Swimming Federation said it had received documents from international governing body FINA stating that Efimova was suspended “in connection with a possible breach of anti-doping rules.”

The federation did not confirm reports in the Russian media that Efimova tested positive for meldonium, the same substance found in Maria Sharapova’s sample at the Australian Open.

Efimova, who won bronze in the 200-meter breaststroke at the 2012 London Olympics, could be banned for life if found guilty of a second career doping offense.

She was stripped of five European championship medals after testing positive for the banned steroid DHEA in 2013. Efimova’s ban on that occasion was reduced from two years to 16 months after she argued that she had taken the substance by accident while trying to buy a legal supplement.

Efimova returned from that ban to win gold in the 100-meter breaststroke at last year’s world championships in Kazan, Russia.

Efimova trains in California with University of Southern California coach Dave Salo as part of a program in which the Russian swimming federation sends top athletes abroad for specialized coaching. Federation coach Sergei Ilin told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that none of the other top Russians based in the United States were under suspicion of doping.

“If we’re talking about the group of athletes in the U.S., then so far this case is just about Efimova,” he said.

If Efimova’s case is confirmed to be a positive test for meldonium, her earlier medals would not be affected since the substance has only been banned since Jan. 1, 2016.