By Nick Butler

Irina Starykh has enjoyed superb form on the IBU World Cup circuit this season after several years in the wilderness ©Getty ImagesJanuary 29 - Irina Starykh, the reigning European champion selected for the Russian Olympic team, is reportedly among three biathletes who have failed drugs tests.

In what is a bitter drugs-related blow for the host nation with the Opening Ceremony of the Games just nine days away the suspension of three unnamed athletes - from Russia and Lithuania - was announced in a statement by the International Biathlon Federation (IBU).

The statement revealed "four adverse analytical findings were obtained in samples of three IBU athletes from Russia and Lithuania," and "the outcome of the test showed the presence of a non-specific substance."

It added: "According to the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) Code, the IBU therefore provisionally suspended the respective athletes from any IBU competitions until the decision of the Anti-Doping Hearing Panel is reached.

"The respective athletes were all suspended provisionally, pending the IBU Anti-Doping Hearing Panel's decision."

The statement also revealed, "due to the upcoming Olympic Winter Games 2014 in Sochi, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) was informed accordingly."

Although there has been no confirmation it has been reported that the two Russian athletes are and Starykh and Ekaterina Iourieva, while it is thought that the Lithuanian implicated was also due to compete at Sochi. 

A former top teenager who won junior world titles in 2007 and 2008, Starykh spent several years struggling before enjoying a superb winter season in which she won the European sprint title last month and secured an unlikely Olympic qualification. 

Iourieva has not been selected in the Olympic team, but is another strong performer who won a world title in 2008 and has enjoyed success on the World Cup circuit this season. 

She was also banned for two years in 2009 after being one of three high profile Russian biathletes to test positive for erythropoietin (EPO). 

Ekaterina Iourieva was involved in the last major scandal involving Russian biathlon...and is rumoured to have failed a test again ©Bongarts/Getty ImagesEkaterina Iourieva was involved in the last major scandal involving Russian biathlon and is reported to have failed a test again ©Bongarts/Getty Images

Whoever the athletes are, the news comes as another major blow for Russian authorities after a period riddled with drugs test failures, with swimming world champion Yulia Efimova one of 13 figures from various summer sports to be implicated in doping scandals last week.

There have also been several cases in the winter disciplines.

In December, national freestyle skiing champion Anna Orlovskaya was handed a two-year suspension for an unspecified "breach of anti-doping rules", before junior figure skater Oksana Nagalati was banned earlier this month for using the masking agent furosemide.

This followed the previous biathlon scandal where Turin 2006 gold medallist Albina Akhatova as well as former world champion Dmitri Yaroshenko were banned, in addition to Iourieva.

It is understood that, in response to the latest failures, the Russian Biathlon Federation is holding an emergency meeting of its Anti-Doping commission.

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