Japanese Olympic swimmer Hiromasa Fujimori has been temporarily suspended after failing a drugs test, the national swim federation said on Friday.
The 27-year-old, who placed fourth behind Michael Phelps and countryman Kosuke Hagino in the 200 metres individual medley at the 2016 Rio Olympics, tested positive for the banned stimulant ephedrine at last December’s short course world championships in China, according to Japan officials.
Fujimori, a former Asian Games silver medallist, will now miss next month’s national championships, which serve as qualifiers for the world championships in South Korea this summer.
A formal hearing by swimming’s governing body FINA will determine the length of ban Fujimori will receive, after both his ‘A’ and ‘B’ samples tested positive.
He becomes the second high-profile Japanese swimmer to fail a doping test in the past year after former backstroke world champion Junya Koga.
Koga, who won a world title in 2009, appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport last November over his four-year ban after traces of illegal muscle-building substances were found in his system, claiming he took the substances unknowingly as part of a diet of supplements.
Fujimori has also protested his innocence.
“I did not purposely take the banned substances detected in my urine sample,” he said in a statement released by the Japan Swimming Federation.
“Frankly speaking I am shocked at these test results. I don’t take medicine or supplements.”
Asian swimming has come under the microscope recently after China’s three-time Olympic champion Sun Yang was accused of smashing a blood vial with a hammer during an out-of-competition doping test.
The giant swimmer served a three-month ban in 2014 for taking medicine prescribed for a heart condition, but Australian rival Mack Horton has repeatedly labelled Sun a “cheat” since, notably after robbing the Chinese of his Olympic 400m freestyle title in Rio.
Incidents of doping are relatively rare in Japan, although two cases last year caused embarrassment as the country prepares to host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In January, Japan’s anti-doping body suspended top canoeist Yasuhiro Suzuki for eight years after he spiked a rival’s drink with a banned substance to improve his own chances of selection for the Tokyo Olympics.
A month later, short-track speed skater Kei Saito was booted out of the Pyeongchang Olympics after testing positive for acetazolamide, a banned diuretic which is considered a masking agent.