Shailaja Pujari, one of India's gold medal prospects in the upcoming Melbourne Commonwealth Games, allegedly tested positive for a banned drug, inflicting yet another blow to the Indian weightlifting federation's efforts to clean up its dope-tainted image.
In a major setback ahead of the mage-event, Shailaja is believed to have returned a positive test following random out-of-competition testing by WADA officials in Patiala recently.
Although the Indian Weightlifting Federation has not made an official announcement yet, a source confirmed that the 22-year-old lifter tested positive for a banned drug.
"We are all shocked. She was way ahead of the second best prospect in the 75 kg category among all Commonwealth countries," the source said on Tuesday.
"We have no such report about it so far but we've got some indication that among all the samples WADA officials collected during their recent visit to Patiala, Shailaja's tested positive," the source added.
Besides winning a gold medal, Shailaja was adjudged best lifter in last year's Commonwealth Championships in Melbourne.
This is the second instance that she is under the scanner for doping. She was banned by the national body for two years after testing positive in a junior national competition in 2003.
"She was the strongest contender and now she has been disqualified. She is just 22.
"There was no need for her to take any performance-enhancing drug because even if she gave her 90 per cent she was capable of winning a gold at the Commonwealth Games. She was a clear gold medal prospect," the source said.
Asked if there could be any possibility of foul play in the whole incident against Shailaja, the source replied: "I do not know. It will not be right to say anything about the WADA. But of late the Federation was coming down heavily on the lifters and they were told that SAI or WADA teams could come any time."
It is not even a year since Indian lifters have come out of a one-year ban slapped on them by the International Weightlifting Federation following three positive cases from the country in the same calendar year.
Pratima Kumari and Sanamacha Chanu had tested positive for a male hormone testosterone and a diuretic furosemide respectively at the Athens Olympics in 2004 to invite the world governing body's ire.
S Sunaina was caught for doping at the Asian Championships in Almaty early in the year following which she was banned and had to return the bronze medals she had earned there.
The ban period concluded on August 15 last year but the IWF woes had not ended as nine lifters, including senior N Kunjarani, vanished from a training camp at Bangalore when the International Weightlifting Federation made a surprise visit there ahead of the Asian and Commonwealth championships.
"The lifters who were not present in the camp in Bangalore were not included in the teams for the Asian and Commonwealth Championships. Not even Kunjarani was spared.
"Last year in five international events and in the Yamuna Nagar national championships they all tested negative.
"We got around 60 international medals in two months last year. We thought the mindset was slowly changing," the source said.