FILE UNDER -- Nordic

Drug tests negative on Austrian nordic skiers

Drug tests negative on Austrian nordic skiers{mosimage}TORINO, Italy – No evidence of doping was detected in samples from 10 Austrian skiers targeted in late-night raids and subjected to surprise drug tests at the Torino Olympics, the IOC said Friday.

”The samples did not show up any adverse findings,” International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Giselle Davies said at a news conference Friday, hours after the test analysis was completed.

The negative findings do not clear the Austrians, however. The IOC plans a formal investigation after the Games and could sanction the Austrians based on evidence found in the police raids and other circumstantial evidence.

”The IOC would like to stress the doping controls are only one element in this wider affair,” Davies said. ”The IOC takes this affair very seriously and is determined to do everything in its power to bring full clarity to what has happened in the past days.

”We must look at the bigger picture.”
The six cross-country skiers and four biathletes were given unannounced drug tests last Saturday night while Italian police raided team lodgings in a search for medical supplies and equipment that could be used in blood doping.

The raids were conducted after anti-drug authorities discovered that banned coach Walter Mayer was with the team at the Torino Games. Mayer was banned from the Olympics following allegations of blood doping at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

Austrian ski team sports director Markus Gandler said the doping probe hurt Austrian chances in two nordic relays because the raids unfairly deprived skiers of sleep before their events.

”Two fair medal chances have been taken away from the Austrian team,” said Gandler, who earlier Friday was questioned by Italian police.

Gandler, speaking in Sestriere following the IOC media briefing, also accused his nation’s sports leaders of not accepting responsibility for their part in the incident.

”I asked the Austrian Olympic Committee in the summer if Mayer was allowed to come to Turin, and the AOC president said that he would not get an accreditation but was free to make his own plans and do what he wants,” Gandler said in a news conference carried live on Austrian TV.

The test results had been delayed for several days as the urine samples underwent detailed analysis at the official IOC doping control laboratory in Torino.
IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist said the tests found no sign of banned stimulants, anabolic steroids or the blood-boosting drug EPO.

”The laboratory is satisfied with the quality of the analyses and they have found them negative and fully conclusive,” he said.

Ljungqvist said the Austrians could be subjected to follow-up blood tests after the Games by the international ski federation and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

”We wish to avoid the image of conducting some sort of witchhunt here, but we have reason to follow up a certain number of cases here,” he said.

The IOC will wait to get evidence from Italian authorities before beginning its disciplinary hearings into the Austrian case.

”A positive doping test does not constitute the sole basis for a doping violation,” Ljungqvist said. ”There are other types of anti-doping rule violations, such as the mere possession of doping substances. We don’t know yet whether these athletes or coaches have been in possession. That is for the Italian authorities to inform us about.”

An Italian prosecutor said the unexpectedly long delay could have been the result of Austrian skiers frantically guzzling water during Saturday night’s raid – an act that might have diluted their doping samples.

When police arrived at the lodgings, athletes reached for water bottles at the feet of their beds and began drinking large quantities, prosecutor Ciro Santoriello told the French sports daily L’Equipe in an interview published Friday.

”Believe me, they didn’t drink like you or me,” Santoriello said. ”It seemed urgent, vital.”

Consuming a lot of water can dilute urine samples, making testing more lengthy and difficult.

Santoriello also said police found large quantities of the anti-asthma drug salbutamol during the raid. He said 95 percent of the Austrian athletes staying in Pragelato claimed to have the ailment and provided medical documents as proof.

”We will verify that, because it is strange,” Santoriello said.

Salbutamol is on the IOC’s list of banned substances. Athletes need a ”therapeutic use exemption” to be able to use it during the Olympics.

During the raids on Austrian lodgings in San Sicario and nearby Pragelato, police said they also seized blood transfusion equipment, syringes and other materials linked to Mayer.

But Gandler said Friday night that ”these machines have not been found here.”

Mayer fled the Torino Olympics in the wake of the raids, only to crash his car into a police blockade just over the Austrian border and ending up in a psychiatric hospital.

Two of the biathletes Mayer coached, Wolfgang Perner and Wolfgang Rottman, fled after the raid, telling Gandler they may have used ”illegal methods.” They were dumped from the team.

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