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TORINO: XC: 2002 champ loses appeal of high hemoglobin suspension

TORINO: XC: 2002 champ loses appeal of high hemoglobin suspension{mosimage}PRAGELATO, Italy – Olympic cross-country champion Evi Sachenbacher Stehle lost her appeal to compete in Sunday’s pursuit race after being suspended for having high levels of hemoglobin in her blood.

Sachenbacher Stehle and the German Ski Federation took her case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The tribunal said Saturday it had rejected the case and would give its reasons on Sunday.

The German was one of 12 cross-country skiers who were given five-day suspensions on health grounds following blood tests.

The news of the suspension came as a shock to Sachenbacher Stehle when she found out Friday morning.

”She was shattered,” German team doctor Ernst Jakob said.

There is no proof the athletes did anything wrong: Elevated hemoglobin can be caused by simple dehydration or the body’s acclimation to mountain air. The cross-country venue is at about 1,928 meters (6,325 feet).

But the test result raises the possibility of blood doping with synthetic hemoglobin or transfusions to increase the oxygen in the muscles.

Athletes who fail blood tests are retested five days later.

”We are confident that five days is a sufficient time to allow for the blood values to normalize if they are the result of living at a high altitude or dehydration,” said Bengt Saltin, chairman of the FIS medical committee. ”However, a five-day period is not sufficient to remove the impact of EPO (erythropoietin) or blood transfusion.”

Sachenbacher Stehle broke down in tears after professing her innocence.

”At home, I drink a lot and I never did anything to be guilty. I am the last person to do something like this,” said Sachenbacher Stehle, the silver medalist in sprint at the last Olympics and currently ranked seventh in the overall World Cup standings.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said the suspensions ”were not doping tests.”

”They will have to wait five more days until their blood parameters go down,” Rogge said.

The IOC plans to administer close to 1,200 doping tests during these Olympics. The FIS has sampled more than 200 athletes this week.

At the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, Larissa Lazutina was disqualified for having high levels of hemoglobin, keeping the Russian team out of the 20-kilometer relay.

Sachenbacher and her German teammates then edged the Norwegians for the gold medal.

Lazutina later was stripped of the gold medal she won in the 30-kilometer classic race after she tested positive for darbepoetin. Johann Muehlegg of Spain tested high for hemoglobin in 2002 and lost his gold medal in the 50-kilometer classical race after also testing positive for darbepoetin.

German officials said they told FIS in August that Sachenbacher Stehle has naturally high hemoglobin levels and requested an exemption for her hemoglobin number.

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