Australian cycling rocked by drugs claims

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The Independent Online

Australia has been rocked by allegations that top cyclists preparing for this summer's Olympic Games took performance-enhancing drugs at the country's world-renowned Institute of Sport.

Australia has been rocked by allegations that top cyclists preparing for this summer's Olympic Games took performance-enhancing drugs at the country's world-renowned Institute of Sport.

The institute is cited internationally as a leading example of how to rear generations of sporting superstars. However, accusations have been made in the country's parliament that a room in the elite academy in Adelaide was used by cyclists to inject drugs. The five who are implicated in the claims, including two potential gold medalists, face being banned from the games.

The national Olympic committee's president, John Coates, admitted to Australian newspapers yesterday that the implications for the country were enormous. "This must be investigated immediately. I have always said we can't guarantee that everyone is clean, but this will have a very bad impact on Australian sports unless the allegations are found to be baseless." He has sought an assurance from Cycling Australia that anyone nominated for Athens is "suitable to represent Australia".

The cyclists claim they were injecting only legal vitamins, but cleaners at the institute discovered 13 vials of equine growth hormone in a bucket, along with vitamins and syringes.

Fears that this summer's Games will once again be dominated by the issue of drugs were compounded as the United States athletics team were plunged into a crisis over the use of steroids. Five US athletes, including the 100m world recordholder Tim Montgomery, have been sent letters by the American anti-doping authorities warning them they may have committed offences.

The storm hitting Australian sport broke following the two-year ban imposed earlier this month on one cyclist, Mark French, for possession of the equine growth hormone and using a banned steroid. He implicated and named the other cyclists at his drugs hearing before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, giving sworn evidence that for months they injected themselves once or twice a week in room 121 at the Australian Institute of Sport.

His allegations were outlined in parliament by the Labour senator John Faulkner. He said: "Room 121 was [used as] a shooting galleryseveral nights a week, undetected for months on end. Why didn't the coaches and other staff twig that something untoward was taking place?"

Mr French, who has proclaimed his innocence, says he saw his teammates - who were not named in the Australian press - injecting, but claims not to know the substance.

Testing of the bucket of used syringes found by cleaners in his room last December showed some contained the hormone. There were also 13 ampoules labelled EquiGen. French denies they are his. He told the court he only injected vitamins and that the other five had access to the bucket.

However, Cycling Australia's chief executive, Graham Fredericks, said he was outraged that Senator Faulkner had cast aspersions on the whole track cycling programme. He told the Melbourne Age: "There is an absolute urgency for swift action, and we don't tolerate drugs in our sport, but we must remain calm. We can't prosecute or crucify on hearsay".

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