A drug raid, a car chase, and scandal on an Olympic scale

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The Independent Online

The Olympic spirit was in short supply in Turin yesterday after a disgraced Austrian skiing coach, Walter Mayer, fled from Italian police through the Alps before crashing into a police roadblock on the Austrian side of the border, injuring a policeman.

Mr Mayer was banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after a blood doping scandal at the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002. Despite the ban, his picture appears on a postcard showing Austria's team in Turin and, until Saturday, he was listed as an official coach for the team. But he was never accredited by the Austrians for the Games. The chase through the mountains began after the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) tipped off the IOC that Mr Mayer was staying with Austrian athletes.

After being arrested in Austria Mr Mayer was charged with civil disorder and drunken driving. He was transferred to a psychiatric hospital after trying to escape by throwing himself through a window.

The Games in Turin have seen the strictest ever rules against doping. Italian police and the IOC were quick to follow up on Mr Mayer's expulsion by raiding the house where he had been staying. More than 100 syringes and packets of antidepressants and asthma medication were taken away.

Ten competitors were tested for dope and one Austrian athlete allegedly threw a bag containing needles and medicines out of a window, according to Ansa, the Italian wire service. Wada said that a blood transfusion kit, similar to gear which had been found at an Austrian base during the Salt Lake City Games, had also been discovered.

The Austrians said the syringes were used for haemoglobin testing and that five of their athletes were approved to use the asthma medication.

Peter Schroecksnadel, a team official, said: "They're going too far with the whole thing. We can't have our guys going through this. It's no longer about sport, it's rumours."

He added: "Why are the results not here from the guys who were tested? They find nothing, this is why they are still breaking into the apartments. I don't agree with the way they are doing things."

Markus Gandler, director of cross-country and biathlon for the Austrian Ski Federation, told Austrian television that he had rented the house raided by the police on behalf of a "private citizen" accompanying the Austrian team.

But Giselle Davies, the IOC's director of communications, warned that the Austrians could still be penalised, even if none of the team tested positive for dope. "The IOC could still take sanctions," she said. "A disciplinary commission will be set up in due course to deal with wider issues." She warned that even the presence of Mr Mayer on the team photograph was "breaking the Olympic spirit".

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