Equestrianism: O'Connor to lose gold as drug test confirmed positive

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The Independent Online

Statements issued yesterday by the Irish rider, Cian O'Connor, and his solicitor, Andrew Coonan, have confirmed the presence of forbidden substances in a blood sample taken from the horse Waterford Crystal after he won the individual Olympic gold medal for show jumping in Athens.

Statements issued yesterday by the Irish rider, Cian O'Connor, and his solicitor, Andrew Coonan, have confirmed the presence of forbidden substances in a blood sample taken from the horse Waterford Crystal after he won the individual Olympic gold medal for show jumping in Athens. At least some clarity has been brought to a bizarre saga that included the theft of a urine sample and a break-in at the Irish Equestrian Federation's offices, but the sorry tale is by no means over.

Yesterday's statements pre-empted official confirmation from the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), whose handling of the case has been woefully inadequate, with details emerging in dribs and dabs. First came the announcement that the A sample of urine had tested positive for a sedative, followed by news that the B sample had been "illegally taken" between leaving one laboratory in Paris and arriving at another in Newmarket. The federation did not name the substances, which are said to be two types of medication used in treating humans for psychiatric conditions. These are not recommended for horses.

It is normal for the urine specimen to be tested first, with the blood sample being retained as a back-up. On account of the theft, the B sample of blood was tested this week at a laboratory in New York where, according to O'Connor and his lawyer, "miniscule" amounts of the substances that were originally detected in the urine were identified.

O'Connor, who has always proclaimed his innocence, insists that the latest findings confirm his original explanation that Waterford Crystal was treated with a sedative five weeks before the Games in Athens when being given hydrotherapy treatment for a fetlock injury. Yesterday the horse's vet, James Sheeran, said that the horse needed a treatment that would have a calming effect without him becoming sleepy or unsteady on his feet. The drugs he used were, he says, administered "for therapeutic reasons only, and they should have been out of Waterford Crystal's system within 10 to 14 days".

Although yesterday's announcement suggests that O'Connor's gold medal will almost certainly be forfeited, the rider still has the right of appeal to the FEI and the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He will, it was said by his lawyer, be taking it "one step at a time".

If the 24-year-old grandson of Ireland's former rugby hero, Karl Mullen, loses his case the gold medal would pass to Brazil's Rodrigo Pessoa, with Chris Kappler of the United States and Marco Kutscher of Germany taking silver and bronze respectively. If O'Connor were to keep the gold, which was the only Olympic medal won by Ireland, it would inevitably be bound to have a tarnished feel to it.

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