Olympics: Drug-test skiers lose gold medals

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The Independent Online

The cross-country skiers Johann Muehlegg, of Spain, and Larissa Lazutina, of Russia, were last night stripped of their most recent gold medals here after both tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

A third cross-country skier, Olga Danilova, of Russia, also tested positive for the same drug, darbepoetin, which is used to treat anemia by boosting the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to muscles. All three athletes have been thrown out of the Olympics.

A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee said Muehlegg, who won three gold medals at these games, was ordered to return his gold in the 50km classical race. But he will be allowed to keep his gold medals in the 30km freestyle and the 10km pursuit events.

Lazutina, who had equalled an Olympic record yesterday with her 10th medal when she won the women's 30km classic, will be forced to foreit that gold. But she will be allowed to keep two medals she won earlier in the Winter Games.

Danilova was disqualified from the 30km classic, in which she finished eighth.

Muehlegg had become the toast of Spain, even fielding congratulations from King Juan Carlos following his success in Salt Lake City. He competed in three Olympics for Germany, but began having troubles with the country's ski federation in 1993. Relations with his coaches, teammates and trainers deteriorated, and he left in 1998.

Since darbepoetin is relatively new, it is not on the IOC's list of banned substances. But it has similar properties to the banned hormone erythropoietin, or EPO.

Lazutina, 36, was disqualified from the women's relay on Thursday for having high levels of performance-boosting haemoglobin, a blood molecule that helps carry oxygen to muscles. She took – and failed – another blood test yesterday.

The Russians had to withdraw from the relay. Russian officials claimed drug-testers were targeting their athletes, and the dispute led to widespread complaints of biased judging in other sports. Russia then threatened to pull out of the Winter Olympics and not compete in the 2004 Summer Games.

Lazutina will be permitted to keep her silver medals in the 15km freestyle race and the 10km combined event.