Bulgaria pulls weightlifters out of Games

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Bulgaria have withdrawn their weightlifters from August's Beijing Olympic Games after 11 members of the team failed dope tests, the national weightlifting federation said yesterday.

The weightlifters were tested during a training camp in the Balkan country on 8-9 June, the federation said in a statement.

"The federation decided to withdraw the national weightlifting team – men and women – from the Olympics," it said.

Bulgaria have been on a mission to clean up weightlifting's tarnished reputation after a series of scandals and suspensions at previous Olympic Games. The 11 weightlifters tested positive for the banned anabolic substance methandienon. Among them were the medal hopes Ivan Stoitsov – who won two golds at last year's world championships – and Velichko Cholakov, who won bronze at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

"At the doorstep of the Beijing Games our hopes have been damaged, the work has become meaningless and the tears that were to be shed in front of the national flag are replaced by tears of helplessness," the federation said.

Only the former Soviet Union has won more medals than Bulgaria in weightlifting's major championships. However, the latter country's reputation hit rock bottom at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney when the team were stripped of three golds and sent home in shame following positive drugs tests.

The Bulgarian Olympic Committee will meet on Monday to discuss the "doping scandal with the weightlifters", it said in a statement on its website. It gave no other details.

The national federation's statement said that the banned substance probably reached the weightlifters' bodies through "contaminated" permitted recovery substances, such as proteins. "Theoretically, taking it through food or ill intentions are not ruled out," the statement said.

Earlier this month, the IWF gave two-year suspensions to 11 Greek weightlifters who tested positive for a banned substance in March.

China's best backstroke swimmer, Ouyang Kunpeng, has been banned for life for a doping offence, dealing the host nation an embarrassing blow six weeks before the start of the Games.

Chinese swimmers were embroiled in a series of doping scandals in the 1990s and the country's sporting authorities had pledged to weed out drug cheats before the Beijing Games.

First-time offenders usually receive a two-year ban so Ouyang's sentence will serve as a stern warning to others. The 25-year-old, who tested positive for the anabolic steroid clen-buterol, was a semi-finalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, won the 100 metres and 200m titles at the national championships in April and was his country's best hope of an Olympic backstroke medal this year.