Austrian anger over drugs raid on night before ski relay

The most predictable result of the 2006 Winter Olympics duly occurred here yesterday when Austria came last in the 4x10km cross-country skiing relay after an overnight armed police raid of the team's rooms on suspicion of drug use.

Any sympathy for the team is likely to be suspended until the results of tests taken on 10 skiers ­ six from cross-country, four from biathlon ­ are made known today or tomorrow.

A spokesman for the Italian police claimed that the athletes had thrown some used medical equipment out of the window. "We found used and non-used medical equipment, syringes," he said. Police said in a statement that the equipment found in the raid was being sent for examination.

The Austrians, however, were furious at the behaviour of the police. Their press officer, Erich Wagner, said: "Six guys were in their room with guns. They spread their legs, put their hands behind their necks and searched their bodies, their bags, everything. As far as I know this has never happened at an Olympic Winter Games."

The Austrians' third skier, Roland Diethart, was lapped by the leader and, under the rules, the team had to drop out, meaning that their fourth runner, Johannes Eder, did not start.

Officials from the International Olympic Committee had taken action in conjunction with police after reports that the banned Austrian biathlon coach, Walter Mayer, had visited the team.

Last night Austrian officials confirmed that Mayer had been sacked from his post after he crashed into a police barrier and was detained on his way back from Italy. According to reports, police in the southern Austrian village of Paternion approached Mayer's car after residents reported it parked on a roadside and found him asleep in his vehicle. Mayer sped off and crashed into two police cars blocking the road after refusing to undergo an alcohol breath test.

Mayer, who is allowed no involvement in the Olympics until beyond 2010 because of his role in a blood doping scandal at the Salt Lake Winter Games of 2002, has been put under formal investigation by Italian magistrates, but his arrest was not connected to that ongoing inquiry.

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