Drug rumours taint Olympic opening

There was an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu yesterday as another Olympic host city found its long-awaited opening ceremony compromised by swirling rumours of drug abuse.

As at the 2004 Athens Olympics, news of doping irregularities has emerged on the eve of the Games. While the Greek authorities had to endure the suspension of their two top sprinters, Konstadinos Kederis and Ekaterina Thanou, the organisers of Italy's first Winter Olympics since 1956 have been faced with a report from one of their own officials that several athletes have tested positive in pre-Games tests. In an apparently separate development, eight Nordic skiers have been suspended for five days following high red blood cell counts.

Giovanni Zotta, an Italian representative on the International Olympic Committee's anti-doping commission, said preliminary tests by the IOC on 98 athletes had found the banned substance Erythropoietin in several samples. In reply, an IOC spokeswoman said: "This information is incorrect."

The suspension of the Nordic skiers, including Germany's Olympic relay champion Evi Sachenbacher Stehle, was described by officials as a health measure rather than a sanction.

The athletes will miss the women's and men's cross-country skiing pursuit races tomorrow. The action drew a protest from Ernst Jakob, the German Ski Federation's doctor. "We can't accept that athletes are being banned due to slightly higher blood cell counts, using the excuse of health concerns," he said, adding that Sachenbacher Stehle had a naturally higher count of red blood cells.

The Canadians are also experiencing trouble, as their ice hockey players prepare to arrive at the Games on Tuesday to defend the title they won in Salt Lake City four years ago. Canada's legendary former player Wayne Gretsky, now Team Canada's executive director and head coach of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, plans to travel with the team though he is embroiled in an investigation into a multi-million dollar gambling ring.

There are no such concerns for Britain, whose 40-strong team is ready to start its pursuit of the target of one medal set by its chef de mission, Simon Clegg. In a way that target has already been reached - with a gold - following the IOC's confirmation that the British curling team who won at the first winter Olympics at Chamonix in 1924 deserved to have their event upgraded from demonstration to full status.

Thus Britain's total of winter golds leaps to nine, including the one won when a few indoor winter events were appended to the summer Games of 1908. The chances of that total reaching double figures before the XX Winter Games reach their conclusion two weeks tomorrow are slim, although as Rhona Martin and her fellow curlers demonstrated four years ago, it can be done.

She will take her team back on to the ice on Monday against Denmark in the first of their round-robin matches. Earlier, a British team led by David Murdoch will take on the hosts in the first match of a campaign in which they will be hoping to draw on the experience of winning a European bronze medal in December.

"We've beaten all our opposition at different times, so we know we are capable of beating them on the day," Murdoch said.

The highlight of the first weekend will be tomorrow's men's downhill skiing event in Sestriere, where the Austrians and the Americans are poised for a mighty collision. Austria's Klaus Kroell was fastest in practice yesterday, with his colleague Fritz Strobl, the defending champion, 0.36sec behind. Daron Rahlves, the US skier who ran away with the opening run, chose not to take to the slopes on this occasion, and his colleague Bode Miller, a double silver medallist four years ago, eased off before gliding in seventh.

Austria's double Olympic champion of 1998, Hermann Maier is seeking a more productive return in this event than he managed eight years ago, when he suffered a horrendous fall.

"The Herminator" managed 18th yesterday, five places ahead of Finlay Mickel, the 27-year-old from Edinburgh who has a realistic chance of bettering the best British finish - the eighth place achieved by Martin Bell in 1988. Mickel is eager to build on his 11th in last year's world championship and 10th in last month's World Cup event in Wengen. "If I have my day of days," he said, "it is possible for me to win a medal."

Brits in action this weekend

* TODAY Biathlon, men's 20km individual: Mark Clemens (12.00-14.00 GMT). Luge, runs one and two: Mark Hatton, Adam Rosen (15.00-18.00).

* TOMORROW Alpine skiing, men's downhill: Finlay Mickel, Roger Cruickshank (11.00-12.30).

Short track speed skating, men's 1500m: Paul Stanley, Jonathan Eley. Women's 500m preliminaries: Sarah Lindsay, Joanna Williams (18.30-21.15).

Snowboarding, men's half-pipe: Daniel Wakeham (qualifying 9.00-10.30, finals 13.00-14.30).

Luge, runs three and four: Mark Hatton, Adam Rosen (15.00-18.00).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions