Irish runner fails test for EPO

While the presence of Marion Jones in Europe yesterday would appear to scupper suggestions that she might not travel to the Athens Olympics in light of investigations by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the shadow of drugs in the countdown to the Games spread across the Atlantic into Irish athletics, with the distance runner Cathal Lombard testing positive for EPO.

While the presence of Marion Jones in Europe yesterday would appear to scupper suggestions that she might not travel to the Athens Olympics in light of investigations by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the shadow of drugs in the countdown to the Games spread across the Atlantic into Irish athletics, with the distance runner Cathal Lombard testing positive for EPO.

Jones was in Munich training with the United States 4 x 100m relay team and intends to take part in a race against quartets from Germany and France this afternoon. She is then expected to travel to the United States' pre-Olympic training base in Crete.

For Lombard, however, the prospect of competing in Athens looked remote, when it was revealed that the 28-year-old had tested positive for erythropoietin - the drug the International Olympic Committee has targeted with the introduction of blood tests at the 2004 Games, which open on Friday.

Jack McGowran, press attaché to the Irish Olympic team, said: "The Irish Sports Council have come across an EPO positive for Cathal Lombard. He will be given 24 hours to come up with a response."

Lombard, who had been selected for both the 5,000m and 10,000m, has made staggering progress in the past 18 months, smashing the Irish record with a time of 27min 33.53sec earlier this summer - an improvement of three minutes on the personal best he had at the start of 2003. He failed to finish in the 5,000m in the Norwich Union London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace nine days ago, since which he is understood to have been training in Cyprus with his coach, Joe Doonan, the man who guided Catherina McKiernan to victory in the 1998 London Marathon.

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