Page last updated at 14:00 GMT, Saturday, 11 February 2006

Ethiopian's Olympic debut at risk

Robel Teklemariam
Teklemariam says his two loves are skiing and Ethiopia

A skier due to be Ethiopia's first representative in the Winter Olympics has been suspended for five days over a high red blood cell count.

Eleven other Olympic cross-country skiers have also been suspended by the International Ski Federation (FIS).

It said that high-altitude training could be to blame for the skiers' abnormally high levels of haemoglobin.

Robel Teklemariam is not due to race until Friday, so he could still take part in the men's 15 km race.

Teklemariam said he was saddened by the decision.

"For me, it doesn't affect my race, so in the overall scheme of things it's not so bad for me, except that it tarnishes my name," he told Reuters.

He and the other suspended athletes will take another test next week. If he fails that, a further suspension could end his Olympics participation.

High altitude

The athletes will also take a drugs test. High haemoglobin levels are one possible indication of doping.

But officials played down talk of drugs.

"I don't think you should muddle two things that are not necessarily linked," an International Olympic Committee spokeswoman told Reuters.

FIS spokeswoman Riikka Rakic said some of the skiers may have spent too long acclimatising at high altitude, resulting in high levels of haemoglobin.

Earlier, Teklemariam told the BBC's Fast Track programme that he was at the peak period for a distance athlete and it was "now or never".

Despite moving to the US as a child, he said he had not forgotten his roots.

"There are two things I absolutely love - besides my family - and that's skiing and Ethiopia," he said.

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