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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 10:20 GMT

Muehlegg stripped of gold

By BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay in Salt Lake City

Cross country gold medallist Johann Muehlegg has been thrown out of the Winter Olympics.

The decision comes after the Spanish skier tested positive for the drug Darbepoetin ahead of his triumph in the 50km race on Saturday.

He has been ordered by the International Olympic Committee to return his medal, and accompanying Olympic diploma.

However, because the test took place out of competition on 21 February, he will retain the gold medals he won in the 10km and 30km events earlier in the Games.

Muehlegg denies the doping offence.

Darbepoetin

  • New drug, available since last October
  • Not yet officially listed in Anti-Doping Code but clearly related to EPO
  • Not naturally produced in the body, so urine detection quite effective
  • Estimated to be 10 times more powerful than EPO
  • Stimulates production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, so enhances performance in endurance sports
  • Potentially harmful as it increases blood viscosity

    "I made a lot of preparations before the race, somehow the hormone formed in my body," he told German ZDF Television.

    "I assume that there was something related to my specialised diet."

    Two other cross country gold medallists have been thrown out of the Winter Olympics.

    Muehlegg, along with Larissa Lazutina and Olga Danilova, tested positive for darbepoetin, a drug not yet officially illegal, but very similar to the banned substance erythropoietin, or EPO.

    Spanish skier Muehlegg and Russian athlete Lazutina have been ordered by the International Olympic Committee to return their medals, and accompanying Olympic diplomas.

    Spanish newspapers have reacted badly to the decision, saying the skier has brought shame on the country.

    "In one night (Muehlegg) has lost not only one of his gold medals, but also his status as a sporting hero," newspaper ABC said.

    El Mundo added: "The outpouring of joy over Johann Muehlegg's third gold medal didn't last long.

    "The greatest achievement of our Olympic history was, in one fell swoop, reduced to a trick of chemicals," it added.

    Another Russian, Olga Danilova, who finished eighth in Lazutina's event, has also been disqualified for the same offence.

    Danilova, who won a gold and silver at the Games, will not lose a medal.

    But because the athletes failed the out-of-competition tests on 21 February, all three will still retain the medals they won earlier in the Games.

    That means Muehlegg will leave Salt Lake with two of his three golds, Lazutina with two silvers, and Danilova with her gold and silver from the 5km and 10km classical races.

    IOC President Jacques Rogge said: "They may technically be champions with those medals, but I question their moral authority, and how they can claim to be Olympic champions in the full sense of the word."

    The Russian delegation said it would appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but added it would still attend the closing ceremony.

    Darbepoetin, a state-of-the-art drug which scientists estimate could be ten times more powerful than EPO, increases the level of haemoglobin - oxygen-carrying red blood cells - in the body, and so boosts endurance.

    Secondary urine tests confirmed all three athletes had registered well above accepted levels of haemoglobin.


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