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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 05:42 GMT

Muehlegg's rise and fall

BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay profiles Johann Muehlegg, the man at the centre of the latest Olympic doping scandal.

Johann Muehlegg is the German who won three golds for Spain here in Salt Lake City.

But after testing positive for darbepoetin, a substance very similar to the banned EPO, the former customs officer has now himself been asked if he has anything to declare.

The 31-year-old, a hotel operator who hails from Bavaria, is as colourful as cross country skiers come.

In 1993, he fell ill, and accused his ski federation of poisoning him.

Johann to 'Juanito'
As a 'German'

  • 7th place his highest finish in three Olympics
  • 6th place his highest finish in four World Championships

    As a 'Spaniard'

  • Two golds in Salt Lake City Olympics (one other gold stripped)
  • Gold and silver in 2001 World Championship
  • 2000 overall World Cup champion (2nd in 2001)

    Thankfully, a local medicine woman prescribed him holy water, and he was miraculously cured.

    That strained his relationship with German officials, and despite competing in three Olympics, he never performed to any great level as a German athlete.

    Disillusioned, he eventually moved to Spain in 1999, and within months, was totally transformed.

    Johann had become 'Juanito'.

    His form suddenly improved - he won the 1999-2000 World Cup title, and was second the following year.

    Despite still spending most of his time in Germany, Muehlegg's achievements, allied to claims he felt "100% Spanish", were enough to win over most in his new nation.

    All seemed well, and coming into the Salt Lake Games, he vowed "to go for it".

    "I want an Olympic medal, and promise I will be ready," he declared.

    Looking back, "ready" may have meant something different to what most would have assumed.

    But there was no doubt Muehlegg knew the Soldier Hollow course well enough - he won the 15km and 30km races World Cup races there in 2001.

    He duly stormed to Olympic gold in the 10km and 30km events, winning the latter by a huge margin of over two minutes.

    However, an initial blood test indicated high haemoglobin levels in his blood ahead of the 50km race.

    An indication, but not necessarily proof, of drug abuse.

    Unlike Russian athlete Larissa Lazutina, he was still allowed to compete, and took advantage with a third title that made him one of the most decorated athletes at these Games.

    The next chapter in his chequered career was though just around the corner.

    He was politely informed at a dinner thrown by Spanish team officials in his honour that he had indeed failed an out-of-competition test on Thursday and one of his his golds was later stripped.

    Suddenly, the telegram from Spain's King Juan Carlos, which hailed Muehlegg as "an example for all our athletes to follow", seemed slightly premature.


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