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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 21:58 GMT

Norway contest Olympic medals

Norway is taking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to court in a bid to have all medals withdrawn from athletes caught for doping offences in Salt Lake City.

The Norwegians believe the IOC charter says that any athlete caught cheating at an Olympic Games should forfeit their medals.

The legal challenge comes in the wake of three cases in Salt Lake where participants were allowed to keep medals won before positive drug tests.

Spain's German-born cross country skier Johann Muehlegg was stripped of his gold in the 50km race when he tested positive for darbepoetin, which increases oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

"The IOC has a moral duty to fight doping to show it is on the side of those who do not cheat"
NOC President Kjell O Kran

But the IOC allowed him to keep two other gold medals won earlier in the Games because the positive test came after those races.

Russian cross-country skier Larissa Lazutina was stripped of the gold in the 30km race after testing positive for the same substance, but was allowed to keep two silver medals.

And compatriot Olga Danilova was disqualified from the 30km event but allowed to keep a gold and a silver from earlier races.

Kjell O Kran, president of the Norwegian Olympic Committee and Sports Federation (NOCSF), will submit a complaint on Thursday to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

"We will demand that the medals be withdrawn for the two Russians [Lazutina and Danilova] and Johann Muehlegg," said Geir Woxholth, a lawyer for NOCSF.

The move could set a new precedent for the Olympic movement in a case that could take six months or more.

Norway, which won a best-ever 11 gold medals in Salt Lake City, stands to gain from a successful court action.

Thomas Alsgaard and Frode Estil tied for second place behind Muehlegg in the men's 15km race and would move up to a shared gold if Muehlegg was disqualified.

In the 50km race, Norway's Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset finished fourth and would move up to bronze if Muehlegg was stripped of gold.

"I think we have a very good starting point," said Kran, the NOC president. "In the IOC charter, it is clear in Article 25 that one loses all medals if found to be cheating."

Moral duty

The text of the article in question however is seen to be open to interpretation.

IOC President Jacques Rogge has already rejected a written request from Norway last week demanding the medals be revoked, saying it was not the Olympic practice.

After the Games he said athletes might technically be allowed to keep the medals but "morally it is a totally different issue."

But Kran believes the IOC has a moral duty to fight doping to show it "is on the side of those who do not cheat."

Muehlegg, meanwhile, has denied a Norwegian newspaper report quoting the Spaniard saying he could "create chaos in the sport of Nordic skiing" with hitherto undisclosed information.

Muehlegg says he refused an interview, merely asking if the journalist had more information on the case, and cannot comment while he prepares a legal defence against his suspension by the International Ski Federation.

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