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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 17:21 GMT

Inquiry into blood doping

Members of the medal-winning Austrian Olympic cross-country skiing team could be disqualified for blood manipulation.

The International Olympic Committee is investigating the discovery of discarded blood transfusion equipment at the house used by Austrian cross-country skiers during the Salt Lake City Games.

If it is proved the athletes injected blood then they will be disqualified and medals could be taken away.

It is not known which skiers are involved, but Austria won two medals in the 30km race, when Christian Hoffmann and Mikhail Botvinov took the silver and bronze respectively.

"On a personal level, do I think they [Muhlegg, Lazutina, Danilova] should be stripped from all their medals? Yes."
IOC's Jacques Rogge

The news comes as British Olympic medallist Alain Baxter starts his defence for failing a drugs test after his bronze-winning performance in the men's slalom.

Baxter, from Aviemore in Scotland, is in Lausanne, Switzerland, to protest his innocence.

He was found to have elevated levels of methamphetamine - more commonly known as speed - in his urine.

Baxter has denied knowingly taking a banned substance, but he is highly likely to lose his bronze medal because of the IOC's strict liability rule.

Meanwhile Norway has handed in a 10-point plan to the IOC to improve the chances of catching drug cheats.

The plan includes a two-year ban on competition and training for first offenders and tighter tracking of athletes to allow tests.

Norway has also called for the IOC to strip known offenders of all their Olympic medals.

They were referring to Johann Muehlegg, who had his 50km gold taken away after failing a dope test although he was allowed to keep two earlier golds from the Games.

Russia's Larissa Lazutina also had to hand back a medal but was allowed to keep others as was compatriot Olga Danilova, who failed a drugs test on the final day.

Speaking about the cross-country doping, IOC president Jacques Rogge said on Friday: "From Chamonix to Nagano, that is over 18 Olympic games, we've had five positive cases.

"In Salt Lake City alone, we had five positive cases and it might be more."

'Not legitimate champions'

Rogge admitted his hands were tied when it came to dealing with the likes of Muehlegg and Lazutina.

He cannot take away their medals won before they failed subsequent drugs tests.

He added: "On a personal level, do I think they [Muhlegg, Lazutina, Danilova] should be stripped from all their medals? Yes.

"Do I think that they are legitimate champions? No.

"Do I think that these are true Olympic medals? No."

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