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Thursday, February 21, 2002
Updated: February 22, 8:14 AM ET
Russian star Lazutina disqualified before race

Associated Press

MIDWAY, Utah -- Germany edged Norway for the gold medal in the women's 20-kilometer cross-country relay Thursday, shortly after Russian superstar Larissa Lazutina was disqualified for having high levels of performance-boosting hemoglobin.

Norway won the silver and Switzerland took bronze.

Russia planned to protest the race, team leader Gennady Ramensky said.

"This is a scandal. They are specifically hunting out Russian sportsmen," he said, referring to doping control officials.

Russian officials said they tested Lazutina on Thursday morning and her hemoglobin blood level was "15-something," below the legal limit of 16.0, Russian coach Alexandre Lazontine said. But when doping control officials tested it later, it had risen to "16-something," he said.

The disqualification of Lazutina, trying for a record-tying 10th medal, knocked four-time defending champion Russia out of the event. The Ukrainian team did not start because Valentina Shevchenko also failed the blood test.

Ukrainian officials declined to comment.

The Russians -- Lazutina, Olga Danilova, Nina Gavriljuk and Julija Tchepalova -- have dominated cross-country events at Soldier Hollow. They have a combined six medals -- two gold, three silver and one bronze -- and were the heavy favorites to win the relay.

Without them, Norway and Germany battled for the gold.

The Norwegians led after the second and third legs, but Evi Sachenbacher quickly passed Anita Moen on an uphill at the 1.7K mark.

Moen -- using countryman and four-time biathlon gold medalist Ole Einar Bjoerndalen's skis -- retook the lead just before the skiers entered the stadium and looked like she might pull away. But Sachenbacher, who won the silver medal in the 1.5K sprint Tuesday, cruised past the leader with 100 meters to go.

Moen realized she was beaten and coasted across the finish line in second.

The Germans -- Manuela Henkel, Viola Bauer, Claudia Kuenzel and Sachenbacher -- covered the course in 49 minutes, 30.6 seconds, 1.3 seconds faster than Norway.

"I can't believe that we have won the gold medal," Sachenbacher said. "We were hoping we could get a medal, but we definitely didn't think about the gold.

"Gold was obviously a dream, but we didn't visualize that we could even possibly achieve it. When we realized (the Russians) weren't starting we thought our chances had improved, but I still didn't think of the gold medal."

It was the fourth consecutive silver medal for Norway in the event. Russia had won seven of the first 12 gold medals since the relay made its Olympic debut in 1956.

"If the Russians would have raced and won the gold, we would have taken the silver," Bauer said. "But if they don't run fairly, then that's how we got the gold."

Italy, which finished third in the last three Olympic relays, was sixth.

Lazutina already has two silver medals from the Salt Lake City Games. She last raced on Feb. 15 in the 5-kilometer pursuit.

As a double medalist, the 36-year-old Lazutina would have taken and passed at least two drug tests at the games. Dr. Patrick Schamasch, the International Olympic Committee's medical director, said he knew of no positive samples from cross-country skiing.

With two silvers here, Lazutina has nine career medals (five gold, three silvers, one bronze).

She's within one medal of tying the women's winter record, one gold shy of matching another women's record and three medals shy of tying the overall mark of 12 career medals.

She was scheduled to compete in the 30K classical event Sunday.