Sunday, February 24, 2002
Muehlegg tests positive for EPO-like drug
MIDWAY, Utah -- Johann Muehlegg, the German-born skier who
competed for his adoptive Spain and dominated the cross-country
events at the Winter Games, was stripped of one of his three gold
medals after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
Muehlegg also was ordered to leave the games, International
Olympic Committee director general Francois Carrard said during a
news conference Sunday.
The 31-year-old Muehlegg forfeits the gold he won in Saturday's
50-kilometer classic-style race.
On Thursday, Muehlegg was selected at random for a urine test.
It revealed he had taken darbepoetin, which boosts the number of
red blood cells that carry oxygen to muscles and raises endurance
Although it is not on the IOC's list of banned substances,
darbopoetin was treated as such because it has similar properties
to erythropoietin, a banned hormone known as EPO.
Mikhail Ivanov of Russia will trade in his silver for gold,
while Estonia's Andrus Veerpalu moves up to silver and fourth-place
finisher Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset of Norway gets the bronze.
Muehlegg did not test positive for any banned substances
following his previous two victories at Soldier Hollow -- the 30K
freestyle and the 10K pursuit -- and he gets to keep those medals.
Muehlegg was among 13 skiers chosen at random to undergo blood
tests before Saturday's race, and his hemoglobin level was just
above the allowed 17.5. A follow-up test administered five minutes
later showed that the levels had fallen within the threshold.
He was allowed to race, and made a strong comeback over the
final 10 kilometers to beat Ivanov by 14.9 seconds.
Expecting to enjoy being Spain's greatest-ever Winter Olympian,
Muehlegg instead was peppered with questions about the tests. He
blamed the first set of results on a switch in his diet, from
proteins to carbohydrates days before the race, and on the high
altitude, which can raise blood levels slightly to compensate for
the lack of oxygen.
"It was no problem, because the last five or six days I made a
special diet, and it's normal," he said.
On Sunday, the Spanish team doctor acknowledged that Muehlegg
had tested positive for darbopoetin, which is stronger than EPO and
stays in the body longer. He and members of the Spanish delegation
went before the IOC disciplinary committee to ask for a second
test, but the results have not been released.
Spectators at Soldier Hollow were treated to thrilling
performances over the 16 days of competition, but all anyone could
talk about Sunday was doping, which also resulted in the
disqualification of Russians Larissa Lazutina and Olga Danilova.
Frode Estil, a Norwegian cross-country skier who won two
individual silvers and a relay gold at the games, said he was
"very disappointed" in Muehlegg.
"It's very sad for the sport to have this scandal," Estil
American skier Carl Swenson argued that Muehlegg's testing was
"good news" for the sport, since it showed that the system can
detect use of darbopoetin.
"The sport's bigger than any one doping scandal," Swenson
said. "It's going to keep going, and the more they catch, the
cleaner it's going to become, eventually. if someone's caught, it's
that much cleaner."