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Friday, March 1, 2002
Pound says explanation is 'far-fetched'

Associated Press

LONDON -- Austrian officials contend there were legitimate medical reasons for the blood-transfusion equipment found in a house used by their cross-country skiers during the Olympics.

The head of the IOC's drug agency on Friday called the explanation "far-fetched."

The Austrian ski federation said its athletes used the material for ultraviolet radiation treatment of their blood, describing the method as being "exclusively for disease prevention" and not doping.

"First, it doesn't sound credible," IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch said. "Second, any kind of blood manipulation is part of the doping definition. The Austrian position is not relevant for me."

World Anti-Doping Agency chairman Dick Pound said "it sounds so far-fetched that it has no credibility. It's clear there are teams that are putting medical experts into a mode of helping their athletes cheat. That is clearly unacceptable."

Blood doping, in which athletes draw blood and then inject it to increase oxygen capacity and boost endurance, is banned by the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC began an investigation Thursday after cleaners found blood transfusion bags, tubes and needles in a closet in Midway, Utah, near the Nordic ski venue at Soldier Hollow. The house had been rented to the Austrian team and was used by about 10 athletes.

Wasatch County Sheriff Mike Spano gathered the evidence and turned it over to doping controls officials of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for analysis. Spano said the equipment had been drained of all but residual blood, indicating it had been used.

The IOC said it may use DNA testing to determine who was using the equipment.

Schamasch said the investigation would take about a week. If there is proof of doping, the IOC could take sanctions against the Austrians, including possible disqualifications and stripping of any medals.

"Everything may be considered," Schamasch said by telephone from Lausanne, Switzerland, adding that IOC president Jacques Rogge is "fully committed to go until the end of this case."

Pound added: "Whatever measures can be taken, should be taken. There should be no rest for these folks."

Austria won three Olympic medals in Nordic events at Soldier Hollow. Christian Hoffmann won the silver and Mikhail Botvinov the bronze in the 30-kilometer race. Wolfgang Perner took the bronze in the 10-kilometer biathlon sprint.

A certificate belonging to Botvinov was found inside a plastic bag containing the blood transfusion equipment, Cathy Priestner Allinger, head of sport for the 2002 Games, told the Salt Lake Tribune.

Other members of the Austrian team included Marc Mayer, Reinhard Neuner, Achim Walcher and Alexander Marent.

In Vienna, the Austrian federation said Nordic coach Walter Mayer had applied a "paramedical method" to prevent his athletes from catching colds and flu.

The federation said the method consists of taking a small amount of blood -- up to 100 milliliters -- and subjecting it to ultraviolet light radiation and magnetic-field treatment before reinjecting it within 10 minutes. In addition, the athlete is given a vitamin C dose.

"This method is quite common among nonmedical practitioners and at spas," the federation said. "After a detailed examination of the subject matter ... there is no indication of a violation of existing rules ... because of the lack of a performance-enhancing component."

The federation said the Austrian team doctor, Peter Baumgartl, had not been informed the skiers were using the method.

"No question, this does not look very nice, but there are no results, no indications that something illegal was done," said Manuela Valvoda, deputy general secretary of the Austrian Olympic Committee.

"We have been getting into contact with our ski federation and the people concerned. There will be an investigation. Of course we support this investigation. It is fair for the benefit of all of them that the situation is really clarified."

Schamasch, a medical doctor, discounted any legitimate medical reasons for the athletes using blood injections.

"I do not see any other explanation except if you can come to the Olympic Games with a very ill person who needs a blood pack," he said. "As far as I know we didn't have any athletes in Salt Lake City suffering from renal failure."

Schamasch said traditional blood doping had become virtually "obsolete" with the advent of synthetic endurance-boosting drugs like EPO and darbepoetin.

"I was quite convinced that blood doping in itself is not so widespread," he said. "It's a very old technique. I thought it had been stopped after Albertville (site of the 1992 Winter Games)."

Three cross-country athletes, all gold medalists, tested positive during the games for darbepoetin, which acts like EPO in boosting production of oxygen-rich red blood cells.

Spain's Johann Muehlegg was stripped of his gold in the 50-kilometer race, one of his three gold medals; Russia's Larissa Lazutina lost her gold in the 30-kilometer race; and Russia's Olga Danilova was disqualified from the 30K event. All three kept medals won in earlier races.