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Former European champ among suspended

8/20/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Weightlifting's governing body isn't about
to give up its aggressive pursuit of drug cheaters, even if it
jeopardizes the sport's future in the Olympics, the group's top
official said Thursday after six more positive drug tests.

Five weightlifters were suspended for flunking drug tests taken
before the Olympics, including two disqualified as they were about
to walk to the lifting stand. All were caught using steroids.

Another, identified by India Olympic officials as Sanamacha
Chanu, became the second to be caught by International Olympic
Committee testing. She finished fourth Sunday at 117 pounds (53kg).

The International Weightlifting Federation apparently chose to
announce the suspensions at the Olympics, rather than afterward, in
an effort to convince the IOC it is adequately policing a sport
with a reputation as the games' dirtiest.

Twenty-one world-class weightlifters have been caught or
suspended this year alone, or the equivalent of one out of every 13
Olympic qualifiers.

"I am sure you are asking, 'Why are you doing these controls?
You are digging your own grave," IWF president Tamas Ajan said.
"Yes, this is true. But I tell you we are doing everything against
the drugs and we are going to continue the fight against the drugs
because we are for fair play."

The IWF said the suspended lifters were Wafa Ammouri of Morocco,
Zoltan Kecskes of Hungary, Viktor Chislean of Moldova, Pratima
Kumari Na of India and Sule Sahbaz of Turkey.

Ammouri and Kecskes were scheduled to lift Wednesday, but were
suspended just before their competitions. Kecskes was on the start
list distributed to the media less than an hour before the
competition.

Sahbaz is the most accomplished of the latest group, winning a
European championship in 2002 and finishing third in the world
championships at 165 pounds (75kg) in 2003. She was second in the
European championships in April and was to have competed Saturday
in Athens. Kecskes had an eighth-place finish at the 1996 Atlanta
Olympics.

Normally, suspensions are for two years unless the athlete is a
repeat offender. Earlier this year, 2000 Olympic champion Galabin
Boevski was banned for eight years after he failed a second drug
test.

Ajan, who said one-third of the IWF's annual budget goes to drug
testing, also openly criticized India for employing foreign coaches
-- in this case, from Bulgaria, Russia and Belarus. He previously
warned Indian weightlifting officials that too many athletes were
testing positive.

"I told them, 'You have to stop this,'" he said.

The news was welcomed by International Olympic Committee
president Jacques Rogge.

"The IOC praises the work and determination of the
weightlifting federation in its fight against doping by testing its
athletes on a systematic basis according to its rules," he said in
a statement.

The cases are the latest setback for a sport plagued by cheating
athletes during the last two Olympics.

"Weightlifting has to survive the present situation," Ajan
said. "We are doing everything to make it a clean sport. (For) the
future of the sport, it is necessary to have a clean, competitive
sport."

Ajan said weightlifting is the only Olympic sport to require all
of its Olympians to undergo drug testing in the week before the
games.

"Maybe I made a mistake to make special controls here, but I
will continue," Ajan said. "My federation was the first that
started the very strong control. Weightlifting is the first sport
that made out-of-competition tests in 1985, and we will continue
this."

Monday, Myanmar's Nan Aye Khine was stripped of her fourth-place
finish Saturday at 105½ pounds (48kg) after she tested positive for
steroids in IOC testing.

Embarrassed by four failed tests at the 2000 Games -- three that
cost Bulgarians medals -- the IWF cracked down earlier this year by
banning three Bulgarians well before the games began. Two of
Boevski's Bulgarian teammates, former world champions Zlatan Vanev
and Georgi Markov, drew 18-month suspensions that barred them from
competing in Athens.

The three tampered with their doping tests nine months ago at
the 2003 world championships in Vancouver, British Columbia, by
submitting urine samples that came from the same person, the IWF
said.

Eleven other weightlifters from 10 nations failed drug tests in
Vancouver, according to the IWF -- including Shang Shichun, who set
three world records while winning the women's 165 pounds (75kg) for
China. Banned substances were found in the tests of nine men and
two women.