Thursday, February 21, 2002
Updated: February 22, 8:14 AM ET
Coach: Russian athletes being singled out
MIDWAY, Utah -- Nine-time Olympic medalist Larissa Lazutina was disqualified from the 20-kilometer cross-country relay Thursday for having high levels of performance-boosting hemoglobin.
She was hoping for a record-tying 10th medal, but the disqualification knocked four-time defending champion Russia out of the event.
The Ukrainian team also did not start because Valentina Shevchenko failed the blood test. Ukrainian officials declined to comment.
Germany won the gold medal, Norway took the silver and Switzerland got the bronze.
The Russians 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 gave Lazutina a blood test Thursday morning and her hemoglobin blood level was "15-something," below the legal limit of 16.0, coach Alexandre Lazontine said.
But when doping control officials tested it later, it had risen to "16-something," he said. Lazontine said it would have been impossible for Lazutina's blood level to rise that much.
After getting the news, Lazutina buried her head in a coach's chest as he wrapped his arms around her. The Russians then left the Soldier Hollow course together.
"It's good and it's right that we have the test," Norway's Bente Skari said.
Might Lazutina's disqualification help clean up a sport that has seen a rise in the use of performance-enhancing drugs?
"This is a very difficult question, but I would assume that the answer would be yes," Germany's Claudia Kuenzel said.
The Russians -- Lazutina, Olga Danilova, Nina Gavriljuk and Julija Tchepalova -- have dominated cross-country events here. They have a combined six medals -- two gold, three silver and one bronze -- and were heavy favorites in the relay.
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 30-kilometer classical event Sunday.