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Lazutina disqualified before relay race

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Sunday, February 24, 2002
 
Lazutina wins race, but is stripped of gold after test

Associated Press


MIDWAY, Utah -- Cross-country skier Larissa Lazutina of Russia was disqualified for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, losing the gold medal she won Sunday in the 30-kilometer classic-style race.

The medal would have been Lazutina's 10th, tied for the most ever by a woman. However, she tested positive for darbepoetin, which boosts production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to muscles.

After Lazutina was disqualified, Gabriella Paruzzi of Italy, who finished second, was awarded the gold, Stefania Belmondo of Italy gets the silver and Bente Skari of Norway gets the bronze.

Lazutina, 36, will get to keep the two medals she won earlier in the games.

Lazutina's Russian teammate, Olga Danilova was also disqualified for the same drug. She finished eighth. Danilova gets to keep two medals she won earlier at these Olympics.

Also testing positive was triple-gold medalist Johann Muehlegg of Spain, who must return his medal from Saturday's 50K classical race. All three athletes must leave the games and could not take part in the closing ceremony.

Since darbepoetin is relatively new, it is not on the IOC's list of banned substances. But it has similar properties to the banned hormone erythropoietin, or EPO.

Lazutina passed a urine sample Sunday, but she was stripped of the medal because she darbepoetin was found in a blood test she took earlier this week.

On Thursday, Lazutina was disqualified from the women's relay for having high levels of performance-boosting hemoglobin, a blood molecule that helps carry oxygen to muscles.

She was allowed to compete Sunday after taking another blood test. The results were negative for hemoglobin.

"It was a shocking experience," she said before being disqualified for darbepoetin Sunday. "That tragedy on Thursday made me more determined to work hard."

The heavily favored Russians had to withdraw from the competition. Russian officials claimed drug-testers were targeting their athletes, and the dispute led to widespread complaints of biased judging in other sports.

Russia threatened to pull out of the Winter Olympics and not compete in the 2004 Summer Games if its concerns were not addressed.

"The rules need to be changed," Lazutina said. "Unfortunately we cannot change any rules. In that sense, I feel lawless. ... It's hard to get to the people who make decisions.

"I feel like we're treated like criminals because of those tests."

If Lazutina had kept her gold from Sunday, she would have tied the women's Winter Games record held by cross-country skier Raisa Smetanina, who won four gold, five silver and one bronze competing for the Soviet Union and the Russian Unified team from 1976 to 1992.

Lazutina won silver medals in the 15K freestyle race and the 10K combined event. She also finished fourth in the 10K classical.

Lazutina led every leg of the race Sunday, covering the Soldier Hollow course in 1 hour, 29 minutes, 9 seconds. Paruzzi finished almost two minutes behind.

Nina Kemppel was the top American finisher in 15th, followed by Wendy Wagner (23th) and Barbara Jones (35th). It was Kemppel's best finish at these games. Aelin Peterson did not start the race.

"It's been a really tough week for me mentally to overcome all my setbacks and stay positive," Kemppel said. "Today was a day to go out there and ski for myself."