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Beijing dopers identified

2009-04-30 07:58
Stefan Schumacher (Gallo Images)

London - The gold medallist in one of track and field's glamour races and a silver winner in cycling are among six athletes from the Beijing Games nabbed for blood doping in the latest Olympic drug scandal.

National sports bodies in Bahrain and Italy confirmed on Wednesday that 1 500m champion Rashid Ramzi and road race medallist Davide Rebellin turned up positive for the new blood-boosting drug CERA in retests of their samples. Dominican women's weightlifter Yudelquis Contreras and prominent German cyclist Stephan Schumacher were among the others.

A person with knowledge of the results said that Greek race walker Athanasia Tsoumeleka and Croatian 800m runner Vanja Perisic also tested positive.

If their back-up 'B' samples also come back positive, the athletes face being disqualified, stripped of medals and banned from the next Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee announced on Tuesday that a total of seven positive tests involving six athletes came back positive for CERA, which increases endurance by stimulating production of oxygen-rich red blood cells. The IOC has not named the athletes or the sports involved.

The six new cases bring to 15 the total number of athletes caught doping in Beijing, and underscore both the persistence of cheating across sports and nations and the IOC's aggressive policy in catching drug users even outside the period of the Olympics.

The IOC reanalysed a total of 948 samples from Beijing after new lab tests for CERA and insulin became available following the Olympics. The testing began in January and focused mainly on endurance events in cycling, rowing, swimming and track and field.

Ramzi won Bahrain's first gold medal in track and field and is the first champion from the Beijing Games to be busted for use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The Moroccan-born runner, who won the 800-1 500m double at the 2005 world championships, gave Bahrain its first ever Olympic track and field gold medal with victory in Beijing in 3:32.94.

Ramzi's 'B' sample will be tested in France on June 8 and he will face an IOC hearing the same day, the Bahrain Olympic Committee said.

"The Bahrain Olympic Committee apologises for receiving such news from the International Olympic Committee since it ensured Ramzi went through all the necessary doping tests before the games and they were all negative," the committee said in a statement.

Ramzi became a citizen of Bahrain after moving to the Gulf nation to take up a job in that country's armed forces in 2002, but retains a Moroccan passport and trains with old coach Khalid Boulami.

If he is stripped of the Beijing victory, Asbel Kipruto Kiprop of Kenya stands to be upgraded from silver to gold. Nicolas Willis of New Zealand would go from bronze to silver, and fourth-place finisher Mehdi Baala of France could move up to the bronze medal.

Track and field has been battered by Olympic drug scandals, from 100m winner Ben Johnson in 1988 to sprinter Marion Jones in 2000, both of whom were stripped of their golds.

The International Association of Athletics Federations confirmed it had received notification of three cases in track and field, but declined to give any names because they were considered confidential.

However, the person with knowledge of the results identified the two others as Tsoumeleka and Perisic. The person confirmed their identities on condition anonymity because the names haven't been released by the IOC.

Tsoumeleka finished ninth in the 20km walk, and Perisic was eliminated in the first-round heats of the 800m.

Tsoumeleka announced in January that she had tested positive in Beijing rechecks. She was charged by a Greek prosecutor earlier this month with using banned drugs.

"The IAAF would like to commend the IOC for their efforts in the storage and re-analysis of samples and for their coordination with the IAAF in this process," the federation said in a statement. "This step shows that athletes who cheat can never be comfortable that they will avoid detection and sends a strong message of deterrence."

In Rome, the Italian Olympic Committee suspended Rebellin and anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri called him to a hearing on Monday.

The 37-year-old Rebellin finished second behind Spain's Samuel Sanchez in the Olympic road race. If he loses his medal, Switzerland's Fabian Cancellera could move to silver and Russia's Alexander Kolobnev to bronze.

Rebellin's pro cycling team, Diquigiovanni-Androni, temporarily suspended the rider, pending analysis of the 'B' sample.

"I don't see why I should take a path that would ruin me or my image," Rebellin told Italy's state TV on Wednesday. "I don't know if I'll still be able to race, but I will always ride because cycling is my life."

The German cycling federation announced that Schumacher, who finished 13th in the Beijing time trial and dropped out before the finish of the road race, was among the positive cases.

The 27-year-old Schumacher already has been banned for two years by the International Cycling Union after being caught by French authorities in retesting of Tour de France samples for CERA.

Schumacher won two individual time trial stages at the Tour de France last July and wore the yellow jersey for two days as race leader.

"One of the riders (Schumacher) is already under suspension and, for the other one, (Rebellin) we will be writing to him and suspending him provisionally," said International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid.

The Dominican Olympic Committee identified Contreras as another of the athletes snared by the retests. She competed in the 53kg category as Yudelquis Maridalin and finished fifth.

"I know I am clean and have not done anything that would contradict that," Contreras, who won a gold medal at the 2007 Pan American Games, said. "I haven't used anything different than I did in 2007."

The IOC previously disqualified nine athletes for doping at the August 8-24 Olympics. In addition, there were six doping cases involving horses in the equestrian competition.

The IOC has already stripped four athletes of Beijing medals - Ukrainian heptathlete Lyudmila Blonska (silver), Belarusian hammer throwers Vadim Devyatovskiy (silver) and Ivan Tsikhan (bronze) and North Korean shooter Kim Jong Su (silver and bronze).

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