February 19, 2006
Looking for Doping Evidence, Italian Police Raid Austrians
By JULIET MACUR
TURIN, Italy, Sunday, Feb. 19 — The Italian police raided the Austrian biathlon and cross-country teams' housing at the Winter Olympics on Saturday night, looking for evidence of doping and for a former coach who had been barred from the Games for his involvement in a 2002 blood-doping scandal.
International Olympic Committee officials, who had tipped off the police, confirmed that as many as 15 Austrian biathletes and cross-country skiers had been taken from their housing in the mountain towns of Pragelato and San Sicario to the nearby village of Sestriere for urine and blood tests.
"The tests went very smoothly, and there were no complaints," said the I.O.C. spokeswoman Giselle Davies, who added that there had been more than 200 pre-competition tests and 500 total doping tests conducted at the Olympics.
The raid occurred after the I.O.C. received information from the World Anti-Doping Agency that Walter Mayer, the former Nordic coach of the Austrian team, was staying with Austrian athletes. Mayer had been barred from these Games and the 2010 Winter Olympics for performing blood transfusions on his athletes, including his son, in 2002.
Transfusing your own or someone else's blood increases red blood cells, which transport oxygen to the muscles, thus boosting an athlete's endurance. It is a procedure that entails needles, syringes and, usually, medical supervision.
Mayer was in Sestriere on Friday, but only as a private citizen, The Austria Press Agency said.
Heinz Jungwirth, the secretary general of the Austrian Olympic Committee, said that Mayer had not been accredited for the Olympics "and has nothing to do with us; if he comes privately, that's his thing," the press agency reported on its Web site.
Jungwirth said that the Austrian delegation would protest the late-night investigation.
The I.O.C. said late Saturday that it had brought Italian authorities into the case and conducted its own unannounced testing. In a statement, the I.O.C. said it was "fulfilling its responsibility to conduct antidoping control on athletes who might have been under" Mayer's influence.
The raid began after sundown Saturday. Alberto Acciari, the spokesman for Mario Pescante, the Italian government's top representative to the Games, said that around 10:30 p.m., the Italian police began the investigation inside the private houses in Pragelato, the site for the cross-county events, and San Sicario, the site for biathlon races. The houses were rented for the Austrian team during the Games. The athletes were told to remain in their rooms and not to use their telephones during the investigation, which lasted several hours.
Around midnight, a Reuters Television crew recorded the police leading two men from a building in San Sicario. The men, one carrying Olympic accreditation, the other with a jacket over his head, were then driven away in a police car.
The raids were carried out at the request of Turin prosecutors, Reuters reported.
Austria has nine cross-country skiers at the Olympics, and none have won a medal. But there are three men's cross-country races remaining, including Sunday's 4x10-kilometer relay. In the biathlon, Austria has six competitors, and they have not won a medal, either. There are two more men's biathlon races left.
So far, one athlete has been expelled from the Turin Games after testing positive for drugs. Olga Pyleva, a Russian, was thrown out and stripped of her silver medal in the 15-kilometer biathlon after testing positive for the stimulant carphedon. The International Biathlon Union subsequently suspended Pyleva, who won gold and bronze medals at the 2002 Olympics, for two years.
Pyleva's expulsion came several days after 12 cross-country skiers tested positive for high levels of hemoglobin, which could stem from training at high altitudes or dehydration, but also could be an indication of illegal blood-doping methods, like transfusions or taking synthetic hormones like erythropoietin, known as EPO.
Since those suspensions, Dick Pound, the chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said he had been in daily contact with International Ski Federation officials, trying to find out if those athletes had been doping.
"I think everybody would have a gut feeling that the odds of this happening in this size of a population are about one in three million," Pound said earlier this week. "So we do suspect something going on there."
Pound said those athletes would be the focus of additional testing at these Olympics. He said that all urine and blood samples from Turin would be held for eight years and could be subject to retesting.
Sunday morning, Pound said he had no comment on the raid by the Italian police.
The sports of cross-country skiing and biathlon have a history of doping in the Olympics. In 2002, Johann Muehlegg of Spain won the gold medal in the 30-kilometer race and one other event. He was later stripped of a third gold in the 50-kilometer race after testing positive for darbepoetin, which acts like EPO in boosting production of oxygen-rich red blood cells. Larissa Lazutina of Russia lost her gold in the 30-kilometer race, and Olga Danilova of Russia was disqualified from the same event.
In the 1990's, EPO had made blood doping obsolete because it was thought to be safer, but as EPO testing improved, blood doping made a comeback. A test for blood transfusions was introduced this year.
John Eligon, Lee Jenkins and Peter Kiefer contributed reporting for this article.
Copyright 2006The New York Times Company
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