Used syringes found in raid of Austrian athletes.
February 20, 2006
Used Syringes Among Items Seized in Raid
By LYNN ZINSER
This article was reported by Lynn Zinser, Ian Fisher, Peter Kiefer and Bill Pennington and written by Ms. Zinser.
TURIN, Italy, Feb. 19 — After their raid on Olympic athletes suspected of doping, the Italian police said Sunday that they were testing items seized from the rooms of Austrian Nordic skiers, including syringes, glucose drips and what were described as unprescribed medicine.
The raid was the boldest and most coordinated attack against athletes suspected of cheating at an Olympics and represented the first time that doping control officers had been accompanied by the police. On Sunday night, Austrian Olympic officials said they had fired the coach at the center of the controversy, Walter Mayer, after he crashed his car into a police barrier in southern Austria and was detained.
Police officers in Paternion, Austria, a town about 15 miles from the Italian border, said they had approached a parked car after residents said a man was asleep in it. The man woke up and drove off. The police said they blocked the road with two unoccupied cars and detained the man; they identified him as Mayer after he crashed and refused to take an alcohol breath test. The police said Mayer was slightly injured in the crash.
The raid took place at the Austrian team's living quarters in the mountains west of Turin and was conducted by the Carabinieri, the Italian police force. It provoked intense reaction, with drug testing taking on an intimidating aura as the Games entered their second week.
The Italian police said that some of the seized material, including syringes and other used medical gear, was found in a bag that had been thrown out of a window during the raid. They said that test results on the equipment and on 10 Austrian athletes will not be known until Monday, at the earliest.
The 10 skiers angrily declared their innocence, although at least two Austrian skiers had left Italy just before the raid.
Before the Games, international Olympic organizers worked to avoid the embarrassment of athletes being charged with crimes under Italy's strict antidoping laws, which carry criminal sanctions but rarely include jail terms. But Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said the raid demonstrated how seriously athletes suspected of doping would be treated.
"They are not facing just the sports authorities, who have no power to search," Pound said Sunday in Turin. "They are facing a combination of sports authorities and public authorities."
With blue lights flashing and sirens wailing Saturday night, the Italian police descended on five houses rented by Austrian cross-country skiers and biathletes in two mountain towns that are playing host to Olympic events. Several hours into the raid, the athletes were taken to a nearby town for drug testing conducted by the International Olympic Committee.
Col. Mauro Masic, who oversaw the Carabinieri raid, said suspicious materials were found in four of the five houses. "We are analyzing the things that we found, and we found enough to investigate," Masic said.
The Austrian cross-country skiers cried foul after their relay team finished last among the 16 teams in Sunday morning's relay, which began just hours after the raid. "I feel like a criminal now, but I am not a criminal," said Martin Tauber, who was among those tested and who did not return to his room until after 1 a.m.
The I.O.C. decided to test the athletes when Mayer, who is serving an eight-year suspension after a blood-doping scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake Games, was spotted last week in Sestriere, Italy. Officials said they discovered that he had spent a night in a house rented by Austrian biathletes.
Officials of the I.O.C. and the World Anti-Doping Agency said they did not ask for the police to accompany their drug testers.
In 2000, Italy passed an antidoping law that the I.O.C. requested be suspended during the Games. The country's parliament refused, and a compromise was reached. According to Arne Ljungqvist, the chairman of the Olympic committee's medical commission, the Italians agreed that the I.O.C. would control all the testing and that the Italian police would conduct raids only if acting on "important information."
Italy insisted that one of its officials be aware of all doping actions. As a result, Giovanni Zotta, an official of the Italian health ministry, sits on an Olympic antidoping commission with representatives from the I.O.C., the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Turin organizing committee.
"The use of banned substances in Italy is a crime," said Mario Pescante, the Italian sports minister and an I.O.C. member. "When there is some element that is suspicious, and that suspicion is stressed by a body like the I.O.C., we have an obligation to intervene."
This case began in January, when doping officers attempted to administer pre-Olympic drug tests to skiers in Austria. Officers did not find the athletes, according to Pound, but they did find paraphernalia similar to that used in the Austrian blood-doping scandal in 2002. Pound said the new materials were found in the home of Mayer, whose address was given as the contact information for several athletes.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, the Olympic drug testers and dozens of Italian police officers approached the five houses. The Austrian cross-country skiers said the raid lasted until midnight, when 10 of them were taken for testing in Sestriere.
The bag of used syringes was thrown out a window at a house in San Sicario, the police said.
Two athletes sought by the I.O.C. testers — the cross-country skiers Mikhail Botwinov and Christian Hoffmann — were not at the houses, and I.O.C. officials said that they had left the country before the raid. Two biathletes who were tested, Wolfgang Perner and Wolfgang Rottmann, have since left the country, and Austrian officials said they had been thrown off the team for leaving.
Although Austrian officials began the day protesting the timing of the raids, they were soon issuing more cautious statements.
The I.O.C. president, Jacques Rogge, called a meeting with Austrian Olympic officials Sunday morning to question why Mayer was allowed to remain as a coach of the two teams during his suspension. The Austrian biathlon team even issued a glossy postcard with a team picture that included Mayer.
The timing of the raid was not accidental. Pound said the best time to catch blood dopers was the night before a race, when they were most likely to be using substances to boost red blood cells for the event.
"And if your coach has been banned by the international federation and the I.O.C., you should fully expect to be tested more than everybody else," Pound said.
Copyright 2006The New York Times Company
BARBIEis coming for your towel, too.