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Six Olympic athletes test positive

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abr.29.2009

Eight months after the Beijing Games, the International Olympic Committee said Tuesday that blood samples from six athletes who competed there had tested positive for a banned substance.

The I.O.C. said seven blood samples from six athletes had come back positive for CERA, a new generation of the blood-booster EPO, a drug that stimulates bone marrow to produce more oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Those results came after retroactive testing of 948 blood and urine samples provided by athletes in Beijing.

The I.O.C. said in a statement that it would not name the athletes “due to the presumption of innocence” and would notify the athletes through their national Olympic committees.

The testing primarily focused on athletes who had competed in endurance events, like cycling, rowing, swimming and track and field.

“The further analysis of the Beijing samples that we conducted should send a clear message that cheats can never assume that they have avoided detection,” Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the I.O.C.’s medical commission, said in a statement Tuesday.

The Italian Olympic Committee said that one of the athletes who tested positive for CERA was Italian, a male athlete it declined to name.

Because of CERA’s ability to give an endurance athletes the oxygen boost they often need, the World Anti-Doping Agency prepared early for abuse of it. The agency worked closely with the pharmaceutical company that made CERA to develop a test for the drug.

“You’d figure cyclists would have learned their lesson, but that’s not always a smart assumption,” said Dick Pound, an I.O.C. member and the former chief of the antidoping agency.

The I.O.C. conducted 4,770 doping tests in Beijing, the most drug tests performed at an Olympics. The organization’s policy is to store Olympic athletes’ blood and urine samples for eight years after the Games.

That gives the I.O.C. the opportunity to retest those samples if a test is developed for a previously undetectable drug. World Anti-Doping Agency rules say a doping case can be brought against an athlete within eight years of a violation.

This time around, it took about four months after the Olympics for the I.O.C. to use new tests on the samples that had been stored.

In January, the I.O.C. said it would recheck urine and blood samples from the Beijing Games. Laboratories accredited by the antidoping agency subsequently performed tests for CERA on 847 samples. Also, a test for insulin was used on 101 samples, but no positive results were found.

Before those samples were tested at labs in Paris and Lausanne, Switzerland, nine Olympic athletes in Beijing had tested positive for banned substances.

A 10th athlete was the Greek racewalker Athanasia Tsoumeleka, a former Olympic champion who had finished ninth in the 20K race in Beijing.

In January, Tsoumeleka — who had won the gold medal in the 20K walk at the 2004 Athens Olympics — announced that she had tested positive for CERA during the I.O.C.’s retesting of samples.

Earlier this month, a Greek prosecutor charged Tsoumeleka with breaking Greece’s antidoping laws.

“We suggest that athletes who may be tempted to cheat keep this reality in mind,” John Fahey, chief of the World Anti-Doping Agency, in a statement on the agency’s Web site. “We believe that retrospective testing serves as a strong deterrent.”
 
By JULIET MACUR www.nytimes.com

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