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British Skier May Lose Bronze Medal

LONDON (AP) _ Alain Baxter returned from the Winter Games a national hero, the first Briton to win an Olympic skiing medal. On Tuesday, Baxter was fighting to clear his name of a different label: drug cheat.

Baxter flunked a doping test after his surprise third-place finish in the slalom at the Salt Lake City Games and could be stripped of his bronze medal.

The British Olympic Association said the 28-year-old Scottish skier _ nicknamed ``The Highlander'' _ tested positive for methamphetamine after the Feb. 23 race. The stimulant, commonly known as speed, falls into the most serious category of doping substances.

The International Olympic Committee said it would hold a hearing on the case early next week.

Baxter said he was ``devastated'' by the news and vowed to prove his innocence.

``I have never knowingly taken any medicine or substance to improve my performance, and as such believe that I am entirely innocent,'' he said in a statement. ``I am now working with lawyers and medical experts to present my case to the IOC's Inquiry Commission and the IOC's Disciplinary Commission ... with a view to defending myself successfully against the charges of doping.''

Anti-doping officials were unimpressed.

``It's the usual refrain,'' said Dick Pound, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency. ``Have you ever heard of anyone responding to a positive case differently? I can think of no therapeutic application for (methamphetamine) at all.''

Arne Ljungqvist, acting chairman of the IOC medical commission, said, ``It's the excuse one often hears. Amphetamines are not normally taken by accident.''

If Baxter is found guilty of a doping offense by the IOC, he would be disqualified and forfeit his medal. Fourth-place finisher Benjamin Raich of Austria stands to get the bronze.

In addition, Baxter could face a two-year ban from the sport, the IOC's recommended punishment for use of amphetamines.

Before last month, only five drug positives had been confirmed at all the Winter Olympics, with none since Calgary in 1988. Baxter's test, if confirmed, would be the fourth positive case from the Salt Lake City Games. All the others involved cross-country skiing medalists testing positive for darbepoetin, which boosts production of oxygen-rich red blood cells.

The IOC said Friday it was investigating two positive tests from the final weekend of the games, one for methamphetamine and one for the steroid nandrolone. It declined to identify the athletes or sports.

The BOA said it was informed Friday of Baxter's positive test and decided to make it public. There has been no details of the nandrolone case.

Baxter was eighth after the first slalom run but used a strong second run for the bronze when a number of bigger-name contenders fell. French skiers Jean-Pierre Vidal and Sebastien Amiez took gold and silver.

Baxter's bronze was the first time in the 78-year history of the Winter Games that Britain had won a medal on anything other than ice.

His performance helped Britain register its most successful Winter Olympics in 66 years, with one gold and two bronze medals.

Baxter was featured on the front and back pages of British newspapers. He received a rousing welcome at his hometown of Aviemore last Wednesday, with hundreds of people lining the streets.

Baxter has been featured this week in newspaper ads for the Scottish liquor company Drambuie, negotiating a slalom course in a kilt under the slogan: ``He's fantastic on snow. We're great on ice.''

Drambuie declined to comment Tuesday on its deal with Baxter, pending an IOC ruling in the case.

Amphetamines have been on the banned list for years and are easily detectable in standard urine tests.

Methamphetamine, also known as ice, crystal or meth, is a white, odorless powder that dissolves in water or alcohol. Like cocaine, it is a potent central-nervous-system stimulant. According to the U.S. Justice Department's Web site, it ``represents the fastest growing drug threat in America today.''

Ljungqvist said the drug promotes alertness and aggression, and provides ``a temporary kick.''

Use of amphetamines is regarded as a serious doping offense and, like steroids, carries a two-year suspension. Use of lesser stimulants, such as ephedrine, is punishable by suspensions of around three months.

There have been very few doping cases in Alpine skiing. Italy's Franco Coluturi tested positive for steroids at a 1994 World Cup downhill, and French skier Christelle Guignard was stripped of a bronze medal in giant slalom at the 1989 world championships in Vail, Colo., after a positive test.

``I was shocked when I heard it,'' Gian Franco Kasper, head of international ski federation FIS, said of Baxter's test. ``Honestly, I did not expect this in Alpine skiing. It was a real historic medal he won, the first British medal in a sport invented by the Brits.

``There is not a systematic doping problem in Alpine skiing. It's not detrimental to the sport. It would be in cross-country but not in this case.''

In the previous Salt Lake City cases, Spain's Johann Muehlegg was stripped of his gold in the 50-kilometer race; Russia's Larissa Lazutina lost her gold in the 30-kilometer race; and Russia's Olga Danilova was disqualified from the 30-k event. All three kept medals won in earlier races.

Yulia Pavlovic, a short track speedskater from Belarus, had elevated levels of nandrolone in his urine test but the results were tossed out because of a broken seal on a sample bag.

In addition, the IOC launched an investigation last week after blood-transfusion equipment was found in a house used by Austrian cross-country skiers at the games.
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