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IOC continues hearings into Salt Lake doping cases

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ The IOC began a second day of hearings Saturday into alleged doping offenses which cast a cloud over last month's Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Britain's Alan Baxter, winner of his country's first ever skiing medal, Belarussian ice hockey player Vasily Pankov and members of the Austrian cross-country ski team all risk disqualification and being stripped of their medals.

Baxter, the surprise bronze medal in the men's slalom, arrived at the International Olympic Committee headquarters to face the body's five-member disciplinary commission.

He gave evidence for three hours on Friday to a three-member inquiry commission of doctors and lawyers, meant to determine whether he breached anti-doping rules.

It is up to the disciplinary panel to decide what sanctions, if any, to recommend to the full IOC executive board. This will probably make a decision some time next week.

Baxter, wearing sunglasses, again made no comment to journalists as he was whisked by car into an underground garage. His mother Sue Dickson said Friday that she was optimistic her son would be cleared.

Baxter tested positive for the stimulant methamphetamine after his third-place finish in the slalom on Feb. 23. The 28-year-old Scot has denied ever knowingly taking a banned substance and maintains that his positive test was an innocent mistake resulting from the use of an over-the-counter nasal decongestant inhaler to help clear a head cold.

The medication in the United States contains levamfetamine, a mild form of methamphetamine, while the British version does not.

Under the IOC's ``strict liability'' rules, athletes are responsible for any banned substance found in their bodies. IOC President Jacques Rogge has made the fight against doping his top priority.

Walter Mayer, the Austrian Nordic team head coach, also entered the IOC without comment.

Mayer's team has come under suspicion following the discovery of blood-transfusion equipment in a house where it stayed during the Olympics.

The Austrian federation has claimed that Mayer used the material for ultraviolet radiation treatment of the skiers' blood to prevent colds and flu. It said the method consists of taking a small amount of blood _ up to 100 milliliters _ and subjecting it to ultraviolet light radiation and magnetic-field treatment before reinjecting it within 10 minutes. In addition, the athlete is given a vitamin C dose.

IOC officials have ridiculed that explanation and said any manipulation of the blood is considered blood doping, a banned practice.

``The whole Austrian team has been called into Lausanne this weekend,'' IOC president Jacques Rogge said during a visit Friday to Oslo. ``More disqualifications might come out of this.''

Austria won two cross-country medals, with Christian Hoffmann taking the silver and Mikhail Botvinov the bronze in the 30-kilometer race. A certificate belonging to Botvinov was found inside a plastic bag containing the blood transfusion equipment.

Pankov of Belarus tested positive for the steroid nandrolone after his team's 7-2 loss to Russia in the bronze-medal hockey game on Feb. 23.

Three other cross-country skiing gold medalists tested positive during the games for darbepoetin, which acts like EPO in boosting production of oxygen-rich red blood cells.

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

Norway has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport contending the athletes should lose all their medals. Rogge said the IOC has no legal basis to do that.
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