Austrians sanctioned in blood-transfusion case

Monday, May 27th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ More than three months after the Olympics ended, the IOC disqualified a pair of Austrian cross-country skiers and banned two team officials from the next two Winter Games in a blood-doping case from Salt Lake City.

The International Olympic Committee executive board announced the doping sanctions Sunday after a three-month investigation, rejecting the Austrians' claim that the blood treatments were merely for therapeutic reasons.

Marc Mayer and Achim Walcher, who both finished far out of medal contention, were each disqualified from their events and had their results removed from the records.

Mayer finished 25th in the 50-kilometer race and 55th in the 10K pursuit, while Walcher was 38th in the 10K pursuit and 45th in the 30K.

The IOC said the International Ski Federation should consider whether to take any further action against the two athletes, including possible suspensions.

Walter Mayer, the Nordic team coach and Marc Mayer's father who performed the transfusions, and Volker Mueller, the German chiropractor who prescribed the blood treatments, were banned from the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, and the games in 2010.

It's the first time the IOC has ever banned an athlete or team official for more than one future Olympics.

The IOC also issued a ``strong warning'' to team doctor Peter Baumgartl and the Austrian Olympic Committee.

IOC director general Francois Carrard said the rulings bring the number of confirmed doping cases at the Salt Lake City Games to seven _ two more than the total of all positive cases at previous Winter Olympics.

The IOC began an investigation in March after a cleaner found blood transfusion materials in a house used by the Austrians at the games.

The Austrians claimed the equipment was used for ultraviolet radiation treatment of athletes' blood to treat and prevent colds and flu, and not for performance-enhancing purposes.

However, the IOC considers any manipulation of blood as a form of blood doping. The board ruled that the Austrians violated the Olympics' anti-doping code.

``The executive board considers that they have failed to prove the therapeutic reasons,'' Carrard said. ``There are strong indications it was used for other purposes.''

Carrard said the way in which the equipment was brought in weeks before the games and was not declared with Olympic medical officials suggested ``it was a prepared scheme.''

``It was not a case where an athlete is sick and needs a treatment to be cured,'' he said. ``The burden of proof is on them to prove it was therapeutic treatment. The facts seem to go in the contrary sense.''

Denis Oswald, the Swiss executive board member who led the investigation, said the Austrians argued that their poor results showed the transfusions did not improve performance.

Oswald said Walter Mayer had no medical training and performed the treatments without proper hygienic conditions.

``We considered it was potentially harmful to the athlete to perform blood transfusions in these circumstances,'' he said.

The Austrian committee accepted the decision and would not appeal.

The IOC is also expected to act next month against Russian cross-country skier Larissa Lazutina. She was stripped of a gold medal in the 30K classical race after testing positive for the endurance-booster darbepoetin. However, she was allowed to keep two silver medals from earlier races because she had passed tests after those events.

The ski federation recently said that Lazutina had also failed two drug tests in December. When the federation meets on June 3, it is expected to annul all of her results dating back to those tests, including those from the Olympics.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said the IOC would move to strip Lazutina of her remaining medals once the ski federation has taken action.