Originally created 02/25/02

Muehlegg stripped of gold medal after drug test



MIDWAY, Utah -- Johann Muehlegg, the German-born skier who competed for his adoptive Spain and dominated the cross-country events at the Winter Games, was stripped of one of his three gold medals after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

Muehlegg also was ordered to leave the games, International Olympic Committee director general Francois Carrard said during a news conference Sunday.

The 31-year-old Muehlegg forfeits the gold he won in Saturday's 50-kilometer classic-style race.

On Thursday, Muehlegg was selected at random for a urine test. It revealed he had taken darbepoetin, which boosts the number of red blood cells that carry oxygen to muscles and raises endurance levels.

Although it is not on the IOC's list of banned substances, darbepoetin was treated as such because it has similar properties to erythropoietin, a banned hormone known as EPO.

Mikhail Ivanov of Russia will trade in his silver for gold, while Estonia's Andrus Veerpalu moves up to silver and fourth-place finisher Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset of Norway gets the bronze.

Muehlegg did not test positive for any banned substances following his previous two victories at Soldier Hollow - the 30K freestyle and the 10K pursuit - and he gets to keep those medals.

Muehlegg was among 13 skiers chosen at random to undergo blood tests before Saturday's race, and his hemoglobin level was just above the allowed 17.5. A follow-up test administered five minutes later showed that the levels had fallen within the threshold.

He was allowed to race, and made a strong comeback over the final 10 kilometers to beat Ivanov by 14.9 seconds.

Expecting to enjoy being Spain's greatest-ever Winter Olympian, Muehlegg instead was peppered with questions about the tests. He blamed the first set of results on a switch in his diet, from proteins to carbohydrates days before the race, and on the high altitude, which can raise blood levels slightly to compensate for the lack of oxygen.

"It was no problem, because the last five or six days I made a special diet, and it's normal," he said.

On Sunday, the Spanish team doctor acknowledged that Muehlegg had tested positive for darbepoetin, which is stronger than EPO and stays in the body longer. He and members of the Spanish delegation went before the IOC disciplinary committee to ask for a second test, but the results have not been released.

Spectators at Soldier Hollow were treated to thrilling performances over the 16 days of competition, but all anyone could talk about Sunday was doping, which also resulted in the disqualification of Russians Larissa Lazutina and Olga Danilova.

Frode Estil, a Norwegian cross-country skier who won two individual silvers and a relay gold at the games, said he was "very disappointed" in Muehlegg.

"It's very sad for the sport to have this scandal," Estil said.

American skier Carl Swenson argued that Muehlegg's testing was "good news" for the sport, since it showed that the system can detect use of darbepoetin.

"The sport's bigger than any one doping scandal," Swenson said. "It's going to keep going, and the more they catch, the cleaner it's going to become, eventually. if someone's caught, it's that much cleaner."