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Anti-doping War Escalates
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The International Olympic Committee's (IOC) war against doping reached new levels when IOC drug busters and Italian police raided the private quarters of the Austrian biathlon team late Saturday.

Although the IOC were quick to point out that it was not a joint operation, the message has sent shock waves throughout the athletes' community.

Ten athletes - six cross country and four biathlon competitors - were tested and the results will be known within 48 hours, announced Arne Ljunqvist, head of the IOC's medical commission on Sunday.

The Italian police were looking for doping equipment and also for disgraced Austrian coach Walter Mayer, who has been banned from the Olympics up to and including Vancouver 2010.

The ban came after Mayer was strongly suspected to have been involved in blood manipulation at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

No sign of Mayer was found during Saturday's raid, but police reportedly took away a stash of documents.

Mario Pescante, Italian IOC member and the minister of sport said yesterday that Mayer had left Italy and returned home to Austria.

Austrian officials were incensed by the raids.

"We are considering making an official protest about this to the IOC," said Markus Gandler, the technical director of the Austrian biathlon and cross-country teams.

"I just do not understand what is going on here. We have nothing to do with Walter Mayer.

"The police raid lasted about four hours. When you have around 30 policemen suddenly swoop on you, you just feel like a criminal."

Gandler's denial that his teams were not involved with Mayer was quickly dismissed by the IOC who produced an official Austrian team photograph which included Mayer.

"This man is openly defying us," said a clearly angered IOC president Jacques Rogge.

The police search and IOC out-of-competition drug raid was sparked by a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report that revealed that Mayer may be helping the Austrian athletes.

"The IOC has acted on information it received in a report given to it by the WADA which indicates the possible presence of Mr Walther Mayer in the private accommodation of the Austrian biathlon and cross country teams," said the IOC in a statement released early yesterday.

"Given that Mr Mayer has been declared ineligible to participate in all Olympic Games up to and including Vancouver 2010, based on his involvement in blood manipulation offences committed in Salt Lake City 2002, the IOC is fulfilling its responsibility to conduct anti-doping controls on athletes who might have been under his influence."

The IOC raised the alarm after Mayer, former cross country ski coach of the Austrian national team, was spotted in Valle di Susa.

Ljunqvist said he would be very surprised if the Austrian team made an official protest.

"We have such evidence that this raid was necessary," he said.

Ljunqvist admitted that the Austrian athletes were targeted because of Mayer's involvement, adding that they "invited suspicion."

Austrian cross-country skier Martin Tauber was furious at the raid.

"It was a long night without sleeping," he complained. "I was tested at 01:30. I was at my place, and they just came in."

Tauber, whose team finished last in the 4x10km men's relay yesterday, added that they "absolutely ruined the race."

Team-mate Juergen Pinter was also upset.

"We were surprised in our room," he said. "Suddenly the police came in and didn't let us leave on the night before the competition. It's a very strange procedure of the IOC. It's unbelievable."

(China Daily February 20, 2006)

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