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Sunday, August 22, 2004
Another embarrassment for host nation

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Greek weightlifter Leonidas Sampanis was stripped of his bronze medal Sunday and expelled from the Olympics for a doping offense, another embarrassment for the host nation.

He was the first athlete at the Athens Games to lose his medal because of doping.

Sampanis, who was third in the 137-pound (62kg) category after winning silvers at the previous two Olympics, was disqualified by the International Olympic Committee executive board.

His medal was given to Venezuela's Israel Jose Rubio Rivero, who finished fourth.

The 32-year-old Sampanis tested positive for twice the allowed amount of testosterone, the IOC said. Doctors established that the testosterone came from outside the body.

"Honestly, I can say that for the last 10 years, the time that I have been a weightlifter, I never used this kind of drug," he said, crying.

Sampanis was tested Aug. 16 after winning the medal. He told the IOC on Aug. 7 that he had been injected with an undisclosed drug for an injury, but IOC medical director, Patrick Schamasch, said that had nothing to do with the positive tests.

So far, nine weightlifters, including Sampanis, have failed drug tests.

Any other sanctions against Sampanis, including a ban from the sport, would be decided by the International Weightlifting Federation.

"We very much believe in Sampanis' innocence and we will try to prove it,'' said Yiannis Sgouros, head of the Greek Weightlifting Federation.

The Greek federation has hired a lawyer to investigate how the Sampanis' sample tested positive.

The decision was another huge blow for Greece, just four days after top sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou pulled out of the games in a scandal over missed drug tests.

Since the games began Aug. 13, Greece has won three gold medals, one silver and two bronze, not counting the medal Sampanis lost.

Elida Parraga, head of the Venezuelan delegation, said the new medal was deserved.

"It is a surprise indeed, but it's a legitimate medal because Jose had a great performance and he was clean,'' Parraga said. "We lament what this Greek kid has done, especially because he came from the country that organized the games.''

Parraga said Rivero will be presented the medal in a ceremony, including an olive wreath given to all medalists.

The last time Venezuela received an Olympic medal was in 1984 when it took gold and bronze in the tae kwon do competition.