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Monday, August 23, 2004
Korzhanenko faces lifetime ban from sport

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Russia's Irina Korzhanenko was stripped of her shot put gold medal Monday, the first athlete of the Athens Games to lose an Olympic title because of doping.

Korzhanenko, 30, the first woman to win a gold medal at the sacred site of Ancient Olympia, tested positive for the steroid stanozolol after Wednesday's competition. The backup B sample confirmed the initial finding.

The International Olympic Committee executive board expelled Korzhanenko from the Games and ordered the Russian Olympic Committee to return the medal.

The gold goes to Cuba's Yumileidi Cumba Jay. Germany's Nadine Kleinert would move up to silver, and Russia's Svetlana Krivelyova to bronze.

"Irina is in the Olympic Village and she is totally dismayed," Nikolai Durmanov, head of the Russian anti-doping agency, told reporters. "We are talking to her, trying to find the reasons why it all happened.''

A spokesman for the Cuban delegation, Pedro Cabrera, said the team was happy for Cumba.

"She deserves the gold medal because of her dedication and hard work before and during the games,'' he said.

Cabrera also criticized sports in general, saying that doping is a "byproduct of the excessive commercialization of sports and sports factors that, far from benefiting it, hurts it.''

Korzhanenko, who served a previous two-year drug suspension, faces a lifetime ban from the sport. In 1999, she was stripped of the silver medal at the world indoor championships for a doping violation and was given a two-year suspension that kept her out of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Under international rules, two steroid violations warrants a lifetime ban.

The IOC decision came a day after Greek weightlifter Leonidas Sampanis became the first athlete of the Athens Games to be stripped of a medal for a doping offense. Sampanis lost his bronze medal in the 137-pound (62kg) category after testing positive for testosterone.

The shot put was held at Ancient Olympia, about 200 miles southwest of Athens, two days before the start of track and field in Olympic Stadium. It was the first time women have competed at the site; the ancient Olympics were for men only.

Korzhanenko won with a throw of 69 feet, 1 1/4 (21.06 meters) -- the first throw more than 21 meters in four years. A member of the Russian Army Club from Azov in the Rostov region and a member of the Russian national team since 1994, Korzhanenko won the world indoor title in 2003 in Birmingham, England.

Another female shot putter, Uzbekistan's Olga Shchukina, tested positive in a pre-event screening for the steroid clenbuterol. She finished 19th and last in her qualifying group and was expelled from the Games on Friday.

So far, nine weightlifters have failed drug tests, including another Russian, Albina Khomich. A Kenyan boxer was also sent home for using drugs. With six days left in the games, including track and field events, more positives were likely.

"The testing is more extensive and more comprehensive, so you'd expect we would catch more athletes that are cheating,'' Dick Pound, the World Anti-Doping Agency chief, told The Associated Press Sunday. "It increases the confidence in the authenticity of the competition if we are taking people out who cheated.''

Probe started for weightlifter's claim
A prosecutor started an investigation Monday into claims that weightlifter Leonidas Sampanis, stripped of his bronze medal for doping, could have been slipped a banned substance without his knowledge.

Prosecutor Grigoris Peponis opened the investigation a day after Sampanis became the first athlete of the Athens Games to be stripped of a medal for a doping offense. He lost his bronze medal in the 137-pound (62kg) category when a drug test showed he had an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Sampanis, who won silver medals in 1996 and 2000, has denied wrongdoing. But Greek weightlifting coach Christos Iakovou said the testosterone could have been given to Sampanis without his knowing it.

"I want to thank all the people who are with me and have given me courage," Sampanis said as he left his house in the Nea Smirni district of Athens.

"The case has been taken over by my lawyer, a prosecutor and the federation and I hope that all together we will be vindicated. I am telling you I am innocent," he said. "When this is over then I will be OK. I am innocent."

The government has said it will push for a full investigation into any allegation that Greek athletes may have taken banned substances, and that it would strip offenders of any privilege given to them by the state.

Olympic medalists are regularly given jobs in the military or security services.

"The specific athlete (Sampanis) will be given the chance ... to have recourse to the proper authorities and be vindicated since he claims -- as we have all seen -- that he is innocent,'' government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said.

On Monday, Russia's Irina Korzhanenko was stripped of her shot put gold medal after testing positive for a steroid.