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Norway's Skari nabs 10K cross-country gold

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Wednesday, February 27, 2002
Canadians want Russian medalists investigated

Associated Press

TORONTO -- If at first you succeed, try, try again.

Canadian Olympic officials who protested the pairs figure skating judging to get a gold medal for Jamie Sale and David Pelletier now want the International Olympic Committee to review drug tests in cross-country skiing.

The goal is for Canadian skier Beckie Scott, who won the bronze medal in the women's 10-K cross country combined event on Feb. 15, to be awarded gold because the two women who beat her -- Russians Olga Danilova and Larissa Lazutina -- were later found guilty of doping and kicked out of the Salt Lake City Games on the final day of competition.

According to a letter dated Feb. 24 from the Canadian Olympic Association to the IOC, the Canadians believe the Russian skiers almost certainly were using the drug darbepoetin before a Feb. 21 test detected it in their systems.

The letter asks the IOC to conduct a further review of drug tests the Russians underwent six days earlier in connection with the 10-K combined competition.

So far, the IOC has said the Russians tested clean for the 10-K combined and therefore would keep their medals. To Canadian officials and athletes, that amounts to knowing the Russians cheated but letting them get away with it.

The letter from Sally Rehorick, chief of mission of the Canadian Olympic team, said it was "highly unlikely" the drug use would have started after the 10-K combined race on Feb. 15, according to "considerable expert opinion."

It added there was "every reason to believe that the athletes who tested positive on Feb 21st were competing with the advantage afforded by the use of (darbepoetin) on Feb. 15th, in direct and distinct violation of the rules against doping."

Darbepoetin boosts the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to muscles. It is relatively new and not on the IOC's list of banned substances, but has similar properties to the banned hormone erythropoietin, or EPO.

Rehorick's letter notes that Danilova and Lazutina may have undergone urine tests only, and not blood tests, on Feb. 15, and that the urine samples may not have been tested for darbepoetin.

"Should this be the case, we formally request that urine samples collected at the conclusion of competition of Feb 15th from the athletes noted above be subjected to analyses appropriate for the detection of erythropoietin and/or related substances," said the letter sent to Prince Alexandre de Merode, chairman of the IOC Medical Commission, and copied to IOC President Jacques Rogge and Dick Pound, the Canadian who heads the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Mark Lowry, the COA executive director for sports and programs, said Wednesday that the IOC has the capability to conduct further tests on the urine samples from Feb. 15.

"What we're trying to determine ... is if there is scientific evidence, then is there grounds to take action," Lowry said.

Asked why Canada was seeking the investigation after the Olympics, he said: "Canada will always question if there is not circumstances allowing a Canadian athlete or any athlete to win fairly and ethically."

The controversy over the Sale-Pelletier figure skating medal also involved Russia, as Russian pair Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze were awarded gold medals ahead of the Canadians in the initial judging.

Complaints of a fix led to the IOC and International Skating Union suspending a French judge who said she was pressured to vote a certain way, and awarding a second set of gold medals to the Canadians.

Russian officials complained about the decision and also accused Olympic officials of unfairly targeting Russian athletes with drug tests.

Lazutina, who tied an Olympic record with her 10th medal by winning the women's 30K classical race on Feb. 24, was stripped of that victory. But she was allowed to keep her two earlier medals -- silvers in the 15K freestyle and the 10K combined.

Danilova kept her 10K combined gold medal and a silver medal from the 10K classic-style race, but was disqualified from her eighth-place finish in the 30K.