måndag 16 mars 2009

Doping scandal hangs over Russian biathlon athletes

WHISTLER, B.C. — Robin Clegg, Canada’s senior international biathlete, just shook his head, smiled and said he wasn’t going to comment. He just wasn’t going to go there. The issue was doping and after another image-tarnishing scandal involving Russia at the sport’s world championships in Korea last month, many are treading carefully — particularly after reports that those critical of what they see as systemic problems in Russia had been threatened, either in person or by e-mail.
Then World Cup leader Ekaterina Iourieva and multiple world champions Dmitri Yaroshenko and Albina Akhatova were sent home from world championships following positive tests for what is believed to be a new generation of EPO, the banned blood booster.
“Unlike previous doping cases, we are now facing systematic doping on a large scale in one of the strongest teams in the world,” International Biathlon Union president Anders Besseberg said then. “Is that all or just the top of the iceberg?”
Canadian coach Geret Coyne believes it goes deeper and has added his voice to the call for penalties beyond the suspension of athletes in a sport that is hugely popular in Europe.
“I don’t think coaches believe it’s just one athlete hiding off in a corner going rogue,” Coyne said at the IBU World Cup in the Callaghan Valley. “This is systemic and where do you hit them to change their behaviour?
“The medical community in the IBU has been pretty strong in their testing and catching. The question is whether the penalties are teaching any lessons. That’s the frustration of many of the coaches on the circuit. Does this just mean three new (athletes) are coming and it’s going to take you three months before you find the profile there and then they’re out, too? If you have countries that have very big talent pools, they go through fairly easy.”
Biathlon has often been cited as the winter equivalent of doping-plagued cycling.
Olga Pyleva of Russia was stripped of her silver medal at the Turin Olympics in 2006 for a positive test. And two Austrian biathletes disappeared from Turin after police raided the biathlon and cross-country team bases and arrested ex-coach Walter Mayer, who had been banned from the 2006 and 2010 Olympics for drug offences at Salt Lake City in 2002. Besseberg said in an interview Thursday that the IBU believes there are “people behind” the doping of the Russian athletes, but will need the co-operation of the athletes to substantiate fully.Iourieva has already declared herself innocent and wondered what team doctors had done to her. Akhatova sees a conspiracy, saying she always felt “Russia is not well liked by the world, but after what has happened, it looks like we are simply hated.”
An IBU doping hearing panel and the Russian Biathlon Union have launched investigations into the most recent positive cases.
“If there are people belonging to the (RBU) who are behind it, then you can punish the federation itself,” said Besseberg. “But if there are people outside the federation then you cannot punish the federation.”
Meantime, Besseberg said he’s been assured by the RBU that foreign athletes and officials will be protected 24 hours a day during the World Cup final later this month in Khanty-Mansiysk. Last month, Wolfgang Pichler, coach of the Swedish team and a leading voice against doping, said he and his athletes had been threatened with death in e-mails originating from Russia after he called for the entire Russian team to be banned from the 2009 worlds and the 2010 Olympics.
“We have to take it seriously,” said Besseberg, noting other countries have been threatened. “As late as today, we have a statement from (World Cup organizers) that they will secure these people 24 hours a day, whether it’s at the stadium or the hotel.”
While watching training on Thursday, Pichler said he’s comfortable with the security assurances he’s been given. He was not, however, backing away from his insistence that the IBU take tougher measures to combat doping.
“Doping is a big problem in this sport,” said the grizzled veteran of the world’s biathlon coaches. “I think 90 per cent of the athletes are clean, but the rest we have to fight.”


Note://Finnish biathlete beats life ban on technicality - Finnish biathlete Kaisa Varis has won an appeal to overturn her lifetime ban from the sport because of a technicality.Varis tested positive for the banned drug EPO, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled Friday that biathlon's governing body broke anti-doping rules by not giving her the chance to be represented when her backup sample was opened.The court said as a result, the "B" sample cannot be accepted as evidence against Varis.The 33-year-old Varis, who had a previous two-year ban for using EPO during her career as a cross-country skier, can now resume competing in biathlon. (LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP)

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