Scandal puts winter sports into doping limelight

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Winter sports may replace cycling at the centre of the doping limelight after reports of involvement of a large number of winter sports athletes in the doping scandal focused around an Austrian blood bank.

16th January 2008

Vienna (dpa) - According to German broadcaster ARD, two-thirds of the up to 30 athletes implicated in the scandal came from Germany and were active in the winter sport disciplines of biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Germany's ski federation stressed that they had not yet received any names or other information, and therefore lacked a basis for any action. The federation hoped to receive further information from anti-doping authorities, a spokesman said.

While German coaches ruled out their athletes' involvement, doping expert Wilhelm Schaenzer said blood doping would have a distinct advantage in disciplines like biathlon or cross-country skiing.

"Homogenous blood doping makes most sense in endurance sport," he said.

Pharmacologist Fritz Soergel added that winter sports could now pass out cycling as the sport with the biggest doping problem: "20 (athletes) in one go, that's a lot," he said.

The international anti-doping agency WADA informed Austria's authorities in November of their suspicions that Humanplasma, a Vienna-based blood bank, had engaged in illicit blood-doping activities.

Humanplasma's management denied any involvement. Commenting on reports that the illegal activities were conducted off-hours on Sunday morning, laboratory head Lothar Baumgartner was quoted as saying he had no knowledge of such activities, but could not rule out that company premises had been abused for such purposes.

The 2006 Turin Winter Olympics were shaken by a major doping scandal, involving Austria's Nordic team, moving doping in winter sports to the foreground of the public consciousness.

After the first allegations of blood doping surfaced against Austrian athletes in Salt Lake City in 2002, Italian authorities raided the quarters of the Nordic skiing and biathlon team, seizing equipment suitable for doping.

The affair resulted in life bans for three Austrian cross-country skiers and a hefty fine for the country's ski federation issued by the IOC.

While refusing to comment on Tuesday's news reports, Austria's Interior Ministry said it had received a request for assistance from Turin prosecutors investigating allegations of blood doping conducted by members of the Austrian Nordic skiing and biathlon team at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

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