Austrian cross-country skier out of games for EPO

Associated Press
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In this Feb. 9, 2014 photo Austria's Johannes Duerr competes during the men's cross-country 30k skiathlon at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Duerr has been kicked out of the Sochi Games after testing positive for EPO, the country's Olympic committee said Sunday, Feb 23, 2014. It is the fifth doping case of the Olympics and the first involving the blood-boosting drug EPO. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Austrian cross-country skier Johannes Duerr was kicked out of the Sochi Games on Sunday after testing positive for the blood booster EPO. It is the fifth doping case — and most serious so far — at the Olympics.

"It is a black day for us," Austrian Olympic Committee President Karl Stoss said at a news conference on the final day of the games.

Duerr finished eighth in the men's skiathlon Feb. 9 and was tested seven days later in Austria, where he had flown back for training. He returned to Sochi and had been due to compete in the 50-kilometer mass start Sunday, the final cross-country event.

Stoss said Duerr was tested 14 times before this season, all the results negative. He said the skier's accreditation was pulled and he was on his way home.

At the airport in Sochi, Duerr was remorseful. He told Austrian TV he can "only apologize to everyone."

"So many people have been doing all they could to help me and now I've disappointed them with my silliness," he said, adding he is not sure what awaits him.

"I am not afraid," he said. "I am in a way glad it has come to an end. ... This is the worst thing I've done in my life. This is very, very tough. You can't explain this in three sentences."

Markus Gandler, Austria's sports director for cross-country, said the "team is broken" and called this matter "heavy doping."

"This should be punished," he said. "I called him a 'dream guy' two days ago. What should I call him now?"

EPO is used to boost red blood cells that carry oxygen to the muscles, increasing stamina and endurance. The four other cases involved minor stimulants that can be found in food supplements.

None of the five athletes won medals in Sochi. The other four were: Latvian hockey player Vitalijs Pavlovs, Ukrainian cross-country skier Marina Lisogor, German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle and Italian bobsledder William Frullani.

The Austrian cross-country and biathlon teams were at the center of a major doping scandal at the 2006 Turin Olympics. Italian police, acting on a tip, raided the team lodgings and seized blood doping equipment and other substances.

No Austrians tested positive at those games, but several were later banned for life by the International Olympic Committee. The IOC fined the Austrian Olympic Committee $1 million, and the Austrian ski federation cut funding for biathlon and cross-country for several years.

The 26-year-old Duerr has been the leading athlete in a new generation of cross-country skiers attempting to rebuild the sport's image in Austria. He debuted on the World Cup circuit in 2011 and finished third in this season's overall Tour de Ski standings.

"It's a great pity that after all successful participations of the Austrian team we have had this case of doping," Stoss said. "We will do everything that is needed of us to prevent this in future. But, of course, we can't say there will not be one."

Added Austrian cross-country skier Bernhard Tritscher: "It's the worst thing, that you believe everything is OK. We train together, we perform together and then this happens. That's unbelievable for me."

The EPO test comes after an Olympics in which the Austrians won 17 medals going into the final day.

"This was really good work made by our team," Stoss said. "The athlete himself confessed that he is the only one who did that and he takes all the responsibility on himself."

The IOC is conducting 2,453 drug tests in Sochi, a record for the Winter Games. The Olympic body also stores doping samples for 10 years to allow for retesting when new methods become available.

There was only one positive test at the previous Winter Olympics four years ago in Vancouver.

"The number of the cases for me is not really relevant," said IOC President Thomas Bach, who wouldn't confirm or deny the Austrian case because of confidentiality. "What is important is that we see the system work."

Earlier, Pavlovs tested positive for the stimulant methylhexanamine following Latvia's loss to Canada in the quarterfinals Thursday.

Lisogor tested positive for trimetazidine on Tuesday after the women's team sprint. She said she had been taking medication for a thyroid condition but "forgot to declare" the drug on her doping form.

Sachenbacher-Stehle, a former two-time Olympic gold medalist, tested positive for methylhexanamine. She blamed a nutritional supplement and said she had never knowingly taken performance enhancers.

Frullani tested positive for dimetylpentylamine. The Italian Olympic Committee told the AP it believed Frullani, a former decathlete, bought the stimulant on the Internet from the United States since it is not available in Italy.


AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar, Stephen Wilson and Chris Lehourites contributed to this report.