Two gold medal winning athletes have tested positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug and have been stripped of their medals at the Salt Lake City Games. Cross-country skiers Johann Muehlegg of Spain and Russian Larissa Lazutina tested positive for a drug that boosts endurance, by increasing the body's production of red blood cells.
The announcement came on the last day of the Games, with IOC Director General Francois Carrard announcing that Muehlegg and Lazutina tested positive for the drug NESP, an anemia drug which increases the production of red blood cells.
Both Muehlegg and Lazutina failed drug tests that were administered last Thursday. Muehlegg won the gold medal Saturday in the men's 50-kilometer classic style race. He has now been stripped of the prize and it has been awarded to Russian Mikhail Ivanov.
Lazutina won the gold medal Sunday in the women's 30-kilometer cross-country event. She has also forfeited the medal and it was awarded to Italian Gabriella Paruzzi.
IOC Medical commission head Arne Lljungqvist told a packed news conference the disqualification of the two skiers sends a message to those who want to cheat. "I think this is a very important message to all those who claim that we are always far behind the development of doping and doping substances amongst athletes," he said. "We are on their heels, those who try to take new substances."
The tests were conducted at an IOC lab set up specifically for the Olympics here in Salt Lake City. Dr. Patrick Schamasch, the executive director of the Medical Commission, said there could be no question that the positive results were correct.
"The IOC invested a huge amount of money in this laboratory and now we get the benefit of this money we have invested," he said. "We have one of the most modern laboratories in the world working well and this is the proof."
A third athlete, Olga Danilova of Russia, also tested positive for the same substance. She was banned from the games, but since she did not win a medal in the women's 30-kilometer race, she was not stripped of any medals.
The athletes have the right to appeal the decisions, but the medals have been awarded to other athletes. They will get to keep any medals, Muehlegg won two golds and Lazutina two silver medals, they won before they took the drug tests that registered positive.