Austrian ski official declares two athletes "may have used illegal methods"

Evidence is mounting that a banned Austrian ski coach helped athletes cheat at the Turin Olympics.

The head of the Austrian ski federation said Tuesday that two athletes admitted they "may have used illegal methods" at the Winter Games. Police seized unlabeled drugs, a blood transfusion machine and dozens of syringes in a surprise sweep of Austrian athletes' living quarters over the weekend.

And investigators found more syringes in the rented living quarters of the coach, Walter Mayer, who fled the games following weekend police raids on athletes' lodgings.

"It is indeed a saga," International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said. "Not even Hollywood could come up with a scenario like it."

The IOC said Tuesday it will set up a special panel to investigate the Austrian Olympic committee, ski federation, athletes and coaches, likely after the Olympics end, he said. The IOC could sanction the Austrians even without any athletes testing positive for banned substances.

"To find somebody guilty of doping you don't necessarily need urine and blood samples," Rogge said. "It can also be based on circumstantial evidence."

The Olympic drug-testing lab was still analyzing samples taken from 10 Austrian biathletes and cross-country skiers in last weekend's raids, the IOC said Wednesday morning. Spokeswoman Giselle Davies said the results should be known by the end of the games Sunday, but didn't rule out the possibility the process could stretch beyond then.

"They are testing against the full range of prohibited substances, including EPO," she said. "This can take time."

The scandal could hurt Austria 's bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Salzburg is considered one of the favorites among the seven cities bidding for those games. The host city will be selected in July 2007 at an IOC meeting in Guatemala City .

In Saturday's raids, police seized about 100 syringes, unlabeled medicine bottles, boxes of prescription drugs and a blood-transfusion machine, a person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The person asked not to be identified because the investigation was ongoing.

Austrian ski federation president Peter Schroecksnadel said two athletes who bolted the games after the raids and since have been kicked off the team confessed to a team official they may have used "illegal methods."

Schroecksnadel said at a news conference Tuesday that Wolfgang Perner and Wolfgang Rottmann made the admission to team sports director Markus Gandler. Schroecksnadel did not elaborate, but said the federation would investigate.

Schroecksnadel also acknowledged it was "a mistake" for the team to have allowed Mayer to coach in a private capacity at the Turin Games. He was banned from the Olympics for links to blood doping in 2002 in Salt Lake City .

An Italian prosecutor found more syringes Monday night when he inspected the private home that Mayer had rented for the Olympics in the mountain hamlet of Pragelato, said Mario Pescante, an IOC member and government supervisor for the games.

The seized materials were still being analyzed by Italian authorities, and no test results were announced as of Wednesday morning.

Five-time Olympian Ludwig Gredler, a member of Austria 's biathlon team, said the team has no choice but to submit to the searches.

"These are the laws of Italy and we have to follow them," he said. "Team Austria is a small group and we live in close proximity to each other, but naturally I can't know what happens in other rooms. I know I'm clean and have taken nothing, but I can't speak for my teammates."

Mayer fled the Turin area and headed for his native Austria sometime after the weekend raids. He resurfaced the next night when he crashed his car into a police blockade just 15 miles inside the Austrian border with Italy , some 250 miles from Turin .

Schroecksnadel said police took Mayer to a psychiatric facility, where he was staying because it was feared he might commit suicide. Mayer pleaded guilty to charges of civil disorder, assault and damage to property in an Austrian court Tuesday.

While the IOC favors only sports sanctions for athletes in doping cases, Rogge said it was entirely appropriate for police to go after Mayer. He said the decision was made Saturday afternoon to coordinate the police and IOC anti-doping swoop.

"They said, `We want Mayer,"' Rogge said. "They said, `We will strike today. Will you please do it at the same time?"'

Saturday's raids, the first ever by police on athletes at the Olympics, are taking place against the backdrop of the most rigorous drug controls in Winter Olympic history. Russian biathlon silver medalist Olga Pyleva was thrown out of the games and stripped of her medal last week for using a banned stimulant, reports the AP.


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