Al-Ahram Weekly Online   14 - 20 August 2008
Issue No. 910
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Marred by early doping scandal

IN THE FIRST official doping case of the Beijing Olympics, Spanish cyclist Maria Isabel Moreno was kicked out of the Games on Monday after testing positive for EPO.

Moreno, who had been due to compete in the women's road race and individual time trial, was tested in the athletes' village on July 31and left China later the same day before learning the result, the International Olympic Committee said.

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said Moreno's sample came back positive for EPO, a blood-boosting hormone that enhances endurance and has been at the center of numerous doping scandals in cycling in recent years.

The IOC expelled Moreno from the Games, revoked her accreditation and asked cycling's world governing body, the UCI, to follow up for any further sanctions. Athletes found guilty of using EPO normally face a two-year ban.

Eugenio Bermudez, secretary general of the Spanish cycling federation, said Moreno's backup "B" sample came back positive Sunday night.

The 27-year-old Moreno is the first athlete caught under the IOC's Beijing drug- testing program, which began with the opening of the Olympic village on July 27 and runs through the end of the games on August 24. The program includes a record 4,500 doping controls, with athletes subject to surprise, out-of-competition tests at any time and any place.

Under a new IOC rule, Moreno will be barred from the 2012 London Olympics if she receives a doping ban of more than six months.

Moreno, a three-time Spanish national champion, is not a major name in international cycling and was not considered a likely medal contender in Beijing. She was a third-place finisher at the women's Giro in Italy in 2007.

She had cited an anxiety attack for her decision to return to Spain on the day of the drug test.

Spanish Olympic committee spokesman Jose Maria Bellon said Monday that a team doctor had examined Moreno on July 31 and determined she was not fit to compete.

"It's very surprising. It appears that the Spanish anti-doping controls didn't detect anything in their tests back in Spain before the athlete traveled out," Bellon said. "We don't know how many tests she underwent, but obviously she didn't pass the last one. We're examining the case."

Moreno said on her Web site that she was "taking advantage of several days to relax and recuperate from the strong anxiety attack suffered" in Beijing.

With Moreno's departure, the Spanish team had two riders instead of three in Sunday's road race, which was won by Britain's Nicole Cooke. Moreno had also been scheduled to race in Wednesday's time trial.

Spanish cyclists have been under intense scrutiny since Operation Puerto, a blood doping investigation launched in Madrid in May 2006 that has implicated dozens of riders.

Two Spanish cyclists, Moises Duenas Nevado and Manuel Beltran, tested positive for EPO during this year's Tour de France.

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