Bulgarian Lifters Disqualified, U.S. Gets Gold

ByTed Anthony

S Y D N E Y, Australia, Sept. 22, 2000 -- The United States got its first weightlifting gold medal since 1960 after two Bulgarian lifterswere stripped of their medals and thrown out of the Olympics today after testing positive for a banned drug.

In addition, Bulgaria’s entire weightlifting team was thrown outof the Sydney Olympics and suspended from international competitionfor 12 months, the International Weightlifting Federationannounced.

It was the second time in 12 years that Bulgarian weightliftershave been ejected from an Olympics for using the bannedweight-losing drug, and the positive tests cast uncertainty uponthe very future of the sport as an Olympic event.

Nott Wins Gold

The International Olympic Committee said today (Thursday nightET) that gold medalist Izabela Dragneva — the first women’sweightlifting champion in Olympic history — and men’s bronzemedalist Sevdalin Minchev tested positive for banned diuretics atthe Sydney Games.

The gold medal goes to Tara Nott, of Stilwell, Kan.

Dragneva and Minchev were the second and third Bulgarian liftersfound with the banned drug furosemide in their systems at thesegames. Both were ordered to return their medals and leave theOlympic Village.

“When athletes are using this product, they are gettingstupid,” said Prince Alexandre de Merode, chairman of the IOCMedical Commission.

Entire Team at Risk

IWF secretary general Tamas Ajan said the “three-strikes-and-out” rule would be applied to the Bulgarian team unless it decided to pay a $50,000 fine. The IWF then met with Bulgarian Olympic officials and announced the ouster.

“I’m really disappointed,” Ajan said. “But I trust absolutelyin my sport.”

Beltcho Ivanov, secretary general of the Bulgarian nationalOlympic committee, said the two were tested when they entered theOlympic Village and no problems were detected. They both testedpositive after the competition, he said.

“It is impossible our athletes took this drug because it isvery primitive,” he said.

12-Month Suspension

The IWF said that “in light of the three positive testsrecorded by Bulgarian weightlifters at these Olympic Games andfurther to their disqualification by the IOC, the IWF executiveboard, being conscious of its responsibilities … suspends theBulgarian Weightlifting Federation forthwith for a period of notless than 12 months, pending further investigation.”

“All remaining lifters as well as officials from Bulgaria willnot be allowed to take part in the Olympic Games,” the IWFstatement said.

The Bulgarians could have paid a $50,000 fine and stayed in thegames. IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch said the fine, if paid,would be used to fight doping in Bulgaria. He would not directlyaddress weightlifting’s future in the games.

“We are doing what we have to do,” Samaranch said.

IOC Director General Francois Carrard, meanwhile, warned againsttarring every Bulgarian weightlifter because of the actions of afew. “We always have to be very careful in making the distinctionbetween clean athletes and cheats,” he said at a news conference.

Nott Is Shocked

The sanction means Nott gets the gold medal in the women’sclass. She finished second behind Dragneva. Nott, informed of hergold medal, said she was “kind of in shock.”

“It’s good to know that those who cheat are getting caught,”she said. “Someday we will have a level playing field, and myselfand others will be able to win on the platform rather than after adrug test.”

New medal ceremonies were held today in the Olympic Village,although Nott attended the weightlifting competition to cheer onher teammates. Nott’s gold is the first for an American liftersince Chuck Vinci won the 123-pound title at the Rome Games 40years ago.

The entire Bulgarian weightlifting team might also be kicked outunder federation rules. Bulgarian officials also said they mightwithdraw the rest of their weightlifters from the games. That couldfurther change the medal standings, since Bulgarians have threemore medals since Dragneva and Minchev competed.

“They are learning the hard way now,” Carrard said.

Women’s weightlifting is being held for the first time inSydney.

Entire Team Might Leave

IWF rules suspend a nation from international competition forthe rest of a year if three of its lifters test positive any timeduring that calendar year. Sam Coffa, vice president of theInternational Weightlifting Federation, said he did not expect theBulgarian team would be allowed to stay.

“I would be very surprised,” Coffa said. He said dopers “mustpay the price.”

On Wednesday, Bulgarian lifter Ivan Ivanov was stripped of hissilver medal in the 123-pound class after testing positive forfurosemide. Ivanov, a former Olympic and world champion, was thefirst athlete to fail an in-competition test during the games.

Johann Olav Koss, an athlete member of the medical commission,said the IOC must consider the overall Bulgarian weightliftingproblem.

“You have three cases for the same drug in the same sport fromthe same country,” he said today. “That’s the big problem.”

At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Bulgaria was stripped of twoweightlifting gold medals and subsequently withdrew its entireweightlifting team after athletes tested positive for furosemide.

Such diuretics are used to lose weight but also can be used tomask the presence of other performance-enhancing drugs, such assteroids. The most commonly used diuretic is caffeine, which alsois on the banned list.

Hundreds of Doping Tests

Dragneva, 28, won the gold medal in the women’s 105-pound event,in which Nott originally won the silver. Minchev, 26, took thebronze medal in the men’s 137-pound class in which GennadyOleshchuk of Belarus finished fourth.

Two Romanian weightlifters, Traian Ciharean and Adrian Mateas,were suspended and expelled from the Olympic Village after failingout-of-competition tests.

The IOC has conducted 760 doping tests at competition sites sofar, in addition to 227 off-site blood tests and 323 off-site urinetests, Carrard said.

Though he would not comment on weightlifting’s future, he saidthe IOC would discuss the situation with the federation “quietlyafter the games.”

IOC vice president Dick Pound, while calling the positive tests“a statement,” said he hoped it would not mean the end of Olympicweightlifting.

“Each positive test is a success rather than a failure,” hesaid. But “I would hate to see the sport dropped from the programunless it’s clear that nobody is going to do anything about theproblem.”

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