February 10, 2006

EPO test claims are incorrect says IOC

By Antonella Ciancio

TURIN (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee on
Friday rejected claims by an Italian Health Ministry official
who said several Winter Olympics athletes had tested positive
for doping in pre-Games drugs checks.

"This information is incorrect," IOC communications
director Giselle Davies told Reuters.

Giovanni Zotta, who is an Italian representative on the
International Olympic Committee's anti-doping commission, had
earlier told Reuters that preliminary tests had found the
banned substance Erythropoietin (EPO) in several athletes.

"So far there have been cases of EPO haematocrit in several
athletes but it must be confirmed," Zotta said, speaking on the
day the Games were to open. He did not provide the names of any
athletes or numbers involved.

EPO boosts the number of red blood cells which carry oxygen
and improves stamina.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) said earlier on
Friday that eight cross-country skiers at the Olympics had been
suspended for five days after tests showed they had an
abnormally high red blood cell count.

The FIS said the five-day suspensions were not a sanction
but a health measure. It was not clear whether there was any
connection between the suspension of the cross-country skiers
and the EPO doping cases.

Zotta said more tests were needed before the EPO doping
cases could be confirmed.

"This morning we will be checking (the cases)," he said in
a telephone interview. "Shortly we will be having a meeting on
the results."

Following the denial by the IOC, Zotta could not be
immediately reached for a response.

The 20th Winter Games were to begin later on Friday.