February 17, 2006

Pyleva says she took drugs by mistake

By Elizabeth Piper

TURIN (Reuters) - Russian biathlete Olga Pyleva, stripped
of her silver medal and expelled from the Turin Olympics for
drug-taking, told an International Biathlon Union hearing on
Friday she had taken the drugs by mistake.

"I want to say that I have never intentionally used any
banned substances. It is a huge and horrible mistake," she told
reporters after testifying at the hearing.

"I hope they believe me. I have always been open. I have
spoken only the truth," she said.

She has said she took a drug prescribed by her private
doctor for an injury. She now faces a career-threatening
maximum two-year ban and will also be questioned by Italian
magistrates.

Use of banned substances is a criminal offence in Italy.

Pyleva, who won the 15-km individual biathlon silver medal,
was stunned to hear she was being called in for questioning.

"What? There is a case against me?," Pyleva, visibly
shocked asked reporters, adding this was going to be her last
Games and did not want to end her career this way.

Asked whether she thought she would be convicted, Pyleva
said: "I hope not. I really hope it won't happen."

Pyleva was stripped of her accreditation and was forced out
of the Olympic village. She said she would remain in Italy for
the time being and did not yet know when she would leave.

Her private doctor, Nina Vinogradova, blamed the Russian
pharmaceutical company saying she had prescribed the right
medicine which was approved by the drug's manufacturer.

"It's a new medicine but it had all the necessary
certificates," Vinogradova told a news conference in the
Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk.

But Russia's biathlon chief shifted the blame on the
doctor.

"She (Pyleva) never told us that she took some medicine
which was prescribed by her private doctor," Alexander Tikhonov
said in televised comments. "The doctor just made a mistake in
prescribing the wrong medicine."

A gold medallist in the 10-km pursuit at the 2002 Salt Lake
City Games, Pyleva tested positive for carphedon, a prohibited
stimulant, on February 13 after the women's 15-km individual
biathlon.

Russian media on Friday pointed a finger at Leonid
Tyagachyov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee.

The Sovietsky Sport newspaper said Tyagachyov had publicly
promised no repeat of a huge doping scandal that rocked Russia
at the Salt Lake City Olympics four years ago.

"Yesterday's Olga Pyleva drama proved that Russian sports
officials are simply not capable of learning lessons from
previous doping scandals. And from their mistakes as well," it
said.