Stripped!

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London, England March 21, 2002 (AP by Stephen Wilson)--British skier Alain Baxter was stripped of his Olympic bronze medal in the slalom Thursday after testing positive for a banned stimulant at last month's Winter Games.

The IOC disqualified Baxter, the first British skier to win an Olympic medal, and revoked his medal, making him the third athlete stripped of a medal for drug violations at the Salt Lake City Games.

The International Olympic Committee executive board said it was up to the international ski federation to consider further sanctions against Baxter, including a possible two-year ban from the sport.

The board also disqualified Vasily Pankov, a hockey player from Belarus who tested positive for the steroid nandrolone. The Belarus team doctor, Evgeni Lositski, was banned from the next two Olympics.

Five doping cases have now been confirmed from Salt Lake, matching the total of all previous Winter Olympics.

Baxter, a 28-year-old Scot, tested positive for methamphetamine after his surprise third-place finish on Feb. 23.

His medal will go to the fourth-place finisher, Austria's Benjamin Raich.

The IOC said the British Olympic Association must return the medal by March 31. Arrangements for a new medal ceremony will be made later, the IOC said.

Baxter and the BOA said the skier was harshly punished for unwittingly taking a banned substance in an over-the-counter decongestant.

``We take the view that the circumstances of the case are unfortunate at worst and that Alain has suffered a dreadful penalty,'' said Craig Reedie, the BOA president and an IOC member. ``The BOA is convinced that in no way can Alain be described as a `drug cheat.' We believe the offense to be modest and the punishment very severe.''

Baxter said he would consult with lawyers on whether to appeal.

``It's been a long three weeks, going from the best couple days of my life to the worst three weeks,'' he said. ``I just want to get on with my life. ... I totally agree with drug testing, you shouldn't cheat in sport.''

Baxter and the BOA argued the positive test was an innocent mistake resulting from the use of Vicks Inhaler to clear up a head cold.

The product sold in the United States contains levamfetamine, a mild form of methamphetamine, while the British version does not. Methamphetamine, also known as speed, is a powerful nervous-system stimulant.

The IOC's strict-liablity rules make clear that athletes are automatically disqualified if a prohibited substance is found in their body, whether it was taken intentionally or not.

The IOC was only concerned whether a positive test was proven and said it was up to the international ski federation to consider any mitigating circumstances in Baxter's case.

The IOC statement said the international federation should ``consider whether it should take any further action within its own competence.''

Under international guidelines, use of methamphetamine carries a two-year ban.

``Two years is a long time,'' Baxter said. ``I'm just hoping it's not going to be two years.''

Baxter, speaking at a London news conference, said he had been using the Vicks product in Britain since he was 9 years old. He said he bought a U.S. version of the inhaler at a supermarket in Salt Lake City.

``At that time, it never crossed my mind that it was different from the British one,'' he said. ``I had no reason in my mind to get it checked. I didn't think I was doing anything wrong.''

Pankov failed his drug test after Belarus lost 7-2 to Russia in the bronze-medal hockey game on Feb. 23. His disqualification does not affect the tournament results or standings, or the Belarus team as a whole.

But the IOC said the International Ice Hockey Federation should ``make appropriate mention'' of Pankov's test in the record of results, and consider whether to take further sanctions. Pankov could face a two-year ban.

Thhe Belarus Olympic committee was ordered to return Pankov's participation diploma by March 31.

Lositski was found guilty of a doping offense for providing Pankov a medication containing nandrolone. The doctor was ruled ineligible for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

Baxter and Pankov both appeared at hearings of the IOC's inquiry and disciplinary commissions in Lausanne last weekend. The cases were then sent to the ruling executive board for final action.

The IOC is still investigating the Austrian cross-country ski team after blood transfusion equipment was discovered in a house used by the Austrians during the Olympics.

The Austrian federation has claimed the material was used for ultraviolet radiation treatment of the skiers' blood to prevent cold and flu. The IOC says any manipulation of blood is considered blood doping, a banned practice.

Three cross-country skiers _ Spain's Johann Muehlegg and Russia's Larissa Lazutina and Olga Danilova--tested positive at the games for the endurance-boosting drug darbepoetin.

Muehlegg was stripped of gold in the 50K race, one of three gold medals he won at the games; Lazutina lost her gold in the 30K event and Danilova was disqualified from the 30K. All three kept medals won earlier during the games.

Muehlegg, Lazutina and Danilova filed appeals with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. Norway and Canada, meanwhile, also appealed to the arbitration court, contending the three athletes should lose all their medals.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press