It's a Four-Medal Day for Austrian Skiers


February 21, 2006

TURIN, Italy (AP by Eric Talmadge)—Never before has Austria won so many golds in an Olympics. In the span of just a few hours on Monday alone, Austria won its fifth, sixth and seventh _ surpassing its previous best of six at a Winter Games.

Hopefully, somebody will notice.

As the country marked its most golden day ever at the Winter Olympics _ and added on a couple of bronze for good measure _ its athletes were sharing the spotlight with the bizarre story of Walter Mayer, a ski coach that had banned for his association with blood doping.

Acting on a tip that Mayer was with Austria's Nordic team, authorities carried out an unprecedented series of late night raids at the lodgings of Austrian officials and athletes over the weekend. Mayer hastily left the games, was caught at an Austrian police road block, tried to escape authorities and then was admitted to a psychiatric clinic.

The raids were humiliating for the team.

Italian authorities seized 100 syringes and 30 packages of antidepressants and asthma medication, local prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello told Austrian television. One Austrian athlete threw a bag out of a window containing needles and medicines, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Not surprisingly, Austria's biathletes, who were subjected to the searches, finished dead last in their race on Sunday.

But then Austria bounced back.

With its three golds Monday, Austria was tied with the United States, Russia and Germany for most golds won. Its 15 medals overall was second only to the Germans, with 18, and equal with the Americans. The most golds Austria had won in a previous Winter Games was six in Albertville in 1992. Austria took five golds at the Berlin Games in the summer of 1936.

Austria's winners were understandably elated by their success.

"This makes me extremely happy, Benjamin Raich said after taking the gold in the men's giant slalom. "The Olympic victory was my greatest goal.

Raich had to come back from an initial fifth-place run to win with a brilliant effort on his second.[pagebreak]Making the victory even sweeter, teammate Hermann Maier was just .16 second behind to grab the bronze.

Maier had a few words about the scandal.

"It's terrible that there's a hunt going on after this one person, he told Austrian television. "He's been chased like Osama bin Laden.

On a different slope, Thomas Morgenstern and Andreas Kofler carried their success over from the large hill competition, leading Austria to the Olympic gold medal Monday in the ski jumping team event.

And Michaela Dorfmeister won the women's super-G _ she also won the downhill last week _ by crossing the finish line in 1:32.47, edging Croatia's Janica Kostelic by .27 seconds.

Again, an Austrian _ Alexandra Meissnitzer _ was there to collect the bronze.

"I'm flying like an angel, Dorfmeister said. "I go home from these Olympics with two medals and they are both gold. It's unbelievable. It's the top to finish my career like this.

Equally unbelievable, however, has been what is almost certainly the end of Mayer's career.

He was released by authorities in Vienna, Austria, early Monday, sporting cuts and scratches on his right temple that he sustained when he crashed into a police roadblock 25 kilometers (15 miles) into Austria on Sunday.

Authorities said they weren't finished with him just yet.

Austrian prosecutor Gottfried Kranz said Mayer could be charged with evading arrest and causing bodily harm to a police officer. Turin's chief prosecutor, Marcello Maddalena, said Mayer was also under investigation for possible violation of Italy's anti-doping laws.

He said Italian authorities would not seek his arrest.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press