Monday, February 25, 2002
Updated: February 26, 8:38 AM ET
Royal Palace calls off reception for tainted skier
MADRID, Spain -- The Royal Palace called off a welcoming reception for Johann Muehlegg after the Spanish cross-country skier was stripped of one of his three Olympic gold medals for a doping offense.
A spokesman for the Royal Palace said a ceremony scheduled for Wednesday had been put off until further notice but gave no reason why.
Spanish newspapers, meanwhile, ripped into the disgraced German-born skier, who lost his 50K gold medal Sunday after testing positive for darbepoetin, which boosts production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
"The unbounded joy over Johann Muehlegg's third gold medal in the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City barely lasted a moment," the daily El Mundo said in an editorial titled: "Muehlegg, From Mystery to Sporting Dishonor."
The daily ABC titled its editorial, "Salt Lake City, From Euphoria to Deception," and said that in "one night, he may have lost not just one of his gold medals but his status as a sporting hero."
Meanwhile, Muehlegg said he was confident a backup test would prove him innocent, but he learned Tuesday that the "B" sample of his urine test taken in Salt Lake City had also proved positive.
Support for the 31-year-old athlete in Spain had been mixed from the start, given that many did not consider him truly Spanish. But as the golds came in, his foreign background was pushed aside and more emphasis was set on the Olympic milestone he looked to be establishing for Spain.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar urged the state secretary for sports, Juan Antonio Gomez Angulo, not to abandon Muehlegg and to argue the athlete's case before the IOC.
Even King Juan Carlos had sent him a telegram, saying he was "an example for all our athletes to follow."
Education Minister Pilar Del Castillo refused to abandon hope Monday and said the government would look "to see if there was any chance to appeal."
"In any case," she said, "he's an extraordinary athlete and I don't think anyone can deny that."
El Mundo, however, pointed out Muehlegg was the person most responsible for the current scandal.
"Just as we called for respect for the skier when he was criticized for the mere fact of changing nationality, we must also demand that he face up to all responsibilities and that he should not receive any favors just for winning some races," the newspaper said.
Spanish radio reported that the IOC was on the verge of stripping Muehlegg of all three gold medals, but let him keep two after a plea from the committee's Spanish former president, Juan Antonio Samaranch.