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Wednesday, September 27
Report: Romania protests by returning medals

BUCHAREST, Romania -- Romania has returned its remaining two medals in the Olympic women's all-around gymnastics competition in protest of the IOC's decision to strip Andreea Raducan of her gold medal for taking cold medication containing a banned substance, national television reported Tuesday.

"The gold, silver and bronze medals have been returned although initially (coach) Octavian Belu favored keeping the gold and silver medals which the Romanians would have won anyway," Romanian national television reported from Sydney.

Belu, who has avoided appearing in public since the news broke, was reported to have said that 16-year-old Raducan had decided to give up her career as a gymnast, television said. Belu did not answer his mobile telephone.

"She is very upset. She is capable of doing anything," Belu reportedly said. Reporters said she had been weeping all day.

The 4-foot-10, 82-pound Raducan was stripped of her gold from the women's all-around Tuesday after she tested positive for pseudoephedrine, a banned stimulant. She is the first gymnast ever to be stripped of a medal because of a drug violation.

Officials said she had a fever and a cold, so the Romanian team doctor gave her Nurofen, an over-the-counter medication for colds and flu.

She appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport late Tuesday, challenging the decision the International Olympic Committee's executive board made earlier in the day. A hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.

The Romanian team doctor who gave Raducan the drug was expelled from the games and suspended through the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake and 2004 Summer Games in Athens.

"We feel we have no choice," said Francois Carrard, the International Olympic Committee's director general. "It's tough, but that's what it's all about. In the fight against doping, we have to be tough and be blind to emotions and feelings."

Raducan was allowed to keep her gold from the team competition and silver in the vault final. But losing the all-around gold was crushing for the wispy teen, whose dark coloring and pixieish charm evoked memories of Nadia Comaneci, Romania's last Olympic darling.

"I'm going to fight all the way for that little girl," said Ion Tiriac, president of Romania's National Olympic Committee. "I don't think even today she even understands what happened to her. She doesn't get it. She said, 'I didn't do anything wrong.' "

Even the IOC acknowledged that Raducan's case is not like most others. She took a common cold medicine, and it provided "no competitive advantage at that competition," Carrard said. The International Gymnastics Federation unanimously decided not to punish Raducan further, saying in a statement that taking her medal "was punishment enough for an athlete who was innocent in this situation."

The IOC action prompted outrage among many Romanians. Some 400 students, some chanting "Give the medal back," marched through the southern Romanian city of Craiova on Tuesday demanding that Raducan's gold be returned to her.

"Thrown out for having a cold," read one poster. "Nurofen you give pain to all Romanians," referring to the medication which cost Raducan the gold.

Raducan's gold ended up with teammate Simona Amanar, whose silver went to yet another Romanian, Maria Olaru.

Liu Xuan of China, who now wins the bronze medal in the all-around, couldn't make sense of what occurred.

"I thought this was impossible because in gymnastics, we rely on technique to complete our moves," Li said. "It's not possible to rely on drugs or strength to complete them. You have to rely entirely on skill. So I just didn't think it was possible."

Romania has waited 24 years for a gymnast who could captivate the world like Comaneci, who scored the first perfect 10 at the Montreal Olympics in 1976.

The Romanians have won dozens of Olympic medals since then, but could never capture the all-around, the biggest prize on sport's grandest stage.

Until Raducan.

Performing to "Riverdance" on Thursday, Raducan pranced across the floor, a wide, infectious smile on her face. She looked almost like Peter Pan as she tumbled, flying across the floor with ease. When she finished, she ran to coach Octavian Belu and climbed onto his shoulders, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd.

It wasn't just her presence on the floor that charmed fans. Raducan, who turns 17 on Saturday, has a wonderful, childlike naivete. When she came into the news conference after winning the all-around, she perched at the edge of Olaru's chair instead of taking the seat reserved for her at the middle of the table.

Told the place of honor was hers, the gold medalist said she thought it was for her coach.

"It's like having a dream, a nice dream," Raducan said then. "I still feel like I'm in this dream."

That feeling didn't last long.

All medalists are tested for drugs, and Raducan's sample after the all-around came back positive. The level of drug in her urine was 90 nanograms per milliliter, more than three times greater than the 24 nanograms per milliliter allowed by the IOC.

She also was tested after winning a silver in the vault Sunday. That sample was negative. She was not tested after the team competition Sept. 19.

"We're all devastated, but I can't imagine how she feels," said Comaneci, who now coaches gymnastics in Norman, Okla. "Because she's kind of a victim of a thing she didn't have any control of. ... She's a victim of a mistake of the doctor."

Whether the doctor, Ioachim Oana, knew he'd prescribed something that included a banned substance isn't certain. The Romanians aren't talking.

But when Oana filled out the form detailing medications Raducan was taking, he included the cold medicine.

"She wasn't taking this to try to enhance her performance," said Paul Ziert, who was Conner's coach and now the publisher of International Gymnast magazine. "She was trying to make herself healthy so she could perform at a normal level, which she did."

The gymnastics federation imposed additional sanctions on Oana, barring him from participating in the European championships and any FIG-sponsored international events for the next four years.

The Romanians were notified of Raducan's positive test Monday. She was allowed to compete in the event finals that day, but didn't have her usual spark.

On the floor exercise, where she's the reigning world champion, she stumbled out of a tumbling pass, almost falling on a move she usually lands with precision. She finished seventh out of eight competitors.

Afterward, a teary-eyed Raducan appeared before the IOC's medical commission.

"We consider it was an accident," said Prince Alexandre de Merode, the IOC drug chief. "She is not directly responsible. The fault falls with the medical doctor. But we have rules and we have to apply the rules."

Raducan is the fourth athlete to be stripped of a medal because of drugs. Three Bulgarian weightlifters lost their medals, including Izabela Dragneva, the gold medalist in the women's 105-pound event.

In addition, two other non-medalists, a hammer thrower from Belarus and a rower from Latvia, were expelled after positive drug tests.

This isn't the first drug controversy for the Romanian team in Sydney. Two weightlifters were expelled for failing pre-game, out-of-competition tests. The entire weightlifting team faced being kicked out, but paid a $50,000 fine to allow the "clean" weightlifters to stay.


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