GENEVA -- Two Belarusian hammer throwers had their Olympic medals reinstated Thursday after the world sport's highest court determined their doping tests were mishandled by the Beijing laboratory.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport said doping tests of Vadim Devyatovskiy and Ivan Tsikhan were invalid because international laboratory standards were not respected in what it said was an "unusually complex doping case." CAS said the medals should be returned.
Devyatovskiy and Tsikhan won silver and bronze medals, respectively, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
They tested positive for elevated testosterone after the hammer throw final and were disqualified and stripped of the medals by the International Olympic Committee.
The silver medal was subsequently given to Krisztian Pars of Hungary and the bronze to Koji Murofushi of Japan. Primoz Kozmus of Slovenia won the gold medal.
The IOC said it was disappointed by the CAS ruling and "considering all possible options."
Devyatovskiy and Tsikhan denied doping and appealed to CAS on Dec. 31, 2008, to overturn the IOC ruling.
Although the three-man CAS upheld their appeal Thursday, it said the decision "should not be interpreted as an exoneration of the athletes," and the court did not say the athletes are free of any doping suspicion.
But CAS ruled that the Beijing National Laboratory, which carried out the tests, had violated "documentation and reporting requirements."
CAS said the lab had provided no "plausible explanation" for interruption of the automated testing procedure of the IRMS -- isotope ratio mass spectrometry -- instruments.
CAS also said the lab breached international standards by having the same analyst test both the "A" and "B" samples. Doping samples are divided into two, with the "B" used as the backup to confirm any positive finding in the "A."
The departure from these international standards "justify the annulment of the tests' results for both athletes," CAS in a statement.
In a statement, the World Anti-Doping Agency said it was "concerned" with the work done by the lab and "disappointed" with the CAS decision.
"As in every case where departures from the International Standard for Laboratories are reported, WADA will follow up with the laboratory in order to request a complete report," the statement said. "WADA will be in a position to comment once it has received and carefully considered this report."
In one of the more flagrant rule violations, the Beijing lab submitted documents that seemed to show that a testing instrument had been running continuously and properly when in fact its operation had been interrupted. The panel's written opinion referred to the document as a "cut and paste representation.''
According to the opinion, "If an athlete is to be sanctioned solely on the basis of the provable presence of a prohibited substance in his body, it is his or her fundamental right to know that [the testing agency] has strictly observed the mandatory safeguards. Strict application of the rules is the quid pro quo for the imposition of a regime of strict liability for doping offenses.''
Paul Scott, a lawyer who helped cyclist Floyd Landis with his unsuccessful defense against doping charges for the same banned substance three years ago, testified as an expert witness for the two Belarusian athletes. Scott, who owns a company that has done internal anti-doping testing for cycling teams, said the high volume of samples and timeliness requirements of testing at the Olympic Games were too much for the Beijing lab.
"They were simply overwhelmed, and they ended up failing in some rather catastrophic ways,'' Scott told ESPN.com.
He added that the case underscores the need for Olympic authorities to ensure that the best possible resources, human and otherwise, are in place for testing during the Games rather than relying on the structure available in the host country, which can vary widely across the world.
It was unclear whether the CAS decision would affect other doping cases that arose out of the Beijing Games, since the time period to appeal test results has long since passed. Nine positives were announced as the result of testing done immediately before and during the competition. Another five athletes were charged with doping offenses after their samples were re-tested last year and found to contain the new-generation blood booster CERA, a form of EPO; however, the CERA re-tests were not done in Beijing.
Information from ESPN.com's Bonnie D. Ford and The Associated Press was used in this report.