Five weightlifters were suspended Thursday for flunking drug tests they took before the Olympics, including two who were pulled out just before
walking to the lifting stand.
The International Weightlifting Federation said the suspended lifters were Wafa Ammouri of Morocco, Zoltan Kecskes of Hungary, Viktor Chislean of
Moldova, Pratima Kumari Na of India and Sule Sahbaz of Turkey.
Normally, suspensions are for two years unless the athlete is a repeat offender. Earlier this year, 2000 Olympic champion Galabin Boevski was banned
for eight years after he failed a second drug test.
Sahbaz is the most accomplished of the latest group, winning a European championship in 2002 and finishing third in the world championships at 170
pounds (77kg) in 2002. He was second in the European championships in April. Kecskes had an eighth-place finish at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Ammouri and Kecskes were to have lifted Wednesday, but were suspended just before their competitions. Kecskes was on the start list distributed to the
media less than an hour before he was to have lifted, but he didn't compete.
The news was welcomed by IOC president Jacques Rogge.
"The IOC praises the work and determination of the weightlifting federation in its fight against doping by testing its athletes on a systematic basis
according to its rules,'' he said in a statement.
The cases are the latest setback for a sport plagued by cheating athletes during the last two Summer Games, one that is threatening to overshadow some
exceptional performances on the lifting stand. However, unlike the Sydney Games, the latest suspensions do not involve weightlifters who have already
competed or won medals.
So far, only one lifter who competed has been suspended: on Monday, Myanmar's Nan Aye Khine was stripped of her fourth-place finish Saturday at 105½
pounds (48kg) after failing her test.
Embarrassed by four failed tests at the 2000 Games -- three that cost Bulgarians medals -- the IWF tried to crack down on cheating earlier this year
by banning three Bulgarians well before the games began. Two of Boevski's Bulgarian teammates, former world champions Zlatan Vanev and Georgi Markov,
drew 18-month suspensions that barred them from competing in Athens.
The three tampered with their doping tests nine months ago at the 2003 world championships in Vancouver by submitting urine samples that came from the
same person, the IWF said.
Eleven other weightlifters from 10 nations failed drug tests in Vancouver, according to the IWF -- including Shang Shichun, who set three world
records while winning the women's 165 pounds (75kg) for China. Banned substances were found in the tests of nine men and two women.
Other 2003 medalists suspended and stripped of their medals were 152 pounds (69kg) silver medalist Vladislav Lukanin, Russia; 170 pounds (77kg) silver
medalist Gevorg Davtyan, Armenia; 231 pounds-plus (105 kg-plus) silver medalist Artem Udachyn, Ukraine; and 137 pounds (62kg) bronze medalist Henadzi
Sahbaz moved up to a bronze medal in Vancouver because Davtyan failed his drug test.
Others who failed tests in Vancouver were Sanjar Kadyrbergenov, Turkmenistan, 123 pounds; Vladimir Popov, Moldova, 137 pounds; Khalid A. Himdan, Iraq,
137 pounds; Mohammad Swara, Iraq, 137 pounds; Dmitriy Lomakin, Kazakhstan, 152 pounds and Hungary's Ilona Danko, 165 pounds. Danko, who finished
fourth, said she took an unspecified diuretic to speed weight loss.
In Sydney, Bulgaria's Izabela Dragneva's gold in the first women's event at the Olympics, at 105½ pounds, was given instead to the United States'
Nott, now known as Tara Cunningham, and Dragneva returned to Athens but neither won medals on Saturday, the first day of competition. Dragneva was
suspended for two years before being reinstated.
Two Romanians also tested positive just before the Sydney Games, and the day the Bulgarian drug scandal broke, two Qatar lifters who trained in
Bulgaria were scratched from the event without explanation.
Bulgaria's entire team was temporarily banned, but was reinstated by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Afterward, Alan Tsagaev went on to win a
silver medal. Romania's team was also banned by the IWF following three failed drug tests within a year, but was allowed to stay in the 2000 Games by
paying a $50,000 fine.
Thursday's drug suspensions came a day after Croatia's Nikolai Peshalov won a record-tying fourth Olympic weightlifting medal, a bronze; Zhang
Guozheng lifted China's third weightlifting gold medal in as many events, and Ukraine's Natalia Skakun overcame a big deficit to take the gold and
force Belarus' record-setting Hanna Batsiushka to settle for silver.
Next up on Thursday, China looks for more golds from double gold medalist Zhan Xugang in a very competitive men's 170-pound (77kg) weight class and
19-year-old world champion Liu Chonhong in women's 152 pounds (63kg).