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Bulgaria withdraws Olympic weightlifters

Latest update : 2008-06-27

Bulgaria's weightlifting federation has decided to pull both the men's and women's teams out of the Olympic Games after all 11 athletes tested positive for doping. The athletes include the 2007 world champion in the 77kg category, Ivan Stoitsov.

Bulgaria's weightlifting federation announced Friday they were pulling both their men and women's teams from the Beijing Olympics after all 11 athletes tested positive for an anabolic steroid substance.

All 11 athletes on the Bulgarian squad -- eight men and three women -- tested positive for metandienon, a banned anabolic steroid, the federation said in a statement.

"As a result, the Bulgarian Weightlifting Federation took a decision to withdraw its national weightlifting teams -- men and women -- from participation in the Olympics," the statement added.

The tests were conducted on June 8 and 9 at the weighlifting team's training ground in the southern town of Asenovgrad.

All the athletes' A-samples turned out positive, but the federation was still awaiting the results from the B-samples.

The federation said that preliminary data led them to believe the banned substance might have been intentionally put in the food or in a permitted supplement for quick recovery taken by the athletes.

Bulgaria was to choose six men and two women among the 11 to fill the country's Olympic quota of eight athletes in Beijing.

Among them was the 2007 world champion in the 77-kilogramme category, Ivan Stoitsov, on whom Bulgaria had pinned its hopes for gold in Beijing, according to a list released by the federation.

Stoitsov told Focus newsagency Friday that he was innocent and that this was "some kind of plot against the federation."

"I want to believe that this is not true... But if the B-samples turn positive I will give up weightlifting entirely and stop competing," he said.

Meanwhile, Alan Tsagaev, who won a silver medal in the 105-kilogramme weight class in the 2000 Sydney Olympics but was banned for doping ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympics, also said he had never used this substance and that, if the tests came back positive, he would end his career.

The 2004 Olympics bronze medalist in the 105-kilo class, Velichko Cholakov, was also among the compromised athletes.

Bulgaria's only other 2004 Olympic medalist, Milen Dobrev, who won gold in the 94-kilo weight class, already withdrew from the squad in February due to a persistent back injury.

Bulgaria has had a reputation for good weightlifters since communist times.

But the country has also experienced major doping scandals: its weightlifting teams had to withdraw from both the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney after the athletes tested positive for banned substances at the Games, although Tsagaev was allowed to compete in the 2000 final after winning an appeal.

The latest case is the first time the whole Bulgarian team pulled out ahead of the Olympics, however.

Neighbouring Greece was also recently shaken by a major doping scandal when their 11 athletes tested positive for a banned steroid.

The Greek federation was severely sanctioned by the International Weighlifting Federation but still decided to compete with a slashed quota of three men and one woman from the previous five and three respectively.

Date created : 2008-06-27

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