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Olympic Raid Finds 100 Syringes

VIENNA, Austria – An Austrian ski coach who bolted the Winter Games following a surprise anti-doping raid wound up in a psychiatric hospital – the latest stop on his bizarre flight from Turin, where authorities were still analyzing 100 syringes and other material seized from athletes’ housing.

Authorities took Walter Mayer [pictured] into custody Sunday after he crashed his car into a police blockade 15 miles inside Austria’s border with Italy. Police later took him to a psychiatric facility, Austria’s ski federation president Peter Schroecksnadel told The Associated Press.

“Apparently he’s still in there,” Schroecksnadel said Monday night. “I believe that there was a danger of suicide – they had to take him to the hospital.”

Mayer was banished from the Olympics over allegations of blood doping at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. He resurfaced with the team in Turin, triggering police raids late Saturday – the first-ever doping sweep by police on athletes competing at the games.

Against the backdrop of the most stringent drug controls in Winter Games history, local authorities seized the syringes and 30 packages of antidepressants and asthma medication, Italian prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello told Austrian television. One Austrian athlete threw a bag out of a window containing needles and medicines, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

“The question is not the number of syringes but what was in them,” Schroecksnadel said, suggesting that they could be used to inject vitamins. “The point is not the number of needles.”

He also defended the presence of asthma medication, saying as many as five athletes were approved to use it legitimately.

Mayer left the Austrian biathlon and cross-country team base in the Italian Alps sometime before or during the overnight raids. He made it back to his native Austria, driving at least 250 miles before he stopped on the side of the road, reportedly to take a nap.

When police officers arrived, Mayer sped away, striking and slightly injuring an officer, police said. Authorities parked an empty police vehicle across the highway as a roadblock, and Mayer slammed into the squad car, totaling both vehicles. He sustained minor injuries.

Austria’s cross-country relay team came in last out of 16 teams the morning after the raids, which kept some of the athletes up all night.

But the country’s Olympic delegation rebounded Monday, winning three gold medals and two bronze – including Maier’s – in Alpine and Nordic events Monday. No Austrians have won a medal in biathlon or cross-country at these games.

Austrian ski officials said they had severed all ties with Mayer.

“This is inexcusable,” said Schroecksnadel. “Whoever does such a thing can no longer be a model” for athletes.

“We suspended him even before we found out he was in the hospital,” he said.

Austrian prosecutor Gottfried Kranz told The AP that police released Mayer early Monday and then made a stop at a hospital psychiatric clinic in the southern city of Klagenfurt. He also said investigators found no illegal substances inside the wreckage of Mayer’s car.

Mayer could be charged with evading arrest and causing bodily harm to a police officer, Kranz said.

During the raids, six skiers and four biathletes were taken for tests by the International Olympic Committee, hours before some were due to compete. The tests were still being analyzed. Turin’s chief prosecutor, Marcello Maddalena, confirmed Monday that Mayer was under investigation for possible violation of Italy’s anti-doping laws, which treats doping as a criminal offense. But Maddalena said authorities would not seek Mayer’s arrest.

Schroecksnadel confirmed that two biathletes – Wolfgang Perner and Wolfgang Rottmann – were suspended from the team for leaving Turin before the conclusion of the games. Both had finished their events, although Rottmann was available for a relay team.

“We will hold a hearing in Vienna once the Olympics are over,” Schroecksnadel said. “It doesn’t matter what the IOC findings are, if we find they’ve done the wrong thing, they’ll be banned officially.”

Austrian officials said Mayer had been in Italy in a private capacity, but had spent one night in the athletes’ accommodation. IOC medical commission chief Arne Ljungqvist said Mayer’s presence violated the “spirit” of his Olympic ban.

 

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