Arbitrators upheld the International Olympic Committee's decision to disqualify the Romanian all-around champion for taking cold medicine that contained the banned stimulant pseudoephedrine.
The presence of the drug constitutes an offense "irrespective of whether or not the competitor intended to ingest the prohibited substance," the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled Thursday.
The stimulant is found in the over-the-counter cold remedy the team doctor prescribed for Raducan. The Romanians argued that the 16-year-old shouldn't be punished for the doctor's mistake.
A three-person arbitration panel, which began hearing the case on Wednesday, didn't accept that argument. It went along with the IOC's wish to draw a clear line between what's allowed and what's not at these Olympics, even though its members conceded Raducan did nothing sinister by taking the pills.
Thus, the 82-pound darling, who captured the hearts of Romanians with her daring leaps and pixiesh charm, loses the first all-around gold to go to that country since Nadia Comaneci scored seven perfect 10s in 1976.
Neither Romanian Olympic Committee president Ion Tiriac nor coach Octavian Belu returned phone calls immediately.
"The panel is aware of the impact of its decision on a fine, young, elite athlete," the court said. "It finds, in balancing the interest of Miss Raducan with the commitment of the Olympic Movement to drug-free sport, the Anti-Doping Code must be enforced without compromise."
The team doctor has already been expelled from the Sydney Games and suspended through the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake and 2004 Summer Games in Athens.
Before the ruling, Belu said he considered it "too much to give back a medal for only one pill taken for cold and influenza."
Raducan waited for the result in the athletes' village. She left early Thursday from the hotel where the case was being heard, looking relaxed and in good spirits. She was accompanied by teammates Simona Amanar and Maria Olaru, the silver and bronze medal winners.
Belu said Amanar had told the court she would accept the gold medal vacated by Raducan on behalf of the country, not herself.
"She accepts only because these are the rules, not because she wins," Belu said.
If the Romanians do accept their remaining medals, fourth-place finisher Liu Xuan of China will get the bronze.
It's the strict, new rules that placed the IOC, the Romanians and the arbitration panel in an awkward position. Several IOC members sounded sympathetic toward Raducan, even though they're the ones defending the decision to strip the medal.
"It was a very difficult decision to take for the IOC executive board," IOC director-general Francois Carrard said. "But this ruling demonstrates that it had no option. This has to be understod within the context of the new, very strict provisions which are in force within the fight against doping."
"My heart is with the athlete but it's a decision that stood the test of arbitration, and everybody must live with that," IOC executive board member Kevan Gosper of Australia said. "It's a decision that was put to the test. It's a non-ambiguous one and it demonstrates we're serious about doping, if anyone had any doubts."
Tiriac had described the case not as one about medals, but "a matter of honor."
His countrymen seemed to agree.
Romanians took to the streets Wednesday, demanding the return of the medal, and threatening protests if it wasn't returned.
Hoping to soothe the teen's disappointment, Romanian Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu promised Raducan the $30,000 prize money she would have received from the Romanian Olympic Committee for winning the gold.
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