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Bulgarians Stripped Of Medals

Two Bulgarian weightlifters were stripped of their medals and thrown out of the Olympics on Friday after they tested positive for a banned weight-losing substance, giving the United States its first weightlifting gold medal since 1960.

It was the second time in 12 years that Bulgarian weightlifters have been ejected from an Olympics for using the same drug, and the positive tests cast uncertainty upon the very future of the sport as an Olympic event.

The International Olympic Committee said Friday (Thursday night EDT) that gold medalist Izabela Dragneva - the first women's weightlifting champion in Olympic history - and men's bronze medalist Sevdalin Minchev tested positive for banned diuretics at the Sydney Games.

They were the second and third Bulgarian lifters found with the banned drug furosemide in their systems at these games. Both were ordered to return their medals and leave the Olympic Village. The gold one goes to American Tara Nott.

"When athletes are using this product, they are getting stupid," said Prince Alexandre de Merode, chairman of the IOC Medical Commission

International Weightlifting Federation secretary general Tamas Ajan said the "three-strikes-and-out" rule would be applied to the Bulgarian team unless it decides to pay a $50,000 fine. He said the federation would meet later Friday with Bulgarian Olympic officials.

"I'm really disappointed," Ajan said. "But I trust absolutely in my sport."

Beltcho Ivanov, secretary general of the Bulgarian national Olympic committee, said the two were tested when they entered the Olympic Village and no problems were detected. They both tested positive after the competition, he said.

"It is impossible our athletes took this drug because it is very primitive," he said.

IOC Director General Francois Carrard warned against tarring every Bulgarian weightlifter because of the actions of a few. "We always have to be very careful in making the distinction between clean athletes and cheats," he said at a news conference.

The sanction means Nott of Stilwell, Kan., gets the gold medal in the women's class. She finished second behind Dragneva. Nott, informed of her gold medal, said she was "kind of in shock."

"It's good to know that those who cheat are getting caught," she said. "Someday we will have a level playing field, and myself and others will be able to win on the platform rather than after a drug test."

New medal ceremonies were scheduled for Friday afternoon in the Olympic Village. Her gold is the first for an American lifter since Chuck Vinci won the 123-pound title at the Rome Games 40 years ago.

The entire Bulgarian weightlifting team might also be kicked out under federation rules. Bulgarian officials also said they might withdraw the rest of their weightlifters from the games. That could further change the medal standings, since Bulgaians have three more medals since Dragneva and Minchev competed.

"They are learning the hard way now," Carrard said.

Women's weightlifting is being held for the first time in Sydney.

IWF rules suspend a nation from international competition for the rest of a year if three of its lifters test positive any time during that calendar year.

On Wednesday, Bulgarian lifter Ivan Ivanov was stripped of his silver medal in the 123-pound class after testing positive for furosemide. Ivanov, a former Olympic and world champion, was the first athlete to fail an in-competition test during the games.

Johann Olaf Koss, an athlete member of the medical commission, said the IOC must consider the overall Bulgarian weightlifting problem.

"You have three cases for the same drug in the same sport from the same country," he said Friday. "That's the big problem."

At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Bulgaria was stripped of two weightlifting gold medals and subsequently withdrew its entire weightlifting team after athletes tested positive for furosemide.

Such diuretics are used to lose weight but also can be used to mask the presence of other performance-enhancing drugs, such as steroids. The most commonly used diuretic is caffeine, which also is on the banned list.

Dragneva, 28, won the gold medal in the women's 105-pound event, in which Nott originally won the silver. Minchev, 26, took the bronze medal in the men's 137-pound class in which Gennady Oleshchuk of Belarus finished fourth.

Two Romanian weightlifters, Traian Ciharean and Adrian Mateas, were suspended and expelled from the Olympic Village after failing out-of-competition tests.

The IOC has conducted 760 doping tests at competition sites so far, in addition to 227 off-site blood tests and 323 off-site urine tests, Carrard said.

Though he would not comment on weightlifting's future, he said the IOC would discuss the situation with the federation "quietly after the games."

IOC vice president Dick Pound, while calling the positive tests "a statement," said he hoped it would not mean the end of Olympic weightlifting.

"Each positive test is a success rather than a failure," he said. But "I would hate to see the sport dropped from the program unless it's clear that nobody is going to do anything about the problem."

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