LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND // Olympic 1,500 metre champion Rashid Ramzi faced an International Olympic Committee (IOC) disciplinary hearing today to explain why he tested positive for the blood-boosting drug CERA after the Beijing Games. The Moroccan-born Bahraini athlete was the first of five athletes appearing before the IOC panel. They were caught this year in new tests using blood samples taken at the games.
The others are Italian cyclist Davide Rebellin, who won silver in the road race, German cyclist Stefan Schumacher, the Croatian 800m runner Vanja Perisic and Greek race walker Athanasia Tsoumeleka. The IOC can strip athletes of their results and medals, and ban them from the 2012 London Olympics. Rulings are expected next month. Ramzi emerged from the IOC headquarters with his Los Angeles-based lawyer Maurice Suh around 90 minutes after the hearing started.
Mr Suh, whose previous clients in doping cases include the former Olympic 100m champion Justin Gatlin and cyclist Floyd Landis, said he could not comment on the hearing. Ramzi's case was followed by Rebellin, whose lawyer Fabio Pavone said on arriving that the Italian was "totally unaware" of having doped. "Mr Rebellin is going to profess himself completely innocent and that he does not understand how he found himself in this situation," Mr Pavone said.
"He has always been a clean athlete and he intends to demonstrate that. He is confident because he has nothing to hide." The disciplinary panel was chaired by the IOC vice president Thomas Bach of Germany, and included IOC executive board members Gerhard Heiberg of Norway and Denis Oswald of Switzerland. "It will be the usual hearings and let us see what happens," Mr Bach said today. "There is no fixed timetable for the decisions."
The panel has the power to issue rulings but can also make recommendations to the executive board for a final decision. The board next meets in Berlin on Aug 13-14. Under new IOC rules, any athlete caught doping and banned for at least six months cannot compete in the next Olympics. Its rulings can be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne for a binding decision. The athletes tested positive for CERA, an advanced version of the endurance-boosting hormone EPO, when a new lab test became available following the Olympics.
The drug was also found in tests of backup "B" samples, allowing the IOC to open disciplinary cases. Ramzi was the first gold medallist from Beijing caught for use of performance-enhancing drugs. He gave Bahrain their first ever Olympic track and field gold medal with victory in the 1,500 in with a winning time of three minutes, 32.94 seconds. Rebellin finished second behind Spain's Samuel Sanchez in the Olympic road race. Tsoumeleka, who won the Olympic 20km walk gold in 2004, Perisic and Schumacher did not win medals in Beijing.
A sixth athlete initially was found positive in the retesting process. But the Dominican Olympic Committee cleared women's weightlifter Yudelquis Contreras last month after her "B" sample came back negative. The IOC previously disqualified nine athletes for doping at the Beijing Games. They included Ukrainian heptathlete Lyudmila Blonska, who was stripped of her silver medal, and the North Korean shooter Kim Jong Su, whose silver and bronze medals were revoked.