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Olympic official: Russia sent clear doping message

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Russia has been sent a clear message that its athletes have a problem with using performance-enhancing drugs, and its government is taking action to deal with it, the leader of the International Olympic Committee's medical commission said Tuesday.

The comments by medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist came a day after IOC president Jacques Rogge voiced concern at the high number of doping cases among Russian biathletes and cross-country skiers. Rogge said he raised the matter in meetings with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Russian sports officials.

At a news conference, Ljungqvist said the IOC's concern was related to the fact that Russia will be hosting the next edition of the Winter Games, in Sochi in 2014.

"The Russians have therefore been made aware that they have a problem," he said. "If you don't realize that you have a problem, you have no way of dealing with it.

"So I am pleased to understand that the Russians have got the clear message that they have a problem to deal with and they are taking actions. I am confident that they will continue to take action."

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency, known as RUSADA, was set up last year after the Russian Olympic Committee and the country's sports ministry decided an independent operation, similar to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, was needed.

Ljungqvist, detailing IOC efforts to catch drug cheats at the Vancouver Games that begin Friday, said he was hoping that the Russian government gives RUSADA "substantial support" to act efficiently and independently as an anti-doping agency.

More than a half-dozen Russians have been suspended in the past year for using banned blood-boosting drugs.

Russian athletes will be under tight scrutiny during the Vancouver Games, where the IOC is conducting a record 2,000 urine and blood tests — 800 more than in Turin four years ago. Under a testing program that began Feb. 4, athletes are subject to surprise out-of-competition controls at any place and at any time.

Three top Russian biathletes — including five-time Olympic medalist Albina Akhatova and former world champion Yekaterina Iourieva — received two-year suspensions last year after testing positive for the blood-boosting drug EPO.

Russian cross-country skiers Julia Chepalova, Yevgeny Dementiev, Nina Rysina and Natalia Matveeva also were banned for two years for using EPO.

Another cross-country skier, Alena Sidko, was dropped from Russia's team for the Vancouver Olympics last month for the same offense. She won a bronze medal in the individual sprint competition at the 2006 Turin Olympics.

Russian biathlete Olga Pyleva was stripped of a silver medal after becoming the only athlete to test positive at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. After serving a ban, she is back with the Russian team for the Vancouver Games under her new married name of Olga Medvedtseva.

Dr. Christiane Ayotte, the scientist in charge of the state-of-the-art doping lab operating for the Vancouver Games, acknowledged that there are "designer substances" made in Russia that are used by athletes to enhance their performance. But she added that there were also "pseudo-scientists" in the United States trying to make undetectable drugs for use by athletes.

"Russians are not the only athletes doping," Ayotte said.

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AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson contributed to this story.