SALT LAKE CITY – A short-track speedskater from Belarus has left the Winter Olympics after a drug test found a steroid level nearly 400 times the legal limit in the athlete's body.
The athlete vanished from Olympic Village housing Monday after failing to show up for a second test. Officials barred the athlete from the games pending an investigation and punished the Belarus Olympic committee for allegedly helping the athlete avoid another exam.
However, the Salt Lake City Games remain free of a doping case because the bag carrying the athlete's urine sample was not properly sealed. It was broken by a lab courier in an apparent accident.
For that reason, officials decided the athlete had not technically flunked a drug test, International Olympic Committee executive director Francois Carrard said.
The skater was identified Tuesday by Belarussian Sports and Tourism Minister Yevgeny Vorsin as Yulia Pavlovich. He said she had been sent home by team leadership "at her coach's suggestion," and that the test results may have been produced by "medical help" received from team personnel last weekend.
Pavlovich finished 19th in the 1,500 meters and 23rd in the 500 meters, which proceeded her drug test Saturday night. She had been scheduled to compete in the 1,000 on Wednesday.
The urine sample found levels of nandrolone 380 times the legal limit, said Dr. Patrick Schamasch, the IOC medical director.
"We can say we had a positive result from the laboratory," he said.
The athlete did not show up for a retest Monday and checked out of the Olympic Village after asking the team leader "about leaving the games," Carrard said.
The IOC executive board swiftly suspended the Belarussian committee for the rest of this year from grants and other support generally worth about $120,000 annually. It also kicked Belarus team leader Yaroslav Barichko out of the games, and barred the athlete from returning to the games until its investigation is complete.
"The (national Olympic committee) was found to be totally contributing to assist someone to avoid the testing procedure," Carrard said.
The rest of Belarus' team will be allowed to compete. Carrard said it would have been "totally unfair" to punish them for the actions of their leaders.
While the case will not be listed as the first drug positive among the more than 1,000 samples tested so far, it was an embarrassment for an anti-doping system that had been touted as the most widespread and foolproof at any Olympics.
The IOC established a lab in Salt Lake City, rather than fly samples to other accredited laboratories in North America. It also was being watched by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which stationed independent monitors to make sure procedures were followed.
The lab near the Olympic Village is using millions of dollars worth of equipment to ensure that athletes in the 2002 Games aren't using any of the nearly 400 substances banned by the IOC.
Urine samples are put through about 10 tests, designed to detect narcotics, stimulants, steroids, beta blockers, diuretics and other substances.
Cross-country skiers, biathletes, Nordic combined athletes and long-track speedskaters also have undergone testing for erythropoietin, or EPO, a hormone that boosts production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to the muscles.
Nandrolone, a muscle-building steroid, showed up in tests of American bobsledder Pavle Jovanovic, resulting in a two-year suspension that kept him from the Olympics. Jovanovic has said he believes the substance was in a protein powder he ate as a meal substitute.
Schamasch said seven other drug tests at Salt Lake City have found banned stimulants. But all were cleared under medical waivers as part of legitimate treatment for asthma, the medical director said.
As for the courier mishap, Carrard said the worker broke the seal to insert a form that should have been placed there originally and "did a poor job of resealing."
Carrard said it did not appear to be an effort to wreck the test, but the IOC and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, which provides the volunteer couriers, were taking steps to make sure such breaches did not recur.