SALT LAKE CITY – Cross-country skiers Larissa Lazutina of Russia and Johann Muehlegg of Spain were stripped Sunday of their most recent gold medals after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
A third cross-country skier, Olga Danilova of Russia, also tested positive for the same drug, darbepoetin, which is used to treat anemia by boosting the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to muscles.
All three athletes were tossed out of the Winter Olympics on the final day of competition.
Lazutina, who tied an Olympic record Sunday with her 10th medal by winning the women's 30-kilometer classical race, will be forced to forfeit that victory. But she will be allowed to keep two medals she won earlier in these Olympics.
Muehlegg, who had won three gold medals at these games, was ordered to return the one from Saturday's 50K classical race. But he will be allowed to keep his gold medals in the 30K freestyle and the 10K pursuit events.
Danilova was disqualified from the 30K classical race in which she finished eighth.
The Spanish and Russian Olympic delegations challenged the process by which the test results were validated. All three positive results came from out-of-competition drug tests on Thursday.
Since darbepoetin is relatively new, it is not on the IOC's list of banned substances. But it has similar properties to the banned hormone erythropoietin, or EPO.
Arne Ljunqqvist, chairman of the IOC's medical commission, said Sunday's disqualifications were a warning to athletes who think they can get away with using new drugs. Darbepoetin has been on the market just since October.
"The substance is not listed on the banned list because it is so new," he said. "This is a strong statement to those who say we are far behind. We are on their heels."
After Lazutina was disqualified, Gabriella Paruzzi of Italy, who finished second, was awarded the gold, Stefania Belmondo of Italy got the silver and Bente Skari of Norway moved up to bronze.
Muehlegg's disqualification means Mikhail Ivanov of Russia will trade in his silver for gold, while Estonia's Andrus Veerpalu moves up to silver and fourth-place finisher Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset of Norway gets the bronze.
Lazutina's 10th medal had tied the women's Winter Games record held by cross-country skier Raisa Smetanina, who won four gold, five silver and one bronze competing for the Soviet Union and the Russian Unified team from 1976 to 1992.
Lazutina's medal total now stands at nine.
The 36-year-old skier was disqualified from the women's relay Thursday for having high levels of performance-boosting hemoglobin, a blood molecule that helps carry oxygen to muscles. She took another blood test Sunday morning and passed, allowing her to compete before the results of the earlier test was announced.
"It was a shocking experience," she said. "That tragedy on Thursday made me more determined to work hard."
The heavily favored Russians had to withdraw from the relay. Russian officials claimed drug-testers were targeting their athletes, and the dispute led to widespread complaints of biased judging in other sports.
Russia threatened to pull out of the Winter Olympics and not compete in the 2004 Summer Games if its concerns were not addressed.
"The rules need to be changed," Lazutina said before the results of the second blood test were announced. "Unfortunately we cannot change any rules. In that sense, I feel lawless. ... It's hard to get to the people who make decisions. I feel like we're treated like criminals because of those tests."
A random urine test Thursday found traces of darbepoetin in the German-born Muehlegg, who was called before the IOC's disciplinary panel early Sunday, along with Spanish Olympic officials and the team doctor.
Before Saturday's 50K race, he was randomly selected to be tested for high levels of hemoglobin.
His levels were above the limit for the first test, but beneath the threshold in a second test administered five minutes later. He was allowed to race, and made a strong comeback over the final 10 kilometers to beat Russia's Mikhail Ivanov by 14.9 seconds.
Asked why the tests showed different levels, Muehlegg responded, "I don't know if the machine is not working well." He also said a change in his diet three days before Saturday's race might have altered his blood levels.
Muehlegg had become the toast of Spain, even fielding congratulations from King Juan Carlos following his success in Salt Lake City.
Muehlegg competed in three Olympics for Germany, but began having troubles with the country's ski federation in 1993. Relations with his coaches, teammates and trainers deteriorated, and he left in 1998.