Athletes suspended after failing blood tests

By Ossian Shine

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Two Olympic athletes have been suspended after failing blood tests at the Winter Games, costing them a crack at early golds.

Nordic combined athlete Niyaz Nabeev, of Russia, and Estonian cross-country skier Kaspar Kokk will not be allowed to compete from Feb 12-16, the international ski federation (FIS) said on Sunday, after pre-competition blood tests returned high hemoglobin levels.

Nabeev's "start prohibition" meant he missed Sunday's Normal Hill Nordic Combined event. He is also due to compete in the Long Hill Nordic Combined, training for which begins on February19.

Kokk will miss the 15km cross country event which is due to take place on February15. He will next be eligible to compete in the men's individual sprint on February17.

The "start prohibition" is not a sanction, FIS said in its report, but is in order to protect the health of the athlete.

The athletes will need to pass a fresh test before they can be cleared to compete.

Athletes with high hemoglobin levels are not necessarily doing anything wrong. Some have naturally high levels while others may be dehydrated.

But high results raise the possibility of blood doping with synthetic hemoglobin or transfusions. As a precaution, FIS routinely suspends skiers with high hemoglobin levels.

(Editing by Jon Bramley)