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Biathletes adjusting to Japan - sans guns

Consider some of the strict admissions standards some athletes are experiencing as they arrive in Japan for the 1998 Winter Olympics.

One event suffering severe sanctions from Japan's rigid anti-gun legislation is the biathlon, the sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship. Biathletes are complaining about losing possession of their rifles and ammunition upon arrival in the country.Meanwhile, an Olympic-medalist ski jumper is finding plenty of obstacles on the road to returning to the Winter Games after admitting to once having tried cocaine.

Austria's Andreas Goldberger, a former world champion and Olympic bronze medalist, received late approval to enter Japan only after lengthy considerations by the Nagano Organizing Committee, diplomatic efforts by the Austrian government and Goldberger's payment of a 1.8 million yen ($14,173) fine.

Japan's stern immigration laws bar anyone convicted of a drug offense from entering the country. It's the same law that has barred Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona's entry into the Asian island nation.

For Goldberger, receiving his combined Olympic accreditation and approved visa culminated a long battle to return to the Olympics. His admission of experimenting with cocaine resulted in a mid-1997 suspension from the Austrian team, and he in turn quit the team. He rejoined the Austrians in mid-December after a failed attempt to compete for another country.

HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL (WITHOUT IT): When the U.S. Biathlon Team arrived at the Osaka airport, members not only had their rifles confiscated immediately but all their ammunition as well. Each of the 10,000 rounds of .22-caliber bullets was counted out by hand and then stored at a site away from the U.S. biathletes.

In order for Olympic biathletes to reclaim their rifles before use in practices and competition, they must submit to a retina scan - used because one's iris is 100 times more unique than a fingerprint.

The separation from their rifles - which carry an average value of $3,000 each - is as foreign to the athletes as they are to Japan. "Without it," said the United States' Stacey Wooley, "you miss the zen of your rifle."

Added U.S. assistant coach Timothy Derrick: "As Americans, we're used to the right of carrying a gun where we want to. . . . No crimes have ever been committed by a biathlete rifle, and nobody's swinging theirs around like John Wayne."