A popular German Paralympian has been stripped of two gold medals after failing a doping-control test, the first doping offense in the Paralympic Games' history. And the entire German delegation held a news conference Tuesday to express support for the nordic skier.
Thomas Oelsner must return gold medals he won in the 5K and the biathlon after he failed the drug screen March 8, testing positive for the anabolic steroid methenolone. Two days later he passed another doping-control test after winning the second event. That has members of his delegation wondering how the banned substance got in his system.
"I do not doubt the lab — it is an IOC-accredited lab," said Dr. Karl Quade, German chef de mission, of the lab in Los Angeles to which the urine samples are being shipped during competition. "We have no explanation for the time being, and Thomas Oelsner has no explanation."
Oelsner was also banned from competition until the end of the next Nordic Skiing World Championships, two years away.
Dr. Andreas Schmid, the German nordic team physician, said the substance doesn't occur naturally. Had it been injected, he said, it would have stayed in his muscles and shown up in the subsequent test. Since Oelsner passed that test, the German delegation believes he somehow ingested a "very, very small amount." And Oelsner, a veteran nordic skier who was injured in a motorcycle accident years ago, is well aware of the doping-control tests administered to each winner. As the favorite to win his event, he had to know he would be tested, Schmid said.
"It is very crazy to take such a substance," he said in a news conference conducted primarily in German and translated into English. "It can be tested for a long period of time."
It is also "a very strange thing to use it such a short time before competition when it doesn't help the athlete," added Quade. "It is a very strange thing this would happen."
Jens Zimmerman, spokesman for the German nordic team, read a statement from Oelsner, an outspoken advocate of stepped-up doping control. "I am totally shocked about the reproach of the IPC Medical Commission," it said. "I really cannot believe the unbelievable accusation about my person. . . . Everybody knows that I am a really fair sportsman.
"I can really not imagine that this implication is true. I never increased my human possibilities by using any kind of medication."
Oelsner got words of support from competitors and members of the German press, who called it "unfathomable" that the skier would deliberately take a performance-enhancing substance.
"Everyone stands behind him," Zimmerman said, adding that the female winner of the biathlon dedicated her gold medal to Oelsner. "The whole nordic team cannot believe this and we have known him more than seven years."
The delegation will request Wednesday that the "B" sample be tested for presence of the steroid. They admit it's unlikely the findings will be different. But if it's going to happen, said German wire service reporter Frank Hoffmann, it will be in this case.
Hoffmann said athletes always claim they didn't take banned substances and reporters are skeptical. But Oelsner is so popular and well-respected that even his ex-girlfriend called to express disbelief.
Regardless, he added, Oelsner has been tainted because of the positive test. The Paralympic standard is the same as for Olympics: an athlete is responsible for anything in his or her system, regardless of its source.
Oelsner will leave the athletes' village. Whether he will remain in Utah for the rest of the Paralympics is yet to be decided, Quade said.