Ireland may lose gold medal in doping furore

Ireland’s Olympic gold medallist Cian O’Connor has denied his horses were doped with sedatives to enhance their fence-jumping in the Athens Games.

O’Connor, Ireland’s only medallist in Athens. faces the loss of his medal after a sample taken from his horse, Waterford Crystal, proved postive for a prohibited substance. Another of O’Connor’s horses also tested positive following another equestrian event, it has emerged.

A second positive test would result in automatic disqualification and the loss of Ireland’s only medal from the Athens Games. That procedure is expected to take up to three weeks, after which Mr O’Connor will be given 10 days to prepare a case to present to a judicial committee.

In a statement posted on his website, Mr O’Connor said he was “utterly devastated” at the initial positive test.

“That notion amounts to cheating, and I am not a cheat.”

He said he planned to have the second sample tested as soon as possible and to proceed from there.

“I believe that I won this medal fair and square and that the horse has not been given anything that would make him jump better.

“I wish to assure everyone that I have competed honestly and honorably both for myself and my country. It is particularly important to me that those who have supported me... know and accept this.

“I know that I must take responsibility for any medication administered to my horse. I am very professional, and take everything extremely seriously, both veterinary matters and the stable management at this level of competition.

“I absolutely believe that no performance-enhancing drugs were given to the horse.”

Mr. O’Connor has informed the EFI that on July 22, 2004, before the Olympic Games, his horse had incurred a mild fetlock injury, and after assessment, his vet, had advised hydrotherapy treatment, which involves confinement in an enclosed hydrotherapy unit. He said that since the horse was in peak fitness, it was feared that he may injure himself during the treatment, so the veterinary surgeon prescribed mild sedation.

Mr. O’Connor said he was told by his vet that the sedative drug would disperse from the horse’s system within ten to 14 days, and was not in any case a factor that would influence performance.

The president of the Equestrian Federation of Ireland, Avril Doyle, said yesterday that the controversy arising from the positive drugs tests was “devastating” for the sport.

However, Ms Doyle, who is also a Fine Gael MEP, said the medal-winner was innocent until proven guilty and should be given due process before any firm conclusions were drawn from the drugs tests.

The Equestrian Federation of Ireland is the regulator of the sport and is responsible for taking prosecutions in relation to any offences.

“We never condone the use of prohibited substances of any kind and we would take a strong view of anyone who would abuse the system. But, in this case, due process has not been completed and to be fair to him he doesn’t deserve trial by media,” Ms Doyle of the EFI, said.

“We were all so proud; the whole thing is devastating, not least for Cian. He is a young man whose reputation and future is at stake here. The federation as regulator for the sport is devastated, but we will allow him time and due process”, she added.

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