Nick Willis closes in on Olympic silver medal

Last updated 15:02 08/07/2009
Nick Willis
KENT BLECHENDYN/Dominion Post
COLOUR CHANGE: A positive drugs test in a competitor could see New Zealand's Nick Willis promoted to the silver medal spot in last year's Beijing Olympics 1500 metre final.

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New Zealand middle distance runner Nick Willis looks assured of an Olympics Games 1500m silver medal, after reports out of Europe that winner Rashid Ramzi has failed a drugs test with his back up sample.

German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reported B-samples confirmed Ramzi, cyclists Stefan Schumacher and Davide Rebellin, and two others have tested positive for the latest generation of the blood booster EPO.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) in April identified Ramzi of Bahrain as one of six Beijing athletes to test positive for banned drugs after re-testing of samples.

Following his "A" positive test result, Ramzi was tested for a B sample, and now has reportedly failed that.

If Ramzi was stripped of victory, Asbel Kipruto Kiprop of Kenya would be upgraded from silver to gold, with Willis promoted to silver and Mehdi Baala of France to bronze.

The reports were being treated with caution by Richard Willis, the New Zealand runner's father.

While he was aware a usually reliable website was running the news of a second failed test, there had been "no official advice", Richard Willis told NZPA.

"It sounds as if it's kosher, but that's all I've heard. At the moment I would be optimistic, and not just for Nick, but for the sport as a whole."

If Ramzi was proved to be a cheat his outing would be "a huge plus for the sport", he said.

In a report made available ahead of the official publication of the results, the German newspaper said that the lawyers of the five athletes have met to discuss a strategy in their appeals before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Athletics New Zealand sport manager Brett Addison told NZPA the national body did not expect to hear anything until that procedure was complete.

"The silver medal for Nick is closer, but until we've had the tribunal nothing will happen officially," he said.

Greek walker Athanasia Tsoumeleka and Croatian 800m runner Vanja Perisic were also caught in the International Olympic Comittee retests, with the B-sample confirming the original finding, according to the FAZ.

Rebellin got a cycling silver in China and Ramzi a gold, while the other three did not gain a medal, but Schumacher won both time-trials at the 2008 Tour de France before being disqualified.

Schumacher was banned for two years over the positive Tour samples and now faces a life ban for testing positive as well in the Olympic samples.

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The others face two-year ban, with Ramzi and Rebellin to lose their medals.

When the Morocco-born Ramzi first tested positive, Richard Willis said he held concerns about him from the moment he saw him scorch away to win his Olympic heat.

"If Ramzi is confirmed as being a drug cheat, I have to say it wouldn't surprise me," he said.

"Normally the great champions try to conserve energy in heats so you come down the home straight and you see where you are and slow down.

"This guy sprinted for 300m, won his heat by 20m and just outside the Olympic record.

"I remember turning to my oldest son (Steve) and saying 'goodness gracious, that's a weird way to run a heat'.

"You have to give guys the benefit of the doubt but that was unusual at an Olympics."

Nick Willis is in the United States recovering from a hip operation. He will not run this northern summer, but is intent on defending his Commonwealth 1500m title in Delhi next year.

-NZPA

 

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