Baxter handed weekend hearing

ALAIN Baxter will plead innocence before the International Olympic Committee on Friday or Saturday this week, after it was announced yesterday that two athletes from the recent Winter Games in Salt Lake City face doping control investigations this weekend.

Baxter, from Aviemore, was a hero two weeks ago when he won Britain’s first ever Olympic skiing medal, with a bronze in the slalom. He then became the first Alpine skier to fail a drug test at the Olympics when he tested positive for the banned stimulant methamphetamine.

Under the strict liability rules of the IOC, the presence of a banned substance is enough to merit conviction, with innocence or ignorance not accepted as an excuse.

Baxter insists that he has never knowingly taken a banned substance. He is expected to argue that the drug ended up in his body inadvertently, by use of a Vicks inhaler. The Scot is said to have suffered from congestion before his race. The Vicks inhaler on sale in the UK does not contain methamphetamine, but the version in the US, similarly packaged, contains levamfetamine, a milder form of methampetamine.

Tests can distinguish between the methamphetamine found in decongestants and the stronger form found in street versions of the drug. It is unlikely that the IOC will take this into account.

Yesterday the IOC said Baxter, 28, would attend the private hearing at its headquarters at Lausanne, Switzerland, later this week, along with Vasily Pankov, a Belarussian ice hockey player.

However, the IOC said it did not expect a final decision until the following week.

A statement said: "The IOC will hold hearings on 15 and 16 March to inquire into the circumstances surrounding two samples taken during the last days of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games that contain elevated levels of prohibited substances: one, methamphetamine, the other, nandrolone.

"The hearings are designed to ascertain the facts of the cases and to recommend what sanctions should be imposed, if any, to the executive board, which will take the final decisions of these cases on a date yet to be determined."

The IOC said if doping offences are established, its executive board will make the facts public after it notifies the athletes, the National Olympic Committees and International Federations concerned.

If Baxter’s second urine sample, taken at the time of the original test, proves positive as expected, he will go through three separate phases during the hearing.

The first, an inquiry commission, includes two IOC medical commission members and a lawyer, who will hear an explanation from the athlete and decide if he breached the Olympic Movement Anti-Doping Code. The athletes and their representatives have been invited to attend and present their defence.

The second stage is a disciplinary commission, which comprises five members of the IOC executive board, who recommend possible sanction to the full IOC board.

The IOC said yesterday the executive board was expected to convene at a later date to make the final decision.

If found guilty of a doping offence, Baxter can expect to be stripped of his medal and banned for two years.