Slovene sports star will miss Olympics after failing drug test

Jolanda Čeplak

Amid the debate on whether to boycott the Olympic Games in China, the Slovenian Athletics Association recently confirmed that one of the country's star athletes will not be going. But her being grounded at home has nothing to do with troubles in Tibet, and everything to do with a failed drug test. Michael Manske of Radio Slovenia International has the story of a star athlete's fall from grace.

Jolanda Čeplak is a world-record-holding track athlete with numerous medals to her name: in 2002 she took gold at the European Outdoor Championships in Munich and then again at the European Indoor Championships in Vienna. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, her bronze medal was a source of pride for Slovenia. So people around the country were disappointed when the star sprinter failed a surprise drug test in June 2007.

The IAAF hit Čeplak with a two-year competition ban, dashing her hopes of competing at the Beijing Olympics this summer. Čeplak was found to have been using the banned blood booster erythropoietine, or EPO. This type of »blood doping« is not uncommon to endurance athletes. Indeed, EPO use was notoriously detected among 2007 Tour de France cyclists and led to suspensions for members of the Astana team, while numerous Telekom cyclists also admitted to using the banned enhancer.

Čeplak was temporarily suspended last summer and her case was brought before the Slovenian Athletics Association. (AZS) During an early hearing last September, she rejected the allegations and said that there were errors during sampling. However, having failed both tests, her chances of coming out unscathed seemed slim.

The AZS questioned both of the controllers who took urine samples from the star athlete last summer. They later ruled out the possibility of any irregularities. Slavko Černe, head of the commission:

"If there was a suspicion that the test was negative, then of course the result would have been different".

Čeplak dropped out of the public eye and even avoided the recent sessions of the AZS. After a marathon session that lasted into the early morning hours, the commission decided to confirm the test results.

With the two-year ban upheld, Čeplak's hopes of running in Beijing are officially over. As the current world record holder for fastest indoor 800-meter time, it was a bitter blow to Slovenia's olympic hopes.

Čeplak will be eligible to compete internationally in 2009. In the meantime, she's joined a Ljubljana football club, as stamina manager.