TURIN, Feb 26 (Reuters) A week-long Austrian doping saga involving night-time raids, police and drugs testers may have dominated headlines at the Turin Olympics yet the Games were among the cleanest yet.
After 16 days of competition, more than 800 urine tests and 362 blood samples were taken and only one athlete failed a drugs test. And she was not an Austrian.
Russian biathlon silver medallist Olga Pyleva was expelled from the Olympics and stripped of her medal after testing positive for a prohibited stimulant, which the athlete said she took inadvertently.
Apart from Pyleva, the only other suspect cases involved 12 biathlon and cross-country skiers who recorded high levels of haemoglobin, receiving only a five-day race suspension for health reasons. Most of them did race and none tested positive for banned substances.
Compared with the 2004 Athens Games where several gold medallists were expelled hours after winning their events and where 26 cases of doping rule violations were recorded, Turin looked clean.
''Everybody knew that there would be more testing. The federations did more pre-Games testing and all that had an effect,'' World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) chief Dick Pound told Reuters.
The 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City had seven doping cases while all three previous Games stretching back to the 1992 Albertville Games had none.
But in Turin, apart from a significant increase in the number of tests of around 72 percent compared to four years ago, the International Olympic Committee introduced blood testing for the first time.
CRIMINAL OFFENCE As part of its zero tolerance on drugs, the IOC has widened the rules of doping violations in recent years, hoping to crack down on cheats.
Strict Italian doping laws that consider drugs-taking a criminal offence may have played their part too.
Before the Games, Italy and the IOC locked horns over who would run doping in the country during the Olympics. A last-minute compromise allowed for one Italian government official to participate in the IOC's anti-drugs squad.
As it turned out, it was that link that helped police raid the Austrian athletes' homes following a WADA tip-off, in what the IOC proudly described as a synchronised operation.
''The application of the (Italian) law did have a deterrent effect,'' said Pound. ''The fact that we ended up with a joint operation I think sends a very strong signal.'' Two Austrian athletes and a coach fled Turin only hours after the raids fearing legal consequences.
Pyleva also left in a hurry for Moscow afraid she could end up in jail after magistrates launched an investigation, in line with the doping laws introduced in 1999.
Pound said while other countries may not have the same doping laws, Italy's example would give them the framework for enforcing similar legal mechanisms in their bid to stage drugs-free Olympics.
REUTERS DH RK1436