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Three-month ban as O'Connor loses gold

IRISH Olympic showjumping hero Cian O'Connor was sensationally stripped of his Olympic gold medal last night.

He was also banned for three months and fined ?3,200.

The ruling by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) ended months of speculation after his horse Waterford Crystal tested positive for banned substances following his Olympic win in Athens last August.

Speaking after last night's FEI verdict, a clearly upset O'Connor told the Irish Independent: "The loss of the medal is a huge disappointment."

But he said he felt he and his vet James Sheeran had been cleared of any attempt to enhance the horse's performance.

He said: "The FEI have accepted, as I have always maintained, there was no deliberate attempt to enhance my horse's performance.

"I have done nothing wrong. It is a huge disappointment not only to me, to my friends and colleagues, to my staff but also to the country."

In a statement issued later he said: "While I am disappointed that a technical infraction has resulted in the loss of the gold medal for Ireland, I wish to re-emphasise again today that neither I or my vet James Sheeran have done anything wrong. To get to the Olympics was my aim for many years and I never even contemplated doing anything, which might jeopardise this goal." He said he would think about appealing after he had time to consider the verdict. His lawyer, Andrew Coonan, said: "We are obviously deeply disappointed but there is considerable solace from today. The FEI supported our statement that there was no effort to influence the horse's performance."

Asked about an appeal, Mr Coonan said: "Everything must be considered. Nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out."

The rider will be suspended from taking part in international jumping competition when the EFI here officially receive the notification of the decision.

In a statement last night, the FEI judicial committee said there had been a breach of FEI regulations in Athens in connection with the presence of prohibited substances of fluphenazine and zuclopenthixol in Waterford Crystal.

But they said they were "satisfied that the person responsible (Cian) has established that he was not involved in a deliberate attempt to effect the performance of the horse".

However, they said he would be stripped of his gold medal, pay a fine of 5,000 Swiss francs (?3,200) and be suspended for three months.

Cian and his legal team had appeared before the four-member judicial committee hearing of the FEI at the Zurich Airport Conference Center. Mr O'Connor's team presented the FEI with an 18-page defence document. The marathon meeting began yesterday at 9.30am.

Despite the intense pressure he has been under, Cian (25) still managed to come second at an international jumping class in Arezzo in Italy on Friday before heading to Zurich for the hearing.

The young showjumper always vigorously maintained his innocence in the case.

The euphoria that swept the country at his Olympic gold win quickly turned to disappointment when news broke of the positive dope test.

It had the effect of tarnishing O'Connor's gold medal win.

His supporters waited on tenterhooks to find out what the results of the re-testing of the B sample would bring.

However, things took a sinister turn with the subsequent theft of the urine part of the B sample, en route for testing at a top laboratory in the UK in broad daylight. No one has been identified or caught in connection with that.

As sensational as that theft was, more was to follow. The Kildare offices of the Equestrian Federation of Ireland were broken into and the file on Cian's mare ABC Landliebe stolen. That horse had also tested positive for banned substances at an international horse show in Rome last May.

Gardai began an immediate investigation but nobody has as yet been charged with the break-in.

The FEI then decided to send the remaining blood portion of the sample to the world's top laboratory in New York, the USA Equestrian and Drugs Research Laboratory for analysis.

Those tests by leading equine scientist, Professor Maylin, again proved positive for the banned substances. O'Connor claimed then that the result was a "vindication". He claimed the traces were so low they were "one billion times less than the present Irish drink driving limit".

He insisted the NY results supported his claim that the drugs "had absolutely no therapeutic or performance enhancing effect" on his horse due to their presence in such small quantities.

The FEI maintains a strict anti-doping policy and has already stripped the Germans of two Olympic gold medals they won in Athens.

O'Connor publicly maintained the medication was given by his vet, James Sheeran, well in advance of the Olympic Games.

In interviews, they both said the drugs were administered to the horse to keep him calm while he received hydrotherapy treatment for a mild fetlock injury.

The banned drug traces discovered by the tests were the anti-psychotic human drug fluphenazine and zuclopphenthixol - both of which are licensed for human use only.

By way of explanation, Mr Sheeran said at the time he did not wish to give other equine drugs that could have the effect of making the horse unsteady.

Under the FEI's rulebook, the rider is regarded as the 'Person Responsible (PR)' for any drugs that subsequently show up in his/her horse's system.

The following is the statement issued by the FEI last night:

"Following a hearing held in Zurich on March 27 2005, the FEI Judicial Committee determined that there had been a breach of FEI General Regulations Art. 146.2 at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens relating to the presence of the prohibited substances of fluphenazine and zuclopenthixol in the horse Waterford Crystal ridden by Cian O'Connor (IRL).

"The Judicial Committee accepted the reports of the analysis of the A urine sample as performed by the Laboratoire des Courses Hippiques (FRA) and also the analysis on a blood sample as performed by the USEF Drug Testing and Research Laboratory (USA).

"The FEI Veterinary Regulations Art. 1022 permits the combination of analyses of blood and of urine. The Judicial Committee decline to rely upon what is identified as an A Blood Sample analysis. The Judicial Committee decided that both substances as above are Prohibited Substances within the meaning of the Veterinary Regulations.

"Accordingly the following consequences shall apply:1) Disqualification from all competitions of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens pursuant to General Regulations Art. 146.2 and The Person Responsible shall make a contribution to the costs of CHF 5000 pursuant to General Regulations 174.12.3) Suspension for the period of 3 months commencing at the date that is 30 days after the receipt by Equestrian Federation of Ireland of the full written decision of the FEI Judicial Committee.

The Judicial Committee is satisfied that the PR has established that he was not involved in "a deliberate attempt to affect the performance of the horse . . . "as referred to in General Regulations 174.7.3. The above is a brief summary of the reasons and the Decision."

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