Irish Olympic hopeful tests positive for EPO


A member of Ireland's Olympic athletics team has tested positive for drugs just days before the Games begin in Athens, it emerged today.

Distance runner Cathal Lombard (28) has tested positive for the banned drug EPO and is facing the axe from the Olympic team and a potential two-year suspension if found guilty.

Irish Olympic press attaché Jack MacGowran confirmed the Irish Sports Council had discovered the positive test and informed Athletics Ireland that Lombard, who was due to compete in the 5,000 metres and 10,000m in Athens, will appear before Irish federation officials on Monday.

"The Irish sports council have come across an EPO positive for Cathal Lombard," MacGowran said.

"They informed his federation a couple of days ago. He will be asked to explain himself on Monday. He will be given 24 hours to come up with a response and if he doesn't do that he will not be in the Irish Olympic team."

Athletics Ireland confirmed it had been notified by the Irish Sports Council that a male athlete had failed a doping test.

Spokesman Patsy McGonagle said the news was "very disappointing" and would have huge ramifications for the sport's reputation in Ireland.

"It will reflect incredibly badly on the sport of athletics and will hang a cloud over the rest of the team," he said.

The news could spell huge disappointment for the Irish team and particularly the 15-strong athletics squad.

EPO, or erythropoietin, is a performance enhancing substance that increases endurance by boosting the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells in the body.

Lombard has made remarkable progress over the last 18 months.  The Corkman set an Irish record for 10,000m this year when he finished third in the BUPA Great Manchester run in a time of 27:33.53.

The Irish 5000m champion set a personal best of 13:19.22 in that distance when he finished fifth in Heusden, Belgium last year.  At the start of 2003 his personal best for 5,000m and 10,000m were 13:58.05 and 30.35.96 respectively.