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Ex-Olympic champion Athanasia Tsoumeleka tests positive for EPO

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ATHENS, Greece - Former Olympic champion Athanasia Tsoumeleka tested positive for the banned blood-booster erythropoietin in a retesting of a sample she provided two days before the opening of the Beijing Olympics.

Tsoumeleka, the 20-kilometre walk champion at the 2004 Athens Games, confirmed she was told that a retesting of the urine sample she gave on Aug. 6 tested positive for EPO.

But she expressed doubts about the second procedure and announced her retirement from competition, effective immediately.

"I was informed that there is a problem with a positive test for (EPO) in a sample I submitted on Aug. 6, 2008. I will not try to excuse myself, even though I have not knowingly made use of this substance," Tsoumeleka told radio station Skai. "The fact that samples are tested more than once - that is, opened not in my presence - makes me feel uneasy about the whole process.

"My unfortunate involvement . . . forces me to put an end to the high-level competitive sports I love so much and not wait to continue after the expiration of my expected punishment."

In Beijing, Tsoumeleka finished ninth in the 20-kilometre walk in a personal best of one hour 27 minutes 54 seconds. She was almost three and a half minutes behind winner Olga Kaniskina of Russia.

Tsoumeleka's positive test result was the latest affecting Greek athletes.

Fani Halkia, the 2004 Olympic 400-metre hurdles champion, was dropped from the team in Beijing and expelled from the athletes' village after testing positive for the anabolic steroid methyltrienolone. Fourteen other Greeks, including 11 weightlifters, tested positive for the same substance before the Olympics.

Vassilis Sevastis, the head of Greece's athletics federation SEGAS, said he would not comment on Tsoumeleka's case and her statement.

"Greece is full of EPO ... nothing has been done to curtail doping in the past 20 years," sports doctor Stavros Hatzos told Skai radio station.

The International Olympic Committee announced last October that it would retest urine samples provided by athletes at Beijing.

Frozen samples were sent to the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland. The IOC announced that among the tests carried out on the urine would be one for CERA, the new generation of EPO.

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