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Ireland stripped of Olympic medal

Athens (Greece)

DUBLIN, Republic of Ireland -- Ireland's only medalist at the 2004 Athens Games must hand back his Olympic showjumping gold after his horse, Waterford Crystal, tested positive for banned substances.

The sport's governing body found Cian O'Connor had breached its rules by letting fluphenazine and zuclophenthixol be in the horse's system.

But after a 12-hour hearing in Zurich, Switzerland on Sunday, a judicial committee of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) said it was satisfied O'Connor had not been involved in a deliberate attempt to affect the performance of the horse.

O'Connor has always denied cheating, insisting the drugs -- which are used as sedatives and anti-psychotic medication in humans -- were given to the horse by his vet for therapeutic reasons.

He had told the FEI the substances were used as a mild sedative during hydrotherapy treatment on a minor fetlock injury.

"I am delighted that the judicial committee has accepted and affirmed that I was not involved in any deliberate attempt to affect the performance of my horse Waterford Crystal -- as I have always maintained," said O'Connor.

"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 that neither I nor my vet James Sheeran have done anything wrong.

"To get to the Olympics was my aim for many years and I have never even contemplated doing anything which might jeopardise this goal."

The four-man committee disqualified the showjumper from the Athens Olympics, forcing him to forfeit his gold medal.

O'Connor has also been ordered to contribute to the cost of the hearing and is suspended from the sport for three months.

However, he has 30 days to appeal against the committee's ruling at the International Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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