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Police find syringes at Olympics

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Police raided the Austrian biathlon and cross-country team base

TORINO, Italy (Reuters) -- Police found used medical equipment, including syringes, when they raided Austrian athletes' bases in an anti-doping operation at the Torino Winter Olympics, a police source said on Sunday.

"When we went into San Sicario one of the athletes threw some used medical equipment out of the window," one police source told Reuters.

"We found used and non-used medical equipment, syringes (during the raid)".

Police raided the Austrian biathlon and cross-country team bases late on Saturday night and 10 athletes were taken for urine tests. Four of the athletes who had to race in a cross-country skiing event on Sunday morning lost.

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel criticized the police operation which also drew a torrent of complaints from Austrian skiing officials.

In an official statement, Italian police said only that equipment had been found in the raid and was sent for examination.

Austrian Olympic Committee secretary general Heinz Jungwirth told Reuters he had so far not heard anything.

"We are still waiting for the police report."

The controversy centered on Walter Mayer, the biathlon and cross-country coach who was banned from the Olympics after a blood doping scandal at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.

Mayer is not an official member of the Austrian team in Turin but he visited the athletes which, a member of the International Olympic Committee said, had caused concern.

Official investigation

Italian magistrates put Mayer under official investigation but had not issued an arrest warrant for him.

Italy's tight anti-doping law not only punishes athletes caught cheating but also anyone found helping them to take dope.

"Mayer was here privately as a spectator and he visited the boys. Of course, they will have talked a bit about preparations for the race and maybe he gave them some advice," said Erich Wagner, a spokesman for the Austrian Ski Federation.

The IOC said the raids were sparked by a report from the World Anti-Doping Agency that said doping-related equipment had been found previously at an Austrian team base and suggested there may be attempts to dope at the Torino Games.

"I must openly say I find it outrageous that someone like Walter Mayer ... showed up here unwelcome and in so doing cast a shadow over our team. Our athletes did not deserve that," Chancellor Schuessel told Austrian state television.

But he added: "It was not right for (carabinieri) to come in the night before a competition and pull young athletes out of bed like criminals and interrogate them for five hours.

"We have to protect athletes. To protect them means drawing a clear line between doping and permissible fitness (aids)."

Mayer was banned from the Olympics until beyond 2010 after blood transfusion equipment was found at a chalet being used by the Austrian team in Salt Lake City. He said the equipment was for therapeutic treatment, not to boost performance.

Mayer was also handed a life ban from the International Skiing Federation (FIS), which was later cut to 10 years.

Austria has long been a powerhouse in Alpine ski downhill events but it was Mayer who took their cross-country team to their first Olympic medals in 1998.

Mayer in crash

Mayer crashed his car into a police barrier Sunday evening after leading authorities on a bizarre chase.

Mayer was not injured in the accident, in which he struck a police car at a roadblock set up in the town of Paternion in the southwestern province of Carinthia, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the border with Italy, police said.

The Austrian Ski Federation said Sunday night it had ended its relationship with Mayer effective immediately. Federation president Peter Schroecksnadel cited the accident as the reason in a brief statement. He did not elaborate.

The unusual chain of events began when Mayer -- returning to his native Austria just hours after Italian authorities searched Austria's biathlon and cross country team quarters for banned substances -- pulled over to the side of the road and took a nap in his car, a police statement said.

A suspicious local resident alerted police, saying that a man was sleeping in a car with the engine turned off. When officers arrived on the scene to wake him, Mayer sped away, striking and slightly injuring an officer, the statement said.

Officers on the scene then called for backup, and authorities parked an empty police vehicle across the highway as a roadblock. They said Mayer slammed into the squad car, destroying both vehicles, but was uninjured.

Police said Mayer was taken into protective custody. It was unclear whether he would face criminal charges, and authorities declined to say whether they searched his vehicle for doping substances or equipment.

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