The Court of Arbitration for Sport on Monday upheld the suspensions of two of Bulgaria's Olympic medal hopefuls, high jumper Venelina Veneva and 400m sprinter, Vanya Stambolova, after the two were suspended for having tested positive for testosterone in an out-of-competition test in January 2007.
Both athletes, who share the same coach, Georgi Dimitrov, had their urine samples collected at an unexpected check during training in Budapest, Hungary on 24 January. Veneva also provided a further positive sample from an IAAF out-of-competition doping control conducted on 6-February in Sofia, Bulgaria.
"As far as the rules allowed us, we did our best to give the athletes a chance to prove their innocence," Bulgarian athletics federation president Dobromir Karamarinov said Tuesday.
"However, the court's decision is categorical and we accept it. Both athletes will miss the Beijing Games, but they will be able to compete again in April 2009."
Both athletes were provisionally suspended by the IAAF pending the result of the Bulgarian Athletic Federation's hearing on the two cases. The Bulgarian Athletic Federation cleared Stambolova and Veneva of doping violations in July in a controversial move, and forced the IAAF's Doping Review Board to take the case to the CAS.
The Bulgarian Athletic Federation stated they reversed the initial positive findings due to what they cited was incomplete analysis and "borderline" testosterone detection levels.
"When we received the positive result the 23rd of March, we asked them to even test the "B"-sample. The result was just on the border, and we have decided to not issue any sanctions," the Bulgarian news bureau Novonite quoted Karamarinov as stating.
The International Association of Athletics Federations sent the case directly to CAS following the Bulgarian association's decision, citing that the decision was in opposition to existing IAAF protocol.
The IAAF made a formal statement on the issue, stating that all three samples collected from the two athletes were analysed in the Lausanne WADA accredited laboratory where analysis of the urine samples were conducted by Isotope Ration Mass Spectrometry (IRMS).
The results of the IRMS conclusively established the administration of testosterone or its precursors. The "B"-sample analysis also confirmed the initial "A"-sample results, meaning that the two urine specimens collected at the same and split into two separate units both confirmed the same findings.
Though Karamarinov was optimistic that both athletes can return to competition in two years' time, the ban could signal the end of the 33-year-old Veneva's career. It also certainly puts in doubt her previous accomplishments over the past three years.
Veneva, who won silver at the 2006 European Championships in Göteborg in a highly charged and well-contested competition won by surprise winner Tia Hellebaut of Belgium, and bronze at the 2007 European indoor championships, has long been held under suspicion by her international colleagues, with world indoor record-holder, Kajsa Bergqvist, Veneva's staunchest critic.
Bergqvist became both relieved and glad when she learned that her rival, Veneva, was caught for doping with testosterone.
"I have suspected her for almost 10 years time," Bergvist stated to Swedish news agency TT.
"As [the way] she has set up her seasons and suddenly appeared at championships, I have understood that there was something shady. That she has finally gotten caught is an unbelievable relief, but one had hoped that it could have occurred earlier," says Kajsa Bergqvist.
Veneva's having jumped very good heights early in the summer in non-major meets close to her home in either Bulgaria or Greece followed by not competing at all during the month or so leading up to the major championships led to part of the suspicion Bergqvist and other athletes had concerning Veneva.
Veneva was also regularly and conspicuously absent from the major Grand Prix and Golden League meets during the main part of the season where all the other top jumpers competed against each other.
The Golden League is a series of competitions the IAAF formed for the 1998 season to raise the profile of the leading athletics competitions in Europe. Athletes who compete in selected events – and win their event at all of the Golden League meetings – are qualified for a share of the $1 million jackpot offered.
The lucrative European Grand Prix circuit is where many athletes earn their living during their athletics careers, and one in which Veneva had earlier participated before shelving the international competitions for local ones with little or no competition… or drug testing.
The 24-year-old Stambolova was European champion in 2006, running 49,85 to defeat Russians Tatyana Veshkurova and Olga Zaytseva for the gold.
Stambolova holds four Bulgarian national records, and has a lifetime best in the 400m of 49,56 seconds – a mark she set in Rieti, Italy 17 days after her European title.
Stambolova's entire 2006 season will come into question as she set three of her national records (400m indoors, 400m outdoors and 400m hurdles) just months before her positive drugs test. She recorded a total of eight national all-time bests at the 400m distance in 2006, taking her personal best down from 52.99 to 49.53 — unheard of in the 400m.
Veneva is the 11th-best female performer outdoors in the high jump at 2.04m. She has jumped a lifetime best of 2.02m indoors – the 13th-best performer. Country mate Stefka Kostadinova holds the world outdoor record of 2.09m set at the 1987 IAAF World Championships in Rome.
The CAS was created in 1984 and is placed under the administrative and financial authority of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS). The CAS has nearly 300 arbitrators from 87 countries, chosen for their specialist knowledge of arbitration and sports law. Around 200 cases are registered by the CAS every year.