Vienna lab names brains behind Austrian doping network

Humanplasma claims they were told blood doping was "completely legal"

Vienna laboratory Humanplasma hit back on Tuesday at claims that it stood at the centre of a massive doping network, naming instead several well-known coaches for the first time.

Banned Austrian biathlon and cross-country coach Walter Mayer, Stefan Matschiner, the former manager of disgraced cyclist Bernhard Kohl, and Martin Kessler, a rowing coach, were those at the heart of the doping network that used Humanplasma's facilities between 2003 and 2006, the laboratory said in a statement.

"Between late 2003 and early 2006, these three persons - and only these - arranged for about 30 athletes in total to have blood samples taken," it said.

Mayer, Matschiner and Kessler have long been linked to doping irregularities in Austria - Mayer was also banned from participating in future Olympics after a scandal at the 2006 Turin Games.

But so far, Humanplasma had never named any of the key figures.

The laboratory said it was first approached in 2003 by Mayer and Kessler, who insisted that blood doping was "completely legal and a widespread practice for a long time."

Matschiner then followed in 2005.

The organisation "set and coordinated appointments, escorted athletes to blood transfusions and picked up the concentrates which were later re-injected before races," according to Humanplasma.

Following comments by Austrian Olympic Committee chief Karl Stoss, it denied that any German athlete had been involved in the scheme.

A spokeswoman, Michaela Eisler, also refused to comment on the nationality of other athletes involved.  The laboratory only said that the blood doping did not only concern winter sports athletes.

Austrian weekly Sportwoche reported last year that athletes from seven countries and six disciplines - including 10 cyclists and four rowers - had been involved in the doping scheme.

Prosecutors who are investigating Humanplasma over tax evasion say 150 blood samples were taken at the laboratory.

Humanplasma insists it ended its involvement in blood doping after the 2006 Turin Olympics, which ended in scandal and life bans for several Austrian biathlon and cross-country athletes.

But the practices "continued long after 2006," it noted, adding that it was now trying to clear its name.

"We have assumed responsibility for our past. But in the end, all that people remember is the name Humanplasma," said Eisler.

© AFP 2010

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