By Phillip Whitten
LAUSANNE, Switzerland, June 6. OLYMPIC champion Claudia Poll — Costa Rica's greatest national sports hero and its only Olympic gold medalist — has tested positive for an illegal, performance-enhancing steroid and will be suspended from competition for four years, according to an announcement this afternoon by the International Amateur Swimming Federation (FINA) in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The 29 year-old, 6'3" Costa Rican tested positive for the substance Norandrosterone (metabolites of nandrolone) taken in an out-of-competition doping control test conducted during a training session on February 25 at the Cariari Country Club in San Jose, Costa Rica. The decision to suspend her was taken at a FINA Doping panel hearing in Lausanne on May 31.
Under FINA rules, all of Poll's performances achieved during the six months prior to her suspension are to bee canceled.
Poll appeared at the hearing along with her coach, Francisco Rivas, and her attorney, Dr. Jürgen Schäfer. Under FINA rules, Poll has one month during which she can appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Claims She Is Innocent
Poll insisted on her innocence, pointing out that she has undergone more than 55 drug tests during the past nine years including eleven tests in 2001 and 2002, and had never previously tested positive. In addition, samples collected from her by FINA on March 26, 2002, were negative, as were a series of urine and blood tests initiated by herself at the hospital in San Juan de Dios in San Jose, Costa Rica and another urine test conducted on April 2, 2002, and analyzed by the laboratory at UCLA.
She also alleged that the procedures used during her February 25 test were highly irregular and did not comply even with the required minimum standards established in the FINA rulebook.
Poll won the 200 meter freestyle at the 1996 Atlanta Games, defeating world record-holder Franziska van Almsick, and touching off a wild, day-long celebration in Costa Rica. Four years later in Sydney she won bronze medals in both the 200 and 400 meter freestyle. Poll holds the world record in the short course 400 meter freestyle.
Ironically, Poll's older sister, Sylvia, was a silver medalist at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, beaten to the wall by East Germany's Heike Friedrich. After the collapse of Communism, East German Secret police (Stasi) files revealed that Friedrich — along with all other East German Olympic swimmers — had systematically been doped as a matter of national policy.