Two Estonian cross-country skiers suspected of doping

Press conference in Seefeld.

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

Five athletes were arrested over suspected blood doping at the  41st FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Seefeld, Austria, on Wednesday -- two Estonians, two Austrians and one Kazakh, a statement by Austria's federal criminal police office confirmed.

The police said a number of raids had been conducted in cooperation with German police authorities against an «internationally active doping network».

The doping ring based in Erfurt, Germany, is suspected of carrying out blood doping on top athletes with the aim to improve their performance at international competitions and earn illegal profit from it.

As part of the raids, a total of nine people have been arrested and 16 properties searched, nine of which were located in Erfurt. The crackdown is code named Operation Bloodletting by the police.

Head coach of the Estonian cross-country ski team Anti Saarepuu did not comment on the doping allegations and only told Postimees that the Estonian cross-country skiers Andreas Veerpalu and Karel Tammjarv, who were previously announced as participants in the men's 15 km classical, are not to take part in said competition. Kazakh athlete Alexey Poltoranin, who is coached by Estonian cross-country skiing Olympic medalist Andrus Veerpalu, did not participate in the competition, either.

Austrians Dominik Baldauf and Max Hauke, who came in sixth in the team sprint, were also arrested over suspicions of blood doping, Austrian daily Kronen Zeitung reported. Hauke was also scheduled to take part in the 15 kilometer competition on Wednesday.

German prosecutors said that the police actions were sparked by revelations made by Austrian cross-country skier Johannes Durr in a program broadcast on German television in January.