DOPING

"Paquillo" walks into two-year ban and waves farewell to Olympics

Silver medalist in 2004 admitted to using the blood-boosting substance EPO

"Paquillo" Fernández is a world and Olympic silver medalist.
"Paquillo" Fernández is a world and Olympic silver medalist.EFE

Perceptions that Spanish sport is still plagued by doping have been further reinforced after walker Francisco "Paquillo" Fernández, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, lost an appeal that means he will now miss this year's London Games.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport last week upheld an appeal by the IAAF and banned Fernández for two years. The court took into account time served while provisionally suspended, and as a result, 35-year-old Fernández will be able to compete from December. Fernández's house in Granada was one of those raided in the Operation Grial anti-doping sting and while he was not one of 11 people arrested, it was alleged that doping agents were found in his home.

The Spanish athlete, a three-time world championships silver medalist in the 20-kilometer walk, initially denied any involvement, saying at the time: "I have never worked with this doctor and I have never had anything to do with doping." But he subsequently decided to cooperate with police, and admitted to using the blood-boosting drug EPO.

The homes and pharmacies raided in what was dubbed Operation Grial have been linked to former Kelme cycling team doctor Walter Viru, who was among the nine men and two women detained. The investigators also alleged that packages were couriered from Viru to Montserrat Pastor, the widow of Fernández's first trainer, Manuel Alcalde. Viru was a former colleague of Eufemiano Fuentes, who was arrested in relation to a previous cycling-related doping scandal called Operation Puerto.

In February Spain's culture and sports minister acknowledged that the country has a doping problem, and one that now threatens its third bid to host the Olympics. José Ignacio Wert said Spain needed to improve its record "to gain credibility" in the eyes of international bodies.

He said that tougher measures on doping are necessary to provide institutional aid to Madrid's bid to host the 2020 Games, and a planned bid from Barcelona for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Spanish Tour de France champion Alberto Contador was banned last month over a failed drug test at the 2010 Tour and stripped of the title of that race.

The Spanish cyclist, who also won the Tour in 2007 and '09, was handed a retroactive two-year ban that will sideline him from this year's French classic, the Giro d'Italia and the London Olympics.

Spain has been at the forefront of international ire in the fight against doping since the Operation Puerto investigation was launched in May 2006. That probe implicated at least 50 cyclists and a number of doctors and cycling team officials were arrested. But Spanish authorities failed to ban any riders linked to the scandal.

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