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BAXTER:I WON'T GIVE UP MEDAL; I'LL PROVE I'M INNOCENT.

Byline: TAMZIN LEWIS

SKIER Alain Baxter last night refused to hand back his Olympic medal - as the people of Aviemore presented him with their own 8ft gold version.

The 28-year-old, who has been stripped of his Olympic bronze status after failing a dope test, spoke out after returning to his home town of Aviemore to a hero's welcome. The larger-than-life medal - made by ski school owner Hugh Clarke - was lowered to him by crane.

Alain said he was preparing to enter into a legal battle with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and is refusing to hand back the real thing until he is granted a second examination of the urine sample that tested positive for methamphetamine in Salt Lake City.

He said: "I know I might not get to keep my medal, but at least I can prove my innocence."

He claims he tested positive to methamphetamine after unwittingly using an American Vicks nasal decongestant which contains different ingredients to the British type.

"I urge the IOC to have the second test done to prove that the substance came from my Vicks inhaler," he said.

"The medal is being held by the BSSF until we have to hand it back. Meanwhile, we are still going through the process of trying to keep it.

"I have heard of instances where medals have gone missing - but now we have a bigger one in Aviemore."

Baxter wants the IOC to acknowledge the difference between dextro-methamphetamine and levo- methamphetamine - he says the latter was in the Vicks inhaler.

Levo-methamphetamine is harmless while dextro-methamphetamine, or speed, is a stimulant.

If the IOC refuse a second test, Alain will appeal to the Court for Arbitration in Sport in Lausanne. He is being backed by the British Ski and Snowboard Federation (BSSF), which receive nearly pounds 70,000 of lottery funding each year for Alain. Director Fiona McNeilly said: "We are backing Alain all the way. We have three weeks to appeal to the Court for Arbitration if the IOC don't do a second test."

However, Alain concedes he may lose his fight and said: "If it comes to a ban, I hope it will only be for three months. I could handle that - but I don't think I should get one in the first place."

In the French ski resort of Courcheval, Alain's mother Sue Dixon said: "There have to be rules, but the rules are there to catch cheats and Alain is not a cheat. He was naive not to get the Vicks checked, but we all know he won the bronze on his own merit."

After his IOC appeal, Alain faces a International Skiing Federation (FIS) disciplinary hearing in June to determine whether he should be banned from competitive skiing.

An FIS spokesman said: "It is up to the Council to determine whether this was an inadvertent doping action which carries a minimum suspension of three months or a deliberate offence which would mean a ban for two years."

The biggest repercussion of a ban will be the loss of pounds 70,000 lottery funding. UK Sport said: "He'll get a year ban from funding if the FIS uphold the dope test and suspends him from the sport."

Alain's sponsors Drambuie are backing him until April - when a new contract will be considered. A spokeswoman said: "We are sympathetic to his efforts to clear his name."

CAPTION(S):

VOW: Alain with the bronze medal he says he should keep; KING GONG: Alain with the giant medal presented to him by Aviemore yesterday
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 24, 2002
Words:588
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