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September 22, 2000
Athletes sizzle as drug cheats blight GamesRobert Mahoney
The superstars of athletics inaugurated Sydney's Olympic track Friday but the Games were once again tainted by drugs with the expulsion of Bulgaria's entire weightlifting team for cheating.
All but one of the big stars of men's and women's sprinting cruised through their heats on the first day of track and field competition before a 110,000-capacity crowd.
But Canada's Donovan Bailey, who had complained of flu, seemed to give up in his men's 100 metre heat, finishing third in obvious distress. He failed to qualify for the semifinals.
World champion Maurice Greene of the United States, the 100 metre record holder, had no such trouble clocking a confident 10.31 seconds.
Compatriot Marion Jones began her bid for five gold medals with unruffled victories in the first two rounds of the women's 100 metres. She eased across the line in 11.20 seconds.
Defending champion and world record holder Michael Johnson, one of the biggest stars of the Atlanta Olympics, coasted through the first round of the 400 metres.
The fiercely patriotic crowd roared when Cathy Freeman showed why she is favourite to win the 400 metres title.
The 27-year-old, an Aborigine who says she represents a modern, multicultural Australia, won her first-round race, winding down in the last 50 metres.
Freeman, who lit the Olympic cauldron a week ago, has become an even hotter tip for gold since her rival Marie-Jose Perec fled to Paris complaining of harassment in Sydney.
The Atlanta 400 metres winner gave the media she loathes the slip in Paris, adding to the mystery surrounding her night-time flight.
Ffrance's sports minister said the Guadeloupe-born runner had ''cracked under the pressure of the Australian press'' that dubbed her the Greta Garbo of athletics for her wish ''to be alone''.
Athletics had to share the limelight with swimming where another world record fell, the 12th since the competition began six days ago.
The 50 metres freestyle, the ''splash and dash'', had the crowd on the edge of their seats as US team mates Anthony Ervin and Gary Hall made swimming history.
They touched the wall in the same time of 21.98 seconds to share gold in the fastest race in the sport.
Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband, a double gold medallist here, was a fingernail's length behind. He got the bronze as no silver is awarded.
His compatriot Inge de Bruijn broke her own world record in the women's 50 metre freestyle semifinal in a time of 24.13, bettering the 24.39 she set in June.
Sweden's Lars Frolander upstaged Australian favourites Michael Klim and Geoff Huegill to take the men's 100 metres butterfly and Romanian teenager Diana Mocanu completed a golden double winning the women's 200 metres backstroke.
The US swimming victories took the Olympic team's haul of golds to 16 and strengthened their lead in the medals table.
China had a red letter day in weightlifting with two golds. Zhan Xugang won an eventful men's 77 kg contest, equalling the world clean-and-jerk world record of 207.5 kg to squeeze out Greece's Viktor Mitrou on body weight.
Women's superheavyweight world champion Ding Meiyuan smashed three world records.
The triumph anchored China in second place with 11 golds, ahead of Australia with eight and France and Italy on seven.
Bbut it was not a good day for weightlifting in particular or the Olympics in general when the Bulgarian team was thrown out for using diuretics.
''The Bulgarian weightlifting team is suspended forthwith for a per od of not less than 12 months pending further investigations,'' the International Weightlifting Federation said.
''All remaining lifters as well as officials from Bulgaria will not be allowed to take part in the Games.''
Lifters Izabela Dragneva, gold medal winner in the women's 48 kg category, and men's 62 kg bronze medallist Sevdalin Minchev were both ordered out of the Olympics.
They followed men's 56 kg silver medallist Ivan Ivanov, thrown out on Wednesday.
Dragneva, 29, was the first gold medal winner in Sydney to be branded a drugs cheat.
IWF rules allow a federation to escape suspension by paying a $ 50,000 fine. But Bulgarian national committee chief Ivan Slavkov said his country would not do the same.
IWF vice-president Sam Coffa said: ''Anyone who brings this much darkness to us on a world stage should forfeit the right to be members of our community.''
Weightlifting was almost dropped as an Olympic sport after five doping cases at the 1988 Seoul Games, two of them involving Bulgarian gold medallists who had taken the same diureic, furosemide. Bulgaria withdrew its team from those Olympics.
Six doping cases involving weightlifters have hit the Sydney Games -- the three Bulgarian medallists plus two Romanians and one Taiwanese lifter who failed pre-Olympic tests.
Diuretics, which cause the body to expel fluid, can be used by weightlifters to lose weight before competition or to mask the presence of other banned substances.
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