French track in doldrums after another doping case

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              FILE - In this Sunday, April 14, 2019 file photo, Clemence Calvin of France reacts after crossing the finish line in 4th place in the women's Paris Marathon in Paris, France. France’s track and field federation is facing yet another doping controversy after middle distance runner Ophelie Claude-Boxberger tested positive for EPO before the world championships. Claude-Boxebreger’s case surfaced just months after European marathon silver medalist Clemence Calvin was provisionally suspended by the AFLD for allegedly obstructing a doping test in Morocco in March. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)
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BRUSSELS (AP) — Struggling with results on the track, the French athletics federation is facing yet another doping controversy after middle-distance runner Ophelie Claude-Boxberger tested positive for EPO before the world championships.

Claude-Boxberger, who was eliminated in the 3,000-meter steeplechase heats in Doha a few days after failing an out-of-competition test, has denied wrongdoing. In a short interview with local newspaper L’Est Republicain late Tuesday, the four-time national champion denied taking the blood-boosting EPO drug and said she has asked for her “B” sample to be tested.

In addition to her positive test, the 31-year-old Claude-Boxberger is also the target of a probe by French judicial officials. The Paris prosecutor’s office told The Associated Press they have opened an investigation into whether she breached French doping legislation after her case was referred to the judicial body by the French anti-doping agency, known as the AFLD.

The AFLD declined to answer questions from the AP.

Claude-Boxebreger’s case surfaced months after European marathon silver medalist Clemence Calvin was provisionally suspended by the AFLD for allegedly obstructing a doping test in Morocco in March. Calvin, who is facing a lengthy suspension, has been summoned to a hearing on Wednesday, with a decision expected before the end of the year.

During the world championships, German TV channel ARD reported that another French athlete, Morhad Amdouni, exchanged messages on a social medial chat application with an alleged drug dealer who asked for payment for EPO and growth hormone from the 2018 European 10,000-meter champion.

With the Tokyo Olympics looming, the three cases have rocked the French track federation, whose chief doctor Jean-Michel Serra is involved in a romantic relationship with Claude-Boxberger. Serra, who abruptly left the world championships citing personal reasons, was officially reprimanded by the federation earlier this year after he sent a letter to the AFLD asking the body to reduce the number of tests carried out on Claude-Boxberger.

Serra is currently on medical leave and will be questioned by French track officials when he returns to work, federation president Andre Giraud said.

“These cases create discomfort, we can’t deny it,” Giraud said. “Obviously we can’t put somebody behind every athlete night and day. We can rue the fact that we, in France, are doing the job (of testing). Is it being done in other countries? I doubt it.”

After her elimination, Claude-Boxberger had blamed the poor weather conditions for her showing in Doha, where the French team collected only two medals. According to L’Equipe newspaper, Claude-Boxberger tested positive on Sept. 18 in the Pyrenean ski resort of Font-Romeu, where she fine-tuned her preparations for the worlds. After finishing last in her heat, she said she was sad to conclude her season on such a disappointing note, especially following “a great month-long training in Font-Romeu.”

Claude-Boxberger’s positive test sparked a series of negative reactions from other French athletes, but decathlon world record holder Kevin Mayer saw a glimmer of hope in the recent spate of cases.

“If some want to dope, it’s too bad,” Mayer said. “They get caught and I think it’s very good there is a hecatomb right now. It shows that things are being done for a cleaner sport.”