Incheon: Malaysia on Wednesday refused to hand back the Asian Games gold medal won by a wushu athlete who failed a doping test, as a fifth athlete became snared in the hunt for banned drugs at the giant event.
A teenaged Syrian karate competitor tested positive for clenbuterol, the anabolic agent made notorious by sprinter Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, in the latest case.
Malaysia has been infuriated by the expulsion on Tuesday of wushu champion Tai Cheau Xuen from the 45-nation Games.
On Wednesday it made a formal appeal to the international sports court over the way her drug test was handled, Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) officials said.
The Swiss-based independent Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) has set up a special unit in Incheon to handle disputes at the Games, where 9,500 athletes are competing.
"The CAS will make its decision on whether or not to restore the gold within 24 hours," OCA director general Husain al-Musallam, told AFP.
"If the court finds that this player has the right to get back the medal, the OCA will not oppose it."
Malaysian officials say, however, that they still have the gold awarded to the champion in the Chinese martial art on September 20, and they are not about to hand it over.
Sieh Kok Chi, secretary-general of the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) told AFP that the medal is still in Malaysian hands. Other officials have pleaded the case that there could have been a mix-up in the test samples.
Malaysia`s head of mission Danyal Balagopal told the Malaysian newspaper, The Star, it had taken about 16 hours to get the results of Tai`s test back.
"We usually know the result as soon as it is brought to the lab," he was quoted as saying.
"On the day when the urine was taken from Tai, there were five samples placed together. There is a possibility that it was accidentally switched. Why do we need to give back the gold medal?" he added.
Tai, who has since returned to Malaysia, was found to have taken the stimulant sibutramine, according to the OCA. Sibutramine is used in widely available dietary supplements.
Malaysia`s Olympic chief Sieh told AFP that random doping tests were done on Malaysian athletes before the Asian Games except for the wushu team.
"It is sad that a Malaysian gold medal winner has tested positive," he said, adding that Malaysia practised zero tolerance for drug use.
Sieh also said star athletes should be careful what they consume.
Tai, who turns 23 on Thursday, has garnered widespread sympathy in her homeland.
"I am convinced Tai did nothing wrong. She strongly denied knowingly taking any illegal drugs or substances," said Ramlan Aziz, National Sports Institute director-general.
Tai`s father T.W. Tai, 55, said his daughter "will not consume performance enhancing drugs to boost her prospects of winning".
A Tajik footballer, a Cambodian soft tennis player and an Iraqi weightlifter had also failed drug tests and Syrian Nour-Aldin al-Kurdi became the fifth athlete expelled from the Incheon Games.
Al-Kurdi, 19, tested positive for the anabolic agent clenbuterol, notorious as a muscle-building aid, on September 25 before the karate contest had even started.
Al-Kurdi, 19, won a silver medal in the men`s 70kg class at the Asian junior championships in Malaysia last month.
The OCA says that about 1,900 of the 9,500 athletes in Incheon will be tested during the Games, which close on Saturday. Only 1,600 athletes were tested in Guangzhou four years ago.
The head of the OCA medical commission, M. Jegathesan, has acknowledged that some of the athletes being caught in tests had not knowingly taken substances or had been pushed into taking them by coaches.