IN A dramatic coup, the International Olympic Committee has uncovered six new cases of doping after re-testing samples given at the Beijing Olympic Games. It is understood the six competitors involved three track-and-field athletes, one of which was a gold medallist, two cyclists, one of which was Italian silver medal-winning road racer Davide Rebellin, and one weightlifter.
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Australian Olympic Committee spokesman Mike Tancred said the AOC had not been notified that any Australians were involved. Usually the IOC contacts the relevant national committee to notify the particular athlete involved and implement the sanctioning process. "We have not been notified that any Australians are involved in the latest re-testing, so we can only assume that this does not involve any Australian athletes," he said. The US and New Zealand Olympic Committees made similar statements.

It is not known if any Australians would be elevated in the standings as a result of the re-testing. Any medallists found to be doping are stripped of their results and forced to hand back their medals for reallocation. The French IOC laboratory conducted the re-testing of 948 samples, which uncovered seven cases of doping involving six competitors. The new drug uncovered was the latest blood doping agent, CERA (continuous erythropoietin receptor activator), which has a longer-lasting effect than erythropoietin (EPO) but acts in a similar way by boosting the red blood cells in the body to enable more efficient uptake of oxygen.

The testers surprised the peloton in last year’s Tour de France by testing for CERA, after the drug manufacturers tipped off the World Anti Doping Agency about CERA’s legitimate manufacture and chemical composition for kidney patients. The drug testers also re-tested 101 Beijing Olympic samples for insulin, but none were positive. IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist said this latest doping development was a significant victory for clean athletes.

"The further analysis of the Beijing samples that we conducted should send a clear message that cheats can never assume that they have avoided detection," he said. "The vast majority of athletes do not seek an unfair advantage. We intend to do all we can to ensure that they have a fair environment for competition."

The further analysis comes after 4770 doping tests were conducted in Beijing, including 3801 urine and 969 blood tests. Urine tests included 817 EPO tests, and the blood tests included 471 human growth hormone tests.

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A FEARSOME reputation earned winning on racetracks around the world has rivals fearing Takeover Target in Saturday’s Goodwood at Morphettville, with only 11 others paying up for the group 1 sprint.
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The thoroughbred hero will race in South Australian for the first time in an illustrious 38-start career that has netted 20 wins, 10 placings and $5,828,050 in prizemoney. The rising 10-year-old has won in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Western Australia, the UK, Singapore and Japan.

In the past 20 years, the Goodwood has averaged just more than 18 runners each year, with the past three drawing capacity 20-horse fields.

Takeover Target smashed rivals when resuming in the TJ Smith at Randwick two Saturdays ago and arrived in Adelaide late last week, with trainer Joe Janiak using Tuesday’s breakfast with the stars to give the gelding a good look at the Morphettville track.

Betting agencies plunged Takeover Target deep into the red for the Goodwood, with Sportingbet offering $1.65 about the sprinter taking its group 1 haul to eight. Takeover Target will be launched from barrier eight.

"I’m pretty happy with that barrier, as the track is going to be fairly wet and that will give us some options at his first run at the track," Janiak said yesterday. "The wet won’t worry him too much and that barrier will give him every chance."

Jockey Jay Ford is set to reunite with Takeover Target in a track gallop at Morphettville this morning. Ford, who has been on board Takeover Target in 36 of its starts, was dumped by Janiak leading into the TJ Smith, with Nash Rawiller a passenger when it won.

Because of changed conditions for the Goodwood, Takeover Target will carry a maximum top weight of 58.5kg and the $190,950 first prize would catapult the Janiak owned-galloper past $6 m in prizemoney and to sixth on the all-time earning list.

Following the Goodwood Takeover Target is set for a fourth trip to Royal Ascot, where the galloper, purchased for $1375 plus GST at a tried-horse sale, won the King’s Stand Stakes in 2006.

Last year Takeover Target raced in Singapore and won the group 1 KrisFlyer, which is on the agenda again. Awaiting in Singapore on May 17 will be the Australian-bred local Rocket Man, which remained unbeaten after seven starts when scoring at weight-for-age last Friday night.

The Leon Macdonald-trained Victoria Derby winner Rebel Raider was installed as favourite for Saturday’s SA Derby after 13 acceptors were taken yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Kylie Gavenlock-trained Mary’s Grace won a controversial $100,000 Darley Crown at Hawkesbury yesterday. The mare was ridden by Grant Buckley and beat the Bob Milligan-trained Lady Game. Mary’s Grace flew the barriers, with stewards deeming the mare did not gain an unfair advantage.

"For a minute there I was worried I might lose the race," Buckley said. "The crucial evidence came from the starter, Bernie Evans. He said when he pressed the start button she got a flying start."

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CAN you be number one without wearing No.1? That’s the hope of Ivan Necevski, the late-blooming Sydney FC goalkeeper, who after years of toiling away in the nether world of semi-pro football is on the brink of his breakthrough season.
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No doubt, it’s going to be a battle royale between Necevski, the perennial understudy, and Clint Bolton, the perennial custodian, and how it plays out could be a huge factor in the team’s quest to return to the summit of the A-League.

The omens are good for Necevski. He finished last season as the first-choice keeper, and also stood between the posts for new coach Vitezslav Lavicka’s first game, the post-season friendly in China against Shanghai Shenhua. But experience has taught him to take nothing for granted. Which is where the number comes in.

In his two seasons with the Sky Blues, Necevski has never worn the No.1 shirt. Being No.1, and feeling like No.1, can be two different things. There may be a spring in his step as Sydney get into the grind of pre-season training, but he wants something more. Confirmation.

"I want the No.1 jersey with my name on the back of it," he said. He’s not going to get it. Only one player, Bolton, has had that privilege since the A-League began four years ago, and recently the club handed the fringe Socceroos keeper his old jersey back. But if he’s lost the battle, Necevski is well poised to win the war.

Certainly, he knows the value of patience – he’s had eight clubs in six years of state league football, short-term stints in the A-League with now-defunct New Zealand Knights and the Newcastle Jets, and two seasons as understudy at Sydney FC. Now he’s getting impatient, at least in terms of his opportunities.

"I wouldn’t say I’ve served my apprenticeship, because I’m still young [29] in goalkeeper’s terms, and you can never stop learning," Necevski said. "But I worked really hard last year, and again during this off-season, and I’ve come back a lot fitter than I’ve ever been. The break was good, but now I’m looking forward to getting back into it and having a good year. I’ve got the new one-year contract, I’m happy where I am, happy with the club, happy with the coaching staff. I’m a Sydney boy, and ultimately I’d really like to win a championship with Sydney FC. And as long as I work hard, I don’t see it being a problem keeping that No.1 spot. I want that spot, and I want to play the whole season. I proved last year what I can do, and hopefully I’ll increase the momentum."

Crucially, Necevski feels he’s starting to gain the respect of his teammates. "Last year, I ended up playing 11 games and we developed a good relationship. I’m starting to feel more comfortable with them, and hopefully they’re starting to feel a bit more comfortable with me."

That doesn’t mean he isn’t looking over his shoulder. While Bolton lost the confidence of previous coach John Kosmina, Necevski knows despite the boost of playing in Shanghai, Lavicka will be keeping an open mind. "Clint Bolton is one of the biggest names among goalkeepers in Australia, it’s always good to have the competition with him," he said. "It’s a good battle between us. You don’t want to be comfortable and complacent. You want a bit of a challenge."

■ Perth Glory owner Tony Sage will meet coach David Mitchell today as the club steps up its bid to sign Uruguayan superstar Alvaro Recoba to be the club’s new marquee player.

Sage said: "I’m not yet sure how everything has panned out – I won’t know until I meet with Mitch, but if you’re asking me, personally, I would love to have him [Recoba]." Recoba, 33, plays for Greek side Panionios, and scored in a 4-3 win over Asteras Tripoli in the final game of the season last weekend. He will be off contract in July.

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THE Graham Henry-Robbie Deans 2011 World Cup showdown is virtually confirmed and will be decided on their home soil.
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Henry, the New Zealand coach, said yesterday that, despite public criticism following his team’s embarrassing departure from the 2007 World Cup at the quarter-final stage, he wanted another chance to win the Webb Ellis trophy when the tournament is held in New Zealand in two years’ time.

Henry’s coaching contract with the New Zealand Rugby Union expires at the end of this year, and it was anticipated he would then hand the head coaching position over to his assistant, Steve Hansen.

But yesterday he told Kiwi media he wanted to continue and lead the All Blacks to the next World Cup. "It’s not my decision," Henry admitted. "I’d like to continue, but that’s other people’s decisions. Let’s wait and see, I guess. I’m sure the [NZRU] have given it some thought, but it’s early days, isn’t it?"

If Henry is granted his wish – which is highly likely, considering he has strong support at NZRU level – it will add an extra dimension to the tournament, as it will mean he has to out-manoeuvre the man many New Zealanders believe should instead be masterminding the All Blacks’ campaign.

Despite Henry’s failure in 2007, he held on to his job ahead of Deans, the highly successful Crusaders coach who was then appointed Wallabies coach. That angered many All Blacks supporters, who believed the best coach in their country was now in charge of their Trans-Tasman enemy.

Deans masterminding a Wallabies World Cup triumph over Henry on New Zealand soil would only add to their pain.

Dean is already planning to have the Wallabies based in the South Island, an area he knows intimately, during the tournament, while two of Australia’s four pool matches will be staged in his home town of Christchurch.

When asked about this year’s Super 14, Henry said it had convinced him the aerial work of many Kiwi players needed attention, and that Australia and South Africa were better in that area.

Henry said he believed the reason Australian players were adept in taking the high ball was because of their Australian Rules background. This contention would surprise the four Australian provincial coaches, as only a small handful of their Super 14 squad members have played Australian football.

Meanwhile, Wallabies winger Peter Hynes has overcome a knee injury to return to the Reds line-up to play the Brumbies in Brisbane on Saturday night, when he could find himself up against Test skipper Stirling Mortlock.

Although Mortlock is eager to play in the centres, Brumbies coach Andy Friend is expected to today name him on the wing, where he began his Wallabies career, while Gene Fairbanks and Tyrone Smith are set to be the Brumbies centres combination.

¡ Sydney referee Stu Dickinson has been appointed to officiate the third South Africa-British and Irish Lions Test in Johannesburg on July 4.

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WHEN Waratahs winger Peter Playford saw his name on a list of players scheduled for one-on-one interviews with NSW head coach Chris Hickey earlier this week, he prepared for the worst.
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"I thought he was going to tell me I had been dropped," the 28-year-old said.

He certainly didn’t expect to hear he had been selected for the Waratahs starting side for their Super 14 game against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday (Saturday morning, Sydney time). But that is exactly what Playford was told by Hickey, who named him on the wing as one of three changes to a back line made with a view to sparking some long-awaited attacking flair.

Playford’s first Super 14 cap as a Waratah has been a long time coming. In fact, it has taken nine years since he debuted for NSW as a 19-year-old against Argentina in 2000. Soon afterwards, he headed to New Zealand to play for Tasman in the National Provincial Championship, later moving to Canberra to join the Brumbies. It was there, in 2007, where he played his first match in the Super 14. He went on to gain another 16 Super caps up to the end of last season.

That Playford even has a contract with the Waratahs, let alone a spot in the starting side for such a crucial game as the one against the Cheetahs, is something of a miracle after he suffered a serious neck injury last year.

After last year’s Super 14, Playford planned to head to Japan on a lucrative two-year deal. But then he received the results of scans after feeling pins and needles in his arm.

"I thought I’d get checked out before I headed over [to Japan]," the Sydney University back said. "But when I got my scans back it showed that I had a few things wrong in the neck."

Playford shelved his rugby career, began to rue the riches lost from pulling out of his Japanese contract, and started to think his playing days might be over. He thought he might be better off using an economics degree to pursue a career in business.

"I took seven months off and [in the meantime] came back and played for Uni in the grand final, and it [the neck injury] has been 100 per cent ever since," Playford said.

"But I didn’t know what was on the horizon. Just before Christmas, they said [at the Waratahs that] they might need an outside back. So, to come from not knowing what I was doing last year, to facing a financial crisis and looking for a job, to play here is great."

Playford’s starting role on Friday comes despite minimal game time for the Waratahs this season. He played in three pre-season trials and then with the Junior Waratahs, before a recall to the 22-man squad for their round-10 game against the Force in which he did not play.

For the Cheetahs game, Hickey wanted a specialist winger with experience, ability to read the game, attacking nous, strong defence and top communication skills. Playford fitted the bill.

"We have always been confident [in Playford] that if the opportunity arose to select him …" Hickey said. "And, in this case, we felt that he was probably the ideal bloke to come in.

"We wanted someone who is experienced and isn’t going to be over awed. And not only defence, but in attack, he is a really, really good communicator."

Once over the shock of being told he would start, Playford began to absorb the mandate Hickey had handed him.

"He sees I can make good inroads around the rucks," Playford said. "I’ve played a lot with Daniel [Halangahu] at No.10 and scored quite a few tries off the back of him. Hopefully, that transfers into this."

Hickey will be hoping the Cheetahs have forgotten Playford’s performance against them for the Brumbies last year. Playford was the man of the match in the Brumbies’ 29-23 win at Canberra, in which he also got the better of Cheetahs flyer Jongi Nokwe. "I am not the fastest winger around, but I have played against a lot of these [faster] guys. You just have to be smart," he said.

Playford understands, too, that upon his shoulders may fall the responsibility to score one of the four tries NSW need for a bonus-point a win.

"We can score points. It’s a matter of the boys believing in themselves," he said.

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