ATHENS (Reuters) - A mistake at a Chinese factory was to blame for 11 members of the Greek national weightlifting team testing positive for banned substances, a Greek Weightlifting Federation official said on Monday.
The federation had announced on Friday that 11 of the 14 team members had tested provided positive with their A samples and that the squad could face expulsion from the Beijing Olympics in August if their B samples also proved positive.
On Monday, a federation official told Reuters on condition of anonymity the Chinese factory which had been supplying Greek athletes with nutritional supplements for months had sent a letter apologizing for a mix-up in the ingredients.
"A letter was sent to us and it says that a mistake in the ingredients of the supplements had caused the problem," the official said. "They are apologizing for their mistake."
The Chinese company said in the letter a number of banned toxic and cancer-causing substances had been accidentally added in the latest batch of supplements, the official said.
The lawyer for suspended head coach Christos Iacovou said he too had received the letter of apology.
"I have the letter from one of China's biggest pharmaceutical companies with which they apologize for the tragic mistake of sending nutritional supplements which included some banned substances," lawyer Michalis Dimitrakopoulos told reporters.
"Iacovou never imagined giving his athletes banned substances and he never gave drugs to his athletes," he said.
Under the current World Anti-Doping Agency code, the athletes face a two-year ban if they are first-time offenders.
The case has triggered a judicial investigation, led by an Athens prosecutor, and has shocked Greeks who have held the country's weightlifting team in high esteem.
"We want to win medals in Beijing but we want to win them on our own merit," Sports Minister Yannis Ioannidis said. The government said it would consider raising doping violations from a misdemeanor to a felony to be able to impose non-suspended prison sentences on offenders.
The federation has temporarily suspended Iacovou, credited with a big weightlifting medals haul at recent Olympics.
Since the 1992 Barcelona Games, Greece has won 12 Olympic medals, including five golds, in weightlifting. Before Barcelona it had not won a weightlifting medal since the 1904 Games.
Iacovou, a former weightlifter himself, has been in charge of the national team since the Barcelona Games.
Suspicions in the past about Greece's sudden success in the sport were brushed aside by Iacovou and Greek sports bodies, especially ahead of the Athens 2004 Games where the sport was supposed to bring home a lot of medals.
Greece ended up with only one medal, a bronze, from weightlifting at the Athens Olympics after another athlete, Leonidas Sampanis, tested positive and lost the bronze medal he had won in the 62kg category.
The country can send a total of eight athletes to the Beijing Games, five male and three female competitors.
Writing by Karolos Grohmann, Editing by Trevor Huggins