August 5, 2008 / 11:05 AM / 11 years ago

Baldini's exit strains Italian team

BEIJING (Reuters) - Andrea Baldini’s disqualification last week from the Olympic Games for failing a doping test has put a strain on his relationship with team mate and sparring partner Andrea Cassara, who took his place on the Italian squad.

Baldini, 22, tested positive for a banned diuretic at the European championships in Kiev this year, but has continued to profess his innocence even after his B sample also came out positive on Monday.

He was quoted by Italian papers as saying he counted Cassara among those he suspected of slipping the drug in his drink.

“I know Baldini is in a confused state, but it’s not right to say these things,” Cassara, 24, was quoted as saying in Corriere dello Sport over the weekend.

If he can overcome the distraction, Cassara should figure prominently in the battle for gold in Beijing. Ranked third in the world, he won the European championships this year and was the bronze medalist in Athens.

The fact that he had not qualified originally shows how tight the field is. Nine out of the top 10 ranked foil fencers in the world will compete on August 13, including all medal winners from Athens.

Frenchman Brice Guyart will attempt to defend his 2004 gold, although lately he has shown a drop in form, slipping to number 20 in the world. World number four Erwan Le Pechoux may be a better hope for France this time around.

Italian Salvatore Sanzo, the world number seven, will try to avenge his loss to Guyart in the Athens final.

Another gold medal favorite is triple world champion Peter Joppich of Germany, who beat Baldini in the last two world championship finals. Joppich has a reputation for clinical finishing in major competitions and having a cool head, although he dropped out in the early rounds at the Europeans this year.

China showed they had become a force to be reckoned with after losing the Athens team final to Italy after a referee made a series of scoring mistakes that possibly cost them the gold.

With the team competition dropped from the Beijing program, the hosts hope that world number five Sheng Lei and number nine Jun Zhu can ride the local crowd’s support to individual medals.

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