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Squeaky clean skier gets gold

Bend's Beckie Scott prevails in Olympic drug-case appeal

Beckie Scott finished her cross country ski race at the 2002 Winter Olympics in less than 30 minutes. But then she had to battle for 22 months to win the medal she earned that day. Along the way, the 29-year-old Bend resident made history Ñ twice.

The race for third place in the women's Olympic 5-kilometer pursuit was so close that judges had to review the finish line photo before declaring Scott the bronze-medal winner. Scott's performance made her the first North American woman ever to win a medal in cross country skiing.

As she mounted the lowest step on the podium to receive her medal, Scott leapt into the air in exultation.

'I couldn't have been happier that day,' she recalls.

But joy turned to disbelief a few days later when the two Russians who finished ahead of her failed a drug test administered after another Olympic race. Both competitors tested positive for using darbepoetin, a doping agent that improves endurance.

'My first reaction was shock,' says Scott, noting that it was common knowledge among racers that certain skiers used performance-enhancing drugs. 'But it was a shock that they got caught.'

Newspapers in Scott's home country decried the outcome and referred to the Vermilion, Alberta, native as Canada's golden girl, but the tarnished medals remained with the Russians.

Scott could have comforted herself with a moral victory, but instead she appealed the results directly to the International Olympic Committee.

'I felt I had no choice,' says Scott, who had been a leader in calling for better drug testing in her sport even before the 2002 Olympics. 'Somebody has to speak up on behalf of clean athletes.'

In a decision that shocked and disappointed Scott, the International Olympic Committee refused to alter the standings. So, with the help of the Canadian Olympic Committee, she took her case to the international Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

While she waited for a verdict, Scott refocused on racing. She spent at least three to four hours per day training, skiing as many as 200 miles per week. Last winter, Scott traveled across Europe for World Cup races and added to her Olympic success with three more podium (top-three) finishes.

In June 2003, second-place finisher Larissa Lazutina was suddenly stripped of her silver medal when it was discovered she also had committed a doping infraction before the Olympics. In a public ceremony in Canada, Scott belatedly received the silver.

Then, on Dec. 18, the court delivered Scott a golden Christmas present, directing the IOC to strip Olga Danilova of the top medal and award it to Scott instead.

'The fight was worth it,' says a jubilant Scott, looking back on her 22-month battle with the IOC. 'I learned the importance of standing up, even if you are one small voice against what seems like an incredibly powerful group.'

Scott doesn't fault the two Russians who nearly cheated her out of gold.

'I understand the economic incentive in Russia for wanting to make a better life,' she says. 'There's no question that there's an incredible motivation to cheat.'

Still, Scott is frustrated by the prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs among elite athletes.

'Something in sport is really lost when that's going on,' she says.

With her Olympic dream finally realized, Scott is ready to move on. In August, she married Bend native Justin Wadsworth, a three-time U.S. Olympian who retired from professional skiing this year. She will return to Europe in a few weeks to resume World Cup racing and hopes for several more podium finishes this season. She may even try to compete in the Olympics again in 2006 in Italy.

'For now, I'm looking forward to finishing this season, and making that decision in spring,' she says.

In mid-March, Scott will participate in her third and final medal ceremony for that fateful Olympic race. This time, she'll stand atop the podium, and all that glitters will be gold.