(RFE/RL) -- The International Olympic Committee says 30 athletes who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during the run-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics have been disqualified.
Many cases are in the biathlon and long-distance crosscountry skiing events, where increased endurance from doping gives users an unfair competitive advantage.
The announcement comes ahead of tonight's opening ceremony in Vancouver. Nearly 2,700 athletes representing 80 countries will parade through the city's domed BC Place stadium. They are competing in 15 different winter sports -- categorized as ice sports, alpine skiing and snowboarding, and Nordic events.
Olympic organizers say they hope the disqualifications ahead of the competition will reduce the number of scandals in which podium winners are later stripped of their medals for doping violations.
The World Anti-Doping Agency says that, "in the interest of fair play," it will not announce the names or nationalities of the disqualified athletes until they have exhausted all avenues of appeal.
But IOC President Jacques Rogge said on February 8 that he raised concerns directly with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the Russian sports minister because of 11 winter sports doping cases involving Russian athletes during the past year.
"I insisted on the need to have strong action on doping," Rogge said. [Medvedev] promised that he will launch that, and he was very explicit also in public declarations after that."
Russian ice-hockey player Svetlana Terenteva was reprimanded but not disqualified in the first Vancouver doping case that has been finalized.
IOC Vice President Thomas Bach says Terenteva tested positive for a "light stimulant" contained in a nose spray that is usually not prohibited outside of competition. During her appeal, Terenteva admitted using Rhinofluimucil under prescription in January to cure a bad head cold. Use of the substance during the games would have meant her disqualification.
Rogge said on Feburary 8 that Russian doping cases are particularly worrying just two weeks before Russia takes the Olympic torch for the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. Medvedev himself was planning to attend Vancouver's closing ceremony and handover on February 28.
Thousands of tests will be carried out on athletes in Vancouver during the next two weeks to ensure against doping. World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) President John Fahey says it is now harder than ever for doping cheats to go undetected at Olympic Games.
"We are getting better as time goes by through a number of methods," Fahey said. "We're smarter now than we were a year ago, and I believe we'll continue to improve there. That makes WADA and all the antidoping agencies all over the world operating under the code far more effective."
Germany, the United States, Russia, Austria, and Canada are considered the winter sports powerhouses that are expected to be near the top of the overall medal standings in 2010.