Drug tests put Rumsas in clear

  • 2002-08-15
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis, VILNIUS
An independent Swedish lab reported Aug. 13 that doping tests on embattled Lithuanian cyclist Raimondas Rumsas, the third-place finisher in the Tour de France, were negative.

Doctors said that illegal steroids that can be detected stay in the body for up to six months after they're taken.

But a French court rejected a request by Rumsas' lawyer to release his wife, Edita Rumsiene, jailed after guards near the Italian border allegedly found performance-enhancing drugs in her car as she attempted to leave France on July 28, the last day of the race.

Under French law, anyone in an athlete's entourage found with performance-enhancing drugs, including coaches, trainers and wives, can be arrested.

"We are surprised with this decision. We'll take all legal and diplomatic measures to liberate her," Foreign Ministry spokesman Petras Zapolskas told The Baltic Times.

As of press time on Aug. 14, Rumsiene was still being held in custody.

Rumsas, 30, has said the drugs, which reportedly included testosterone, were for his wife's mother, who suffers from cancer.

Augenijus Valasevicius, the director of Mazylis Clinic in Kaunas, said that the drugs Rumsiene allegedly had in her possession were necessary for Rumsiene's mother, Valerija Jakstiene.

Jakstiene underwent cancer surgery at the clinic and is currently under the care of the clinic's doctors.

A doctor from the Lithuanian sports department's anti-doping program, Rima Berloviene, also said the drugs were often used to treat cancer patients.

Rumsas earlier refused to return to France for questioning after his wife's detention because he said he feared he would be arrested.

He agreed to undergo a drug test in Riga last week. Those samples were sent to labs in Sweden and Germany. The results from Ger-many are expected later this week.

Rumsas hired the famous French attorney Jean-Marc Varaut to represent his wife, who said Rumsiene's spirits were high.

Rumsiene's detention sparked a demonstration outside the French Embassy in Vilnius on Aug. 9 that included several prominent Lithuanians verbally lambasting France.

Most argued that Rumsiene's failure to declare the drugs did not warrant prolonged detention. But French authorities say they are investigating whether Rumsiene supplied the drugs to Rumsas or his teammates.

"Rumsiene causes no danger to society," said the well-known television personality Jogaila Morku-nas. "Why should she be kept in jail?"

The demonstration, the first outside a Western country's embassy since the collapse of communism, drew about 150 people, including several mothers, with kids in tow, who said Rumsiene should be freed to be with her three young children. The children are currently staying with Rumsas at the family's home in Italy.

Several demonstrators held signs in Lithuanian, French and English that read: "Let mother return to her children."

Many demonstrators also waved the Lithuanian flag as loudspeakers blared the French national anthem.

Hip-hop singer and composer Saulius Urbonavicius, better known by his stage name Samas, suggested taking the protest a step further and urged to stop the lucrative export of Lithuanian snails to France.

"We'll not drink French wine anymore. We'll not buy French cars anymore," he said.

Others pointed to the fact that Rumsas' results in two mandatory doping tests during the race were clean.

"Rumsas had two negative doping tests during the Tour de France. What else do they need from his wife?" said Social Liberal MP Vytautas Kvietkauskas.

Even foreigners on hand for the demonstration participated in the tongue lashing of France.

"French sport has had a lot of problems with doping scandals," said Belgian Fredy Figleri. "Now they want to solve their problems by accusing sportsmen from another country."

One middle-aged woman who asked not to be named summed up what many at the demonstration felt were a violation of Rumsiene's human rights.

"France is not a civilized country," she said. "Lithuania is a much more democratic country."