SOFIA (Reuters) - Eleven Bulgarian weightlifters, including three European champions, have tested positive for doping, the domestic weightlifting federation said on Friday.
The weightlifters tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid stanozolol two weeks ago at a training camp for next month's European championship in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Male lifters Asen Muradov, Ferdi Nazif, Vladimir Urumov, Stoyan Enev, Deyan Minchev, 2005 European champion Demir Demirev and 2014 European champions Ivan Markov and Ivaylo Filev failed the tests in Sofia, the federation said.
Female lifters Nadezhda-Mey Tuy Nguen, Maya Ivanova and Milka Maneva also tested positive.
"It's another major blow to the Bulgarian weightlifting," Bulgarian federation's general secretary Borislav Gidikov told local media.
Stanozolol, first developed in the 1960s, is now available as a cheap and easy-to-detect drug, often sold under the brand names Winstrol and Tenabol. It can be taken either as a liquid suspension, as a tablet, or in injectable form.
"I'm shocked," said Bulgarian national team coach Ivan Ivanov. "Stanozolol is an archaic substance in weightlifting, no one is using it.
"My only explanation of its presence in the bodies of the weightlifters is that they had taken it through the food additives we are using for recovery."
The national body is now facing another suspension from the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF).
Bulgaria has repeatedly faced embarrassment due to doping among weightlifters and the national body was temporarily stripped of its license in 2009.
Bulgaria withdrew its team before the start of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing when 11 members failed doping tests.
Bulgaria's reputation also hit a low at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where the team were stripped of three golds and sent home in shame following positive drugs tests.
"I have no idea what's going on," said Markov, who won the European title in Tel Aviv in the 85-category last year. "I haven't seen such a pill for many years. Stanozolol, do you know what is this?"
Markov faces a life ban as he was already banned for four years for doping in 2008.
Bulgaria's sports ministry reacted quickly and called the prosecutors to investigate the case.
"This is a huge scandal and I immediately called the federation's chiefs for explanations," Sports Minister Krasen Kralev told reporters after an emergency meeting.
"We already informed the prosecutors and they'll launch an investigation. Obviously, we'll punish the federation but we have to wait for the B samples."
Weightlifting has been among the sports worst affected by doping and almost lost its status as an Olympic sport after several doping cases at the 1988 Games.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov, editing by Pritha Sarkar