Italy's reigning 50km walk champion Alex Schwazer admitted doping on Monday and said his career was over after he was withdrawn from the Olympics for failing a drugs test, leaving supporters reeling.
"My career is over. I made a mistake," Schwazer told ANSA news agency by telephone. "I wanted to be stronger for this Olympics, I was wrong."
Schwazer, 27, tested positive for the banned blood booster EPO during a test conducted by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at a training camp in Oberstdorf, Germany, a source with knowledge of the case told AFP.
"I had the utmost faith in him, but I feel like I've been taken for a ride," Schwazer's coach, Michele Didoni, was quoted in the Italian media as saying.
"I've been much more than a coach to him... but he didn't deserve my trust," he said, slamming Schwazer for immaturity and for letting so many people down.
"Schwazer called me and told me he had bad news: that he was the one caught for doping. I didn't even want to ask him why he did it," he said.
"There are no justifications. Alex needs to grow up and change his life. He kept telling me he will take all the responsibility without realising his actions will affect so many people," he added.
Schwazer's mother was distraught by the news, Didoni said.
The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) said in a statement that an athlete had been immediately withdrawn from the Olympics for failing a drugs test.
CONI head Giovanni Petrucci told Italy's state-owned Rai television that Schwazer's disqualification from the games was a bitter blow, but stressed that the priority lay with ensuring sport is clean rather than winning medals.
"It's a bitter day. We have had great results, ruined now by this terrible news which has shocked us all," he said.
"The decision, however, is clear. We cannot accept any compromises. Fewer medals but greater cleanliness," he added.
CONI said it had been alerted by WADA after an anti-doping control.
Schwazer was a bronze medallist at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships before striking gold at Beijing four years ago.
He had been one of Italy's best medal hopes in London after a solid start to the season which saw him clock the fourth best time of his career.
"Schwazer didn't need to drug himself to win in London, he had always trained very hard. It's a dark day for athletics and Italian sport," said Franco Arese, head of Italy's athletics governing body (FIDAL).
In an official statement, FIDAL said it was "deeply disappointed and troubled by what has happened" and fully supported CONI's decision to expel Schwazer, insisting that it strongly condemned "any form of doping."
WADA has warned the London Games would see the most rigorous testing regime in history, with more than 6,000 tests expected to be carried out during the fortnight-long sporting extravaganza.