By Associated Press - Sunday, May 8, 2016

ROME (AP) - Alex Schwazer made a triumphant return from a doping ban to win the 50-kilometer event at the world race walking team championships on Sunday.

The victory also secured the Italian a spot in the Olympic Games in Rio later this year.

Schwazer was banned for three years and nine months after testing positive for EPO before the 2012 London Games.

“It was a really lovely race, with an incredible support,” Schwazer said. “It was maybe one of the best races that I’ve competed in at home, an important race. I will never forget this race.

“I don’t know if this will put an end to all the controversy and honestly I don’t care. All I can do is do well in my races and everyone is free to say what they want. I’m focused on what I want to do for myself, everything else is relative.”

The 2008 Olympic champion showed no signs of a near four-year absence from competition as he stormed to victory in Rome, with a time of 3 hours 39 minutes, the second best time of the year.

Australian Jared Tallent, who became Olympic champion in March after Russia’s Sergey Kirdyapkin was stripped of the 2012 title for doping, was second, 3 minutes, 36 seconds behind Schwazer. Ukrainian athlete Igor Glavan was third, 5:02 behind.

“For so many years there was a school of thought that said that in order to win in athletics you need to dope,” said Alfio Gimo, the president of the Italian athletics federation. “Today Schwazer showed instead that in athletics you win without doping but training well. Doping is the weakest weapon, a shortcut for those who don’t think training is enough.”

Italy claimed the team prize ahead of Ukraine, while Spain took bronze.

Back in 2012, Schwazer held a news conference in Italy after it was revealed he had tested positive and broke down in tears while recounting how he hid the banned substance in the home he was sharing with star figure skater Carolina Kostner.

Schwazer said he had flown alone to Turkey the previous September with 1,500 euros (now $1,710) to buy the blood booster at a pharmacy. He said he disguised it in a box of vitamins in a refrigerator at Kostner’s home in Germany, where he was staying in July in the buildup to the 2012 Games.

Schwazer said he learned how to use EPO through the Internet and injected it daily in a bathroom to prevent Kostner and his parents from knowing what he was doing.

However, Kostner was banned for 16 months by the Italian Olympic committee for helping Schwazer evade a test and other infractions.

The 31-year-old Schwazer, who was also handed an eight-month suspended prison sentence by a court in Bolzano in December 2014, had said he was quitting the sport but later changed his mind.

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