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Doping-Coach defends Jamaican sprinters Powell, Simpson

LIGNANO SABBIADORO, Italy (Reuters) - The coach of Jamaican sprinters Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson said on Tuesday they were not to blame after the Olympic medalists failed dope tests.

"It came as a big surprise, I think, to them," Stephen Francis told Reuters outside the Fra i Pini hotel which has long hosted training camps for Jamaican athletes and is adorned with the island's national flag and memorabilia.

"Asafa has been somebody who doesn't use that kind of stuff. Over the 10 years I have coached him we have had great difficulty getting him to take basic stuff like protein, like vitamins," said Francis, who is the coach of Powell and Simpson at the MVP track and field club.

Italian police are investigating the two sprinters and their Canadian trainer Christopher Xuereb on suspicion of violating doping laws, Italian media reported.

Newswire Ansa said the Udine military police health protection unit had seized some 50 boxes during a search of the hotel in north-east Italy, and would analyze pills, vials, sprays and creams to see if they contained banned substances.

Former world 100 meters record-holder Powell and Olympic 4x100 meters relay silver medalist Simpson said this weekend they had tested positive for the banned stimulant oxilophine.

Francis criticized Xuereb. "(Xuereb) kept to the outskirts of the training and he basically only dealt with Asafa. I tried to instruct others in the group that 'Look, I don't agree with this guy'."

The Fra i Pini hotel said the athletes had left their rooms. Powell won a relay gold medal at the 2008 Olympics.

Discus thrower Allison Randall has become the third athlete to confirm a positive drugs test from the Jamaican trials in June.

She tested positive for a banned diuretic but, like Powell and Simpson, denied knowingly taking a performing-enhancing substance.

(Reporting by Daniele Morini and Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Clare Fallon and Robert Woodward)

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