Some Charged -- None Acquitted
The following is a translated and summarized op-ed column by Tormod Brenna originally appearing on the Norwegian Dagbladet.no site. Translation/summary by Inge Scheve.
The opinions and comments contained in this piece are entirely those of the author/interview subject and do not necessarily reflect the position of the AXCS, xcskiworld.com, sponsors, contractors, advertisers or members.
As the World Cup season gets underway, a group of losers are toeing the line.
Cross-country skiing has just recovered from the blows aimed at it during the 2001 World Championships in Lahti, Finland, and the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Recently, another scandal hit the international cross-country community right below the belt. Aftenposten reporter Dag Vidar Hanstad got a hold of the list naming skiers whose blood values were abnormally high. And he releases their names in his book that was just published.
The list names cross-country skiers extremely abnormal blood values from the 2001 World Championships. But the list is not unique. The individuals on that list have been under scrutiny for a number of years.
The names answer some questions, fill in a few pieces in the jigsaw puzzle, but do not furnish the whole truth about the doping culture within elite cross-country skiing.
The book names 12 elite racers who most likely were doped. Some were caught in Lahti 2001, while others were caught during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Some are still running free. But none are acquitted. This does reveal something about the problem the sport is facing -- not to mention the lack of will to face the ultimate battle with the root of the doping evil. Hanstad's list dates back to 2001. Several things have happened on the doping scene since then, but unfortunately, little of this has been good news. Yes, both Johann Muehlegg, Larissa Lazutina and Olga Danilova were caught during the last races of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. At that point, the Lahti results had been known to the cross-country community for almost a year.
Muehlegg is still legally the Olympic title holder in two disciplines. And he is likely not the only Olympian who earned his medal through sketchy and unfair methods. Just look at the result list from the men's mass start and women's relay -- Muehlegg is in famous company.
Still, Hanstad's revelations are all good and dandy. The only problem is that he lacks documentation. Accordingly, Hanstad could potentially strike innocent racers. The burden is on the accused. Those named must prove their innocence, which by the way is a method Josef Stalin was a big fan of.
A bigger problem is that the names were obtained in all the wrong places.
That a recognized reporter obtains a list that is generally known to the International Ski Federation (FIS) alludes to an organization unable to smell what's cooking in their own kitchen. The cross-country committee and the medical support staff have tried, but hit the wall when approaching the organization's alpine-oriented top management.
They can say what they want, the gentlemen in FIS, but with the situation in cross-country skiing over past few years, it would be pathetic to declare the sport healthy at this point. A few have been nailed, but the suspicion and rumors are still alive and well in the international cross-country community.
Dag Vidar Hanstad's book boldly lets the Norwegian and Swedish racers off the hook. However, within the sport, anyone who skis fast is under scrutiny. Thomas Alsgaard once told me that he stopped wasting his energy defending himself against doping accusations. He is tested more frequently than any other racer and still feels that he can't prove his innocence. Those who want to believe he is doped will continue to do so regardless of how many negative tests he can dish up.
Over the past couple of years, cross-country skiing has evolved from a pure and beautiful sport delivered by the fittest athletes on the planet to a can of worms and a grab-bag of dirt, cheating and suspicion. Regardless of how hard, uncomfortable and time-consuming the task may be: FIS must clean up the sport after years of neglect.
The biathletes, under Anders Besseberg's leadership, have not even been anywhere close to the doping problems cross-country skiers are facing. Still, the International Biathlon Union (IBU) has so fundamentally reformed the rulebooks to root out future dopers that any athlete with half a brain wouldn't even dream about cheating. The consequences are too brutal.
The top management in FIS could learn a lot from Besseberg & Co.
The challenge is clear: The cheaters must be deterred from cheating. FIS owes it to their own sport, their sponsors, their audiences and their supporters. But most of all, FIS owes it to their athletes. The athletes are entitled to a clean sport with clean athletes. Not until this is the reality, will the sport be credible and enjoyable.