Winners and Losers
The following is a Spring, 2001 op-ed piece submitted by 1994 and 1998 US Olympian Marcus Nash about the 2001 Lahti doping scandal, doping in general, and what it means to clean athletes around the world. The opinions and comments contained in this piece are entirely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the AXCS, xcskiworld.com, sponsors, advertisers or members.
When I first strapped on a pair of cross country skis I knew that I wanted to race. As soon as I started to race I knew I wanted to win. But my definition of winning seems to be quite different from some other athletes who cross country ski race, namely the six convicted members of the 2001 Finnish Ski Team. While my best World Cup result has been a pair of nineteenth places, I know that I was a winner in those races. My first nineteenth came in one of the toughest races in the World, the Holmenkollen fifty-kilometer World Cup race in Oslo Norway. In my mind I was a winner because it hurt like hell the whole way and I didnít move into the top twenty until the last five kilometers. I pushed myself to the limits and didn't give up. That is my definition of a winner.
When I started to compete I wanted to be the best in the World. But as I matured it became more important to me to be the best skier that I can be. Whether or not my best is good enough to be number one in the World will be answered in February 2001 in a place called Soldier Hollow, Utah. The bottom line of this story is that it never crossed my mind that I would consider cheating to be the best because by doing this I would have to admit to myself that I am not good enough to be the best.
What I witnessed at the World Championships this past season disgusted me. To have six Finnish skiers caught with the blood expander HES in their system is a disgrace to all athletes at all levels of competition. I am no expert on the subject, but from what I understand the blood expander HES is used to help an athlete using EPO to pass the blood test prior to a World Cup event. I am sure these skiers have many excuses to justify the trace elements of HES in their system but the bottom line is that it is a banned substance, they knew it was banned, and the only reason they would use it is to cover up their use of EPO - meaning Blood Doping!
Some people may say that the lure of fame and fortune is enough for athletes to risk their lives and their careers by doping. The Finns, including superstars Isometsa and Immonen, are not the first people to cheat nor are they the first to get caught. The question is why do accept this form of cheating and brush it off as an athlete succumbing to the pressures of high level competitions and high finances. If this is the case then the cheaters should be treated as criminals because they have cheated the other athletes, who play by the rules, out of large sums of money and fame. When Isometsa had his silver medal taken away the Russian skier who was initially fourth place ended up with the bronze medal. Do you think this Russian will ever receive the financial gain or recognition that he deserves. Did he get to stand on the podium with a medal around his neck in front of thousands of spectators and possibly millions of television viewers? The answer is no. That lost opportunity will affect that Russian for the rest of his life.
When Immonen tested positive for a banned substance, Finland was disqualified from the relay. They had their gold medal taken away and it was eventually given to Norway. Those Norwegian skiers can never be restituted for what was taken away from then. The Norwegian athletes will never know what it felt like to stand on top of the podium knowing that they recaptured the gold medal that they lost by inches in the previous World Championships in 1999.
In my opinion, the two-year suspension that Isometsa and Immonen will receive is nothing compared to the damage they have done. They are no better than common thieves and should be treated as such. We, in America, had our own doping scandal back in 1987. A nordic combined skier eventually admitted to blood doping. In my opinion the penalty that that skier faced, along with the coach also behind the doping, was not severe enough. Just look where those two people are today. (Ed: The two individuals in question are in administrative and/or coaching capacities with the U.S. Ski Team and U.S. Olympic Committee.)
If a skier is caught using a banned substance they, along with anyone who aided them, should be banned from the sport for life. Not only should they not be allowed to compete, they should be banned from any contact with the sport unless it involves speaking publicly to deter others from cheating.