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A Week Later: The Outlook for Johaug and Latest Speculation

Therese Johaug celebrates her World Championship in the 30km freestyle.

Norway’s Therese Johaug celebrating her victory in the 30 k freestyle at 2011 World Championships in Oslo, Norway.

By Aleks Tangen

On Wednesday, Anti-Doping Norway handed its cross-country skiing superstar Therese Johaug a two-month provisional suspension after she tested positive for the anabolic steroid clostebol. Since the Norwegian Ski Federation’s press release and subsequent press conference last Thursday, Oct. 13, much has made it into the news and here is status of her case at this point:

Norwegian national broadcaster NRK published an article on Wednesday explaining what the suspension will mean to Johaug. She is not allowed to compete until Dec. 18 and will therefore miss a total of four World Cup weekends, where based the previous season’s price money, she could have potentially earned more than 700,000 Norwegian kroners, (roughly $86,000 U.S. dollars with the current exchange rate), according to both NRK and Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet.

In addition, Johaug will not be allowed to use any of the Norwegian Olympic Committee’s facilities or train with the Norwegian national team. However, Dagbladet reported that she’ll be able to train with teammates like Marit Bjørgen and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg in their free time.

NRK’s expert Fredrik Aukland, a former coach of Johaug, told NRK that training on her own could be dramatic for the 28-year-old Johaug. Her lawyer, Christian B. Hjort, says that she has accepted the decision and train as best as possible during the suspension.

But that might not be the whole story, according to sports attorney Gunnar-Martin Kjenner, who believes Johaug may have to wait until Easter in early April before she can receive her sentence. He told NRK that the 2016/2017 season may be over for Johaug before it has even started. Kjenner is the author of the book Sport and Law, a leading refference for legal matters in Norwegian sports law and regulation, and he represented Norwegian race walker Erik Tysse, who, in 2010, received a two-year ban after testing positive for Cera, commonly reffered to as EPO. Kjenner said he believes a sentence will be delivered between January and April 2017. Kjenner explains that these types of cases tend to take several months to carry out investigations.

Another NRK article specifies that the suspension means that Anti-Doping Norway assumes that Johaug’s final sentence will be at least two months long, which is based on Anti-Doping Norway’s own regulations. Anti-doping Norway has declined to comment on the length of the investigation.

Johaug and Anti-Doping Norway in Disagreement

During the press conference last Thursday, Oct. 13, Johaug said, “I’m going to show everyone how innocent I am in this case.” In a press release this Wednesday, Oct. 19, Anti-Doping Norway stated, “that the prosecution committee is of the opinion that the athlete cannot be without guilt.” The leader of the prosecution committee elaborated on this to NRK, saying, “Johaug didn’t thoroughly investigate the content of the lip cream, which she is required to do and therefore a suspension is warranted.”

Both NRK and Norwegian tabloid VG  have reported that Johaug did receive the tube and the packaging it came in where there is a sign that says, “Doping”. In another article, VG reports that the packaging contained a leaflet with a warning in Italian. That warning says, “The use of this drug without therapeutic need constitutes doping and may result in a positive drug test.” The article did not specify whether or not Johaug speaks Italian.

Lawyer Randi Gustad, a former professional handball player and sports commentator, tweeted on Friday, Oct. 14, that she “doesn’t understand why everyone is so concerned with the packaging when the extenuating circumstance with regards to a punishment is the advice from the doctor.” 

Johaug’s attorney told Norwegian TV2  that they disagree with the prosecution committee’s basis for the suspension since all aspects of the case have to be revealed. But they do however accept the decision.

Johaug said in a statement released by the Norwegian Ski Federation that she takes the decision “with a heavy heart,” but “accepts it” and is now focused on working toward a full acquittal.

When asked by VG  on Thursday, Oct. 20, if Johaug will talk to press in the near future, her manager Joern Ernst says “We’re taking this day by day, we’ll see. All of this is really about one thing; Therese. There’s no strategy or tactic, it’s all about her.”

Robin Mackenzie-Robinson, an expert in Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rulings, told VG that he guessed Johaug would receive minimum one-year ban based on applicable laws in the Norwegian Confederation of Sports and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code.

An interesting question has been raised in light of this case. Bjørgen, Johaug’s teammate and Olympic, World Championship and World Cup winner, asked the question, “Is it all worth it?” in an interview with TV2 last Friday. She went on to say, “Maybe I should stop and do something else.” She received support from Østberg and Olaf Tufte, a Norwegian rower, who won gold in the 2004 Athens Olympics, 2008 Beijing Olympics, and silver in the 2000 Sydney Games, and bronze this summer in Rio.

“Is it worth doing professional sports when so much can happen from so little and the risks of having your career ruined is so unimaginably great?” Tufte told TV2.

When asked if he is evaluating his own future, he answered, “Like Marit said, ‘Is it worth it?’

He gave an example, saying that he, a 40-year-old man, cannot consume cough syrup because it contains Efedrin, which is an illegal substance according to doping regulations, but that his 6-year-old son is allowed to do so.

In spite of all this, Johaug appears to have her nation’s popular opinion on her side. On Friday, VG published the result of a questionnaire conducted by Infact.no, which concluded that only 14.4 percent of the Norwegian people think she’s fully responsible for what happened. When asked if their trust in Johaug has been weakened, almost 80 percent answered, “Not changed or strengthened.” It is worth noting that since these findings were published, evidence of Johaug’s negligence have surfaced. But this might not have mattered much to her fans. On Wednesday, NRK reported that the sales from her clothing line skyrocketed since news of her positive drug test were revealed. Active Brands Nordic Director Oystein Braata, the owner of the Johaug brand, said in the same article, “the previous weekend was the best one we’ve ever had”.

Kari-Pekka Kyrö’s Lifetime Ban Overturned

Lifetime ban no more? The former head coach of the Finnish cross-country team Kari-Pekka Kyrö, who was at the epicenter of his team’s doping scandal at the 2001 Lahti World Championships, may be a free agent after the Finnish Ski Federation recently overturned his lifetime ban, Ski-Lines reported on Sunday. But first, that decision must be approved by Finland’s Anti-Doping Agency and the International Ski Federation (FIS). According to FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis, in such cases, FIS trusts the national federations’ decisions. Under Kyrö, six Finnish skiers — Janne Immonen, Jari Isometsä, Harri Kirvesniemi, Mika Myllylä, Milla Jauho, and Virpi Kuitunen — tested positive for banned substances, allegedly used to disguise their use of erythropoietin (EPO). As part of his punishment, Kyrö had to pay a fine for importing illegal drugs into his country. “All these years, it was very hard,” Kyrö, 52, said. “This [coaching] is the only profession in which I have a degree and…

FIS Survey Seeks Fan Feedback

(Press release) FIS Cross-Country would like to learn from its fans and followers, athletes, teams and the media what they like about the FIS Cross-Country World Cup in its current format and what should be changed in future. In order to collect as much feedback as possible a survey has been prepared in multiple languages. Click below to submit your feedback: English French German Finnish

STC Canmore Photo Galleries

Earlier this month, photographer Jon Nelson attended the Ski Tour Canada races in Canmore, Alberta, and has posted six galleries worth of photos recapping the action. See the complete collection here: http://www.jon-nelson.com/category/cross-country-skiing

Ski Tour Canada Eastern Stage Photos Available

FasterSkier contributing photographer John Lazenby has posted the following galleries from the first three stops and four stages of the 2016 Ski Tour Canada (in Gatineau, Montreal and Quebec City). Special thanks to John. See all of his images at Lazenbyphoto.com. STC East: Highlights (general interest) STC East: Athletes, Coaches, Volunteers    

Johaug and Sundby Win Out in Final Stage of STC; Diggins and Harvey 5th Overall

Saturday was a good day to be a favorite — and an overall World Cup leader as who have been beating out the masses all season won the final race of 2015/2016 and last stage of the Ski Tour Canada (STC), the classic pursuits in Canmore, Alberta. Norway’s Therese Johaug raced from second to first in the women’s 10-kilometer classic pursuit, overcoming a 30-second starting deficit and beating teammate Heidi Weng by 1:07.8 minutes in 34:12.4. Weng shook her head in disappointment at the finish after being unable to hang with Johaug, both the Overall and Distance World Cup winner, after Johaug caught her around 4 k and dropped Weng shortly thereafter. “I cannot believe that I win this Tour because it’s three sprint races …,” Johaug said in a post-race interview with FIS. “Everybody knows that I’m good in [the final climb of the Tour de Ski], but here it is normal…

Heikkinen Nabs First Win in Five Years; Canada’s Harvey Fourth and Babikov 10th

On Friday, Finland’s Matti Heikkinen, 32, won his first World Cup race since 2011, chasing down the time of Russia’s Evgeniy Belov and beating it at the line in the men’s 15-kilometer freestyle individual start by 13.6 seconds in 35:16.3 in the seventh stage of the Ski Tour Canada in Canmore, Alberta. Belov had initially commanded the race, holding off Canada’s Alex Harvey by 8.1 seconds at the finish. But the two wouldn’t end up going 1-2. Instead, Heikkinen bumped Belov to second, and Sweden’s Marcus Hellner slotted into third, 13.9 seconds behind Heikkinen and just 0.3 seconds behind Belov. Harvey missed the podium by 7.8 seconds and ended up 21.7 seconds out of first. Behind him, France’s Robin Duvillard took fifth (+28.8), Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby settled for sixth (+37.5), Norway’s Finn Hågen Krogh placed seventh (+37.6) and a third Norwegian, Petter Northug, took eighth (+47.4). Canada’s Ivan Babikov notched his second-straight…

Østberg Tops Podium in STC 10 k Freestyle; Diggins 5th

Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg took the lead by the 6.9-kilometer checkpoint and never looked back to win the penultimate stage of Ski Tour Canada, the women’s 10 k freestyle individual start in Canmore, Alberta.  The Norwegian covered the challenging Canmore course in 23.20.1, besting her teammate and overall Tour leader Heidi Weng by 23.0 seconds.  Finland’s Krista Parmakoski reached the podium in third (+24.5) while Norway’s Kari Øyre Slind was a tenth of a second off the podium in fourth. American Jessie Diggins rocketed to fifth (+32.6) ahead of Norway’s Therese Johaug, who sits in second in the Tour, after Johaug placed sixth (+40.1). With one stage remaining, Weng leads Johaug by 30 seconds heading into Saturday’s 10 k classic pursuit. Østberg is up to third, 1:24.4 back, ahead of a fourth Norwegian, Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen in fourth overall (+1:57.4). Diggins ranks fifth, 3:20.2 behind Weng and just 6.6 seconds ahead of Parmakoski in sixth. Also…

Harvey, Babikov in Top 10 for Canada in Canmore Skiathlon

Four men in the top 24, two in the top 10, Alex Harvey back to fourth. Yep, it was that kind of day for Canada at the sixth stage of the Ski Tour Canada in Canmore, Alberta. While Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby won the 30-kilometer skiathlon to make a notable leap from fourth to third in the overall Tour standings, Harvey moved up as well (into fourth overall), leading the Canadians in seventh, 7.6 seconds behind Sundby. The top seven men finished within 7.6 seconds of one another, and just 0.5 seconds separated fifth through seventh. Sundby sealed the win in 1:16:29.7 hours, just 2.8 seconds ahead of Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov — the Tour leader — in second. Finland’s Matti Heikkinen placed third (+3.7) for his best result since placing third in a World Cup skiathlon in January 2015 in Rybinsk, Russia. Three other Norwegians made the top six, with Finn Hågen Krogh in fourth…

Weng Holds Off Johaug to Keep Tour Lead; Diggins Up to Fifth Overall

Heidi Weng keeps the Ski Tour Canada leader’s bib another day. At the end of the women’s 15-kilometer skiathlon on Wednesday, the sixth stage of the Tour, the Norwegian bested her teammate and biggest threat, Therese Johaug by 0.8 seconds at the line. Weng won in 39:41.0 minutes, maintaining a 2.9-second lead on Johaug in the overall Tour standings. More than a minute back in third overall, teammate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen reached the podium again in the skiathlon, placing third, 9.8 seconds after Weng. Finland’s Krista Parmakoski (+13.4) and Anne Kyllönen (+13.5) interrupted the Norwegian sweep, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, while Norway’s Ingvild Flugstad Østberg took sixth (+14.2). Four Finns landed in the top eight, with Kerttu Niskanen in seventh (+14.8) and Laura Mononen in eighth (+16.4). Switzerland’s Nathalie von Siebenthal placed ninth (+17.5), and Kari Øyre Slind of Norway notched 10th (+40.7). Two seconds outside the top 10, American Jessie Diggins placed 11th (+42.8) and…