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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”.

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    A Week Later: The Outlook for Johaug and Latest Speculation