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By Chelsea Little

Ever since Therese Johaug tested positive for the banned steroid clostebol – and said that it was an ingredient in a lip medication that she had been given by a team doctor – one question has kept bugging me: how could this happen?

Johaug is among the most famous cross-country skiers in the world. She has seven World Championships gold medals, a relay gold from the 2010 Olympics, and two other individual medals from the 2014 Olympics. She has been at the top of her sport for years and earns commensurate income.

And more than that, she is part of the Norwegian ski team, that organization whose staff size – coaches, directors, and trainers, ski technicians, doctors, a marketing manager (just for cross-country!) and a longtime professional media attaché – makes the U.S. or Canadian teams look like your middle school basketball squad.

Now, thanks to that positive test, Johaug is set to miss the 2018 Olympics. Depending on whether she wants to keep racing as long as Marit Bjørgen has, that may mean the end of her dream to have an individual Olympic gold medal.

This piece is not about whether 18 months is the right length for Johaug to sit out from competition. It’s an attempt to answer that perplexing question: how the heck did she end up testing positive at all?

The decision recently issued by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) details some of the checks in place on the Norwegian ski team to make sure that mistakes are not made.

That’s a good start. But after this point a breakdown happened. And thanks to the decision, we know how, with more specificity and explained in English.

The story does not look good. It starts in Livigno, Italy, with a team doctor (Fredrik Bendiksen) buying two lip creams at a pharmacy.

“On 3 September 2016, Dr Bendiksen purchased two non-prescription pharmaceutical products at a local pharmacy, Keratoplastica and Trofodermin,” the CAS decision states. “He noted that Trofodermin contained the antibiotic neomycin.”

This was important: Bendiksen wanted the antibiotic in order to treat oozing sores on Johaug’s lips caused by a sunburn.

“Once he had noted the Trofodermin contained Neomycin, he did not conduct any further inspection of the packaging and did not make the connection between Clostebol and the Prohibited List,” the decision later noted. “He did not notice the doping warning on the box. He then put the box in a carrier bag, where it remained until he handed the box to Ms Johaug. In normal circumstances, he would always conduct an internet search to verify the safety of any product. He cannot explain why he overlooked the presence of Clostebol and surmises that he failed to detect it due to the stresses affecting him.”

This is surprising. But was already known, as Johaug blamed her doctor from the start and he no longer has a position with the ski team.

The CAS decision continues: “Ms Johaug took the box containing the Trofodermin cream to her hotel room. She removed the tube of cream and the accompanying insert. She noticed the insert was in Italian but threw it away as she did not understand it. She did not inspect the box and threw it away without noticing that the box carried a red ‘doping warning’ on the side. Ms Johaug used the cream from 4 to 15 September 2016.”

That would come back to haunt her. At the opening of the CAS hearing, “[the International Ski Federation] FIS introduced as an exhibit a Trofodermin box displaying the doping warning.”

Ouch – cold as snow, FIS.

More than Bendiksen’s negligence, Johaug’s carelessness is, or should be, especially surprising, for a few reasons.

First of all, “check your medications” is hammered into the heads of athletes, certainly in North America and western Europe.

The high-profile case of Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, a former Olympic gold medalist who was disqualified from the 2014 Olympics due to contaminated supplements, most recently reminded athletes of the consequence of taking a banned substance by accident.

And Johaug’s own team had recently been through a drugs scandal with Martin Johnsrud Sundby, which should have made all – doctors and athletes alike – more conscious of their obligations and protocols.

The decision noted that by asking Bendiksen whether the cream was “safe” – he reportedly replied that “this cream is not on the doping list” despite not checking – Johaug was fulfilling her contractual obligation to her team.

And in fact, it’s a smart provision in an athlete contract. But doctors are human. They aren’t flawlessly-functioning robots with encyclopedic knowledge of the Prohibited List and a wireless connection to their brains. Humans make mistakes, so the Norwegian team’s system is not perfect.

Relatedly, Johaug’s contractual obligation to her team is not the same as her responsibility under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s rules (called the Code), which is to personally check everything herself.

The Code stipulates that athletes must “take responsibility, in the context of anti-doping, for what they ingest and use,” and “take responsibility to make sure that any medical treatment received does not violate anti-doping policies and rules adopted pursuant to the Code.”

And yet, from Johaug’s team at the tribunal: “Ms Johaug has vigorously submitted that she conducted herself with a great level of care and even went beyond what could ordinarily be expected of someone in her circumstances.”

Beyond what could be expected? Great level of care?

Even I have heard anti-doping personnel say – often in the news after a scandal – “don’t trust anything just because it is given to you by a doctor.”

And WADA’s “Athlete Reference Guide to the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code,” easily available online, says right on page seven, “It is not a defense to an anti-doping rule violation that, for instance, someone in your entourage or camp gave you a substance…”

As FIS argued, “Ms Johaug implies that her contractual obligations… oblige her to ‘blindly follow the doping-related information from her team doctor’. This is misleading in several respects… nothing in Ms Johaug’s contract required her to deviate from strictly observing her personal duty to make sure no prohibited substance entered her body… On the contrary, Article 5.2.1 h. of her contract explicitly reminds her of her doping-related duties.”

If the Norwegian ski team does not remind athletes of their responsibilities under the WADA Code, and instead relies on its internal system and vast staff which coddle top athletes, it should take a good hard look at its culpability in Johaug’s mess.

(In the decision, there is a note that Johaug only took Anti-Doping Norway’s e-learning test after the positive test arose – not a good indicator of the level of education she received, although who is to blame for that is unclear.)

If the ski team did educate athletes and Johaug simply relied totally on Bendiksen anyway, she should own up and rescind the puzzling claim that she went above and beyond all expectations in her diligence.

Before progressing further I have to admit that, in my past, I took medication from a coach without checking the ingredients against the Prohibited List. I asked what was in it and what the purpose was, and then I took it. So in one sense, I get it.

But there are a few differences: I was 22 and fresh out of college, and Johaug is 29. I had never been drug tested (and never would be, because I wasn’t competing at a high enough level), whereas Johaug had reportedly passed 140 doping tests. I never had to fill out a whereabouts report, which is a constant reminder that one is under anti-doping surveillance, whereas Johaug surely logged her trip to Livigno in the whereabouts database before it happened. And I had never received training about how to check the legality of medications.

That’s not to excuse my behavior – although there almost certainly was nothing banned in my medication, I should have personally made sure before taking it (and checked with a doctor!). I am ashamed that I didn’t fulfill my responsibility to others and to my own health those years ago.

But I’m mentioning this for two reasons. The first, of course, is to admit that I’m being a bit hypocritical.

The second is because I think it’s an instructional example. That behavior is already deemed poor coming from a very mediocre, new-to-full-time-training U23 – and it’s even more confusing coming from someone like Johaug, who won her first World Championships gold in 2011, has been a senior top-level athlete for years, and should definitely have known better how important such precautions can be.

But enough about that. The second surprising aspect of Johaug’s tossing of the medication package is that checking whether a medication is banned could hardly be called difficult.

For Johaug (and Bendiksen), the ingredient was right there on the packaging. A website called Global DRO is free and available to anyone, and lets you type in a medication and see if it is prohibited. A check of “clostebol” gives a pretty clear result.

(It’s true that the website asks for where you are located, and only has a subset of countries as possible answers; that is for users who want to type in the name of their medications, like Trofodermin. The results are always the same for individual ingredients/substances like Clostebol, so users could select any country and use it in this manner.)

And finally, the decision is obviously a summary of proceedings written by a different party and cannot be used to infer Johaug’s attitude or state of mind, but throwing away medication packaging because she couldn’t read it simply seems careless and perhaps even arrogant.

There is a tool called Google Translate, and other tools called smartphones and laptops. Most of us use those tools every day.

Furthermore, “clostebol” is the same in several languages as it is the name of a substance. As CAS writes, “The Panel also observes that the front of the Trofodermin tube clearly indicates ‘Clostebol acetate’ as an ingredient. There was no need even to consult a long list of ingredients to know the important active ingredients in the product.”

Thus, “I don’t understand Italian” is a shockingly naïve defense.

“Although an athlete may not always be expected to follow all the steps outlined in [a prior CAS case], in every circumstance, the Panel finds it striking that Ms Johaug did not perform the most important of them,” CAS wrote in its decision. “She was given the packaging of the Trofodermin but did not conduct even a cursory check of the label. Had she done so, she would most likely have noticed the doping-related warning on the box. Instead, she threw away the box and the accompanying leaflet.”

The takeaway is this.

The Norwegian ski team had a good system to try to prevent mistakes that could lead to costly and embarrassing positive tests. But either the team itself, or individual athletes, became too reliant on this system. They stopped believing that doctors are human and that mistakes happen. They apparently forgot that if they do happen, it is the athlete who bears responsibility. By trusting someone completely, you are taking a big risk.

It’s very unfortunate.

As much as Johaug touts that her situation is crazy and unique, in fact such cases have come to CAS several times before.

In all of them, the jurisprudence has established that “athletes always bear personal responsibility and the failure of a doctor does not exempt the athlete from personal responsibility… An athlete cannot abdicate his or her personal duty to avoid the consumption of a prohibited substance by simply relying on a doctor… It has been consistently held in CAS decisions that an athlete cannot delegate away his or her responsibilities to avoid doping.”

In other words: there is no such thing as a mistake. Mistakes have consequences. That should strike care into the actions of all athletes, if not fear into their hearts.


The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Executive Committee and Foundation will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday next week in Colorado Springs. The publication of the Independent Commission report on doping in Russian athletics will certainly be a hot topic of conversation.

After the publication of the report a few things moved fast: suspension of a Moscow laboratory’s accreditation, resignation of key officials, consideration of sanctions by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

But other things are moving more slowly. And for those of us whose sports are implicated but not investigated in the report, it feels like no progress has been made at all.

The mandate of the Independent Commission, stated on page 3 of their report, was first to establish whether “There have been any breaches of processes or rules (Code and International Standards) by any signatory to the Code. This includes RUSADA and IAAF, but not exclusively as there may be other National Anti-Doping Organizations (NADOs) or International Federations (IFs) also requiring such inquiry.”

In other parts of the mandate, the phrases “any organization” are used repeatedly.

While this is just the first part of the Independent Commission’s report – a summary of findings about other track and field federations is expected later this year – the Commission does not seem to have taken up the full breadth of its mandate.

There are suggestions and even quotes from whistleblowers stating that key individuals in the investigation had worked with multiple sports. The Commission did not follow up on this.

This is despite the fact that in other state-sponsored doping systems from decades past, cheating ranged across a wide range of sports. What matters at the Olympics is the medal count, and you can’t win it in just track and field. And so, without more answers, winter athletes will begin their competitive seasons in the coming weeks with the seeds of doubt and fear sown into their psyches. If there’s one thing that can crush both the joy of sport, and a good result, it’s fear.

It’s also not to discount the work which the Commission has done, which was clearly a lot. The Commission can be forgiven for feeling a bit weary – and if they are anything like us, depressed from their findings – and wanting to pass the torch.

But if that’s the case, who will take the mandate from them and run with it?

In our nordic sports, we have a sad history of doping by multiple teams through the years. We believe that our international federations are making good-faith and sophisticated efforts to catch dopers. But if the same behavior present in Russian athletics is also present in our sports, then it is hard for those efforts to completely succeed.

We need to know more about what is going on in Russia, and this information needs to be shared with other international federations.

There may be athletes in other sports who should not be allowed to compete, but who currently are.

There may be results that currently stand, but should be stricken from the record.

Here is a summary and accounting of issues identified in the report which should be followed up on:

1. Doctors working in multiple sports

One of the key figures in the report, as well as in the ARD documentaries which preceded it, is Dr. Sergey Portugalov. Portugalov provided banned substances to many athletes – apparently not just limited to runners.

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 8.30.40 AM

From page 151 of the report. also reported that on the website of the Russian Federal Research Centre of Physical Culture and Sports, it listed that Portugalov was a member of the FIS Medical Committee. We couldn’t find that information on the difficult-to-navigate website.

On the FIS Medical Committee’s roster, the spot for Russia is empty, with the words “prov. Suspended”.

FIS Anti-Doping administrator Sarah Fussek explained in an email to FasterSkier:

“Grigory Rodchenkov is currently being investigated based on the WADA IC report allegations, and during this time he is provisionally suspended from this function as a member of the FIS Medical Committee, as provided for by the FIS Anti-Doping Rules. He is asked to respond to the allegations until the end of November. Similarly, the Russian Ski Association has been asked to comment to the WADA IC report on the involvement and the possible affect on the FIS governed sports until end of November.”

The idea that the main supplier of banned performance-enhancing drugs to track and field athletes was also supplying them to many other athletes needs to be addressed.

Can it be established what other athletes had contact with Portugalov? These athletes, and their relationships to the doctor, should be examined.

2. The Sochi testing

Among the concrete allegations in the report are that representatives of the Russian State Security service, FSB, infiltrated the Sochi anti-doping laboratory posing as engineers.

FSB was also interested in the Moscow laboratory, and here is what they did there, according to the report:

“One laboratory staff member provided information to IC investigators about the suspected bugging or wiretapping of telephones, while another staff member reported that office spaces within the Moscow laboratory were monitored (bugged) by the FSB in order to be informed of the laboratory’s activities. This could not be independently verified by the IC, but the reported statements demonstrate the perceptions of laboratory officials, who believe they are under constant state surveillance. This perception is also fuelled by the FSB’s regular visits to the laboratory and the questioning of its staff members. For example, the IC learned that staff members were routinely questioned by FSB upon their return from global laboratory and WADA seminars. Following the airing of the ARD documentary, select laboratory staff members were directed by the FSB not to cooperate with the WADA investigation.”

In response, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) put out this statement:

“The IOC studied the functioning of the WADA accredited laboratory in Sochi during the Olympic Winter Games 2014 following the doubts expressed during the Independent Commission’s press conference. In this context the IOC relies on the then report of the WADA independent observer group which makes no mention of any such irregularity. Nor was any such irregularity reported by the international experts involved, nor found by the IOC itself. Therefore, the IOC has no reason to question the credibility of the results of the anti-doping tests carried out at the Olympic Winter Games 2014.”

This is disappointing, to say the least.

The thing about intelligence service operatives is that they hide; they pose as something other than they are; they deceive. It’s possible that the FSB in Sochi were quite convincing in this respect.

Saying that the Independent Observers did not notice anything amiss does not cut it, now that we know that there was government spying and presence in the lab and along with everything else we know about how interested the government was in manipulating sports competitions.

We hope that WADA will pressure the IOC to reverse this position and re-test the samples. If nothing additional comes up, then fantastic. But on the chance that positive results could have been suppressed, then clean athletes deserve to know the truth – and receive their medals.

3. Mishandled and misplaced samples

The report details a number of places where doping control samples were mishandled or misplaced. For instance, more than 1,400 of them were intentionally destroyed by staff in a Moscow laboratory to prevent re-testing.

Another 67 samples were moved by WADA to a Lausanne laboratory for re-testing, but then were destroyed by staff there. The Independent Commission never found a good explanation.

RUSADA was also falling down on the job of entering doping control test information (doping control forms, or DCFs) into ADAMS, the global database, which would make it available to other organizations.

From the report:

“RUSADA claimed that all DCFs were entered and up to date for the years 2014 and 2015. RUSADA pledged to enter all remaining 2012 and 2013 missing DCFs by October 31, 2015… The findings did not support RUSADA. In 2014, there were 804 non-filed DCFs and 679 in 2015.”

The report states that this was at least in part due to administration problems creating a backlog of forms. They could not conclude whether malicious intent was also involved.

But regardless, it is troubling. Between destroyed samples, changed test results, and un-entered doping control test information, how many of these tests belonged to skiers and biathletes?

That question may be un-answerable. But one can try.

4. Lack of serious testing by RUSADA

And all of that is from when tests are collected. They aren’t, always.

The report alleges not only that positive tests collected by the Russian anti-doping union could be made to go away by making a phone call and paying a bribe. It also describes how advance notification was given before doping control officers (DCOs) arrived and forms were sometimes falsified.

“Stepanov reported to the IC the following Code non-compliant behaviours among DCOs: there is a practice of taking money by DCOs at the time of testing; not following the standard for testing in particular observing the urine flow if a urine sample is taken; and failing to have adequately trained chaperones or any chaperones at all when on a mission. They would also not follow up on missions where the whereabouts location was far from where they were living but would await the re- filing of whereabouts within the region where they were presumably carried out by the athlete on knowing the sample to be taken would not trigger an AAF.”

The DCOs are employed by RUSADA, thus are not sport-specific. If they did not follow the code while testing track and field athletes there is no reason to think that they followed the code while testing athletes in other sports.

Take this comment from the ARD documentary that spurred the WADA investigation:

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From page 14 of the ARD transcript.

Given that the report finds that track and field coaches, officials, and staff were aware of these problems, it should also be asked whether coaches and staff from other sports knew about and promoted this Code-noncompliant behavior.

5. The role of coaches

The report identified that within track and field, coaches pressured athletes to dope.

“Many of the more egregious offenders appear to be coaches who, themselves, were once athletes and who work in connection with medical personnel,” the Commission wrote.

This bears a resemblence to patterns we have seen in nordic sport. For instance, a non-Russian coach, Wolfgang Pichler, was brought in to coach the Russian women’s biathlon team for the first time several years ago. But some athletes preferred to train with a different coach, Vladimir Korolkevich, who had been a famed coach in the Soviet system.

Just before the 2014 Olympics, two of Korolkevich’s athletes, Ekaterina Iourieva and Irina Starykh, were caught using EPO. Yet Korolkevich was promoted over Pichler to lead the Olympic team. Rather than punishing personnel associated with doping athletes, the biathlon union rewarded them.

Neither Pichler nor Korolkevich are currently working with the Russian team. But who is? Is the organization which rewarded and promoted Korolkevich still in place? And what about cross-country skiing?

Our Request: Finish the Work You Started

From these allegations, it is clear that not only track and field, but many other sports are affected by doping in Russia (and beyond).

While is is useful to dismantle the system of doping in track and field, other sports should not be hung out to dry and left to continue operating under these conditions.

The World Cup seasons are about to start for sking and biathlon; how should athletes feel knowing that some of their competitors may have received banned substances from the same doctors who doped track and field athletes?

How should they feel knowing that their Russian competitors may have been tested far less than those from other countries, or that their doping samples may have been destroyed to avoid a positive test?

How should they feel wondering if they actually should move several places up the results sheet in all of their races in the last year? Two years? Five years? Decades?

It is not sufficient to examine track and field and then walk away.

Our sports need answers, too.


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Watching freestyle skiing at the Olympics: with my family in Tignes, France, 1992 (l), ad with FasterSkier family Alex Kochon in Sochi, 2014.

Watching freestyle skiing at the Olympics: with my family in Tignes, France, 1992 (l), and with FasterSkier family Alex Kochon in Sochi, 2014.

When Norway withdrew its bid to host the 2022 Olympics in Oslo on Wednesday, there was widespread dismay in the sports world.

For us as nordic skiers, it felt like a particularly harsh blow. Oslo is a nice place for everyone, but for cross-country skiers, jumpers, and biathletes, it is heaven. Holmenkollen is already one of the most storied venues in the world, a favorite World Cup stop in each nordic discipline.

Norway has famously good governance. They have money, but they get things done. An Oslo Games would have been well-organized and efficient. And existing infrastructure could have been used to a great extent, to reduce the ballooning cost of hosting a Games.

Outside the athletes village with aunt Liz, Lillehammer, 1994.

Outside the athletes village with aunt Liz, Lillehammer, 1994.

To begin to answer why Norway turned down this opportunity to play host, it might help to ask ourselves what the Olympics are really about.

When I think about the Olympics, I think back to the early 1990’s when my family traveled first to Albertville, France, and then to Lillehammer, Norway, to watch my aunt compete in freestyle skiing.

I was only five years old in Albertville, and sometimes I struggle to tell whether my memories are really my own. But this I know: we ate a pizza that had an egg on it, in the French style; and for my grandfather’s birthday, he got a flaming dessert from a restaurant.

The Tignes ski area extended from the freestyle venues up and over the mountains – nestled up against Mont Blanc, it is possible to ski into Switzerland. I remember that I became a much, much better alpine skier on that trip, as did my father, who grew up in Atlanta. And I remember the sting when my parents, uncle, and aunt took the gondola up the mountain to ski real trails, and I was left at home with my then-two-year-old cousin. That sucked.

As a comparison: did anyone go to Sochi to ski? What sucked there was that I brought my skis, and never got to use them.

In Tignes, my extended family rented rooms directly across from the competition slopes, so that we could stand on the balcony and look out at the moguls field and the aerials jumps.

I can tell you right now that that will never happen at another Olympics, ever again. The line between athletes and everyone else did not used to be such a clear divide, and the separation of spectators from both the sport itself and the culture of the host city was historically not so stark. In Sochi 22 years later, buildings and stadiums lacked any local character. Not even athletes, generally, could live in a spot that looked out on their competition trails. And the only way to tell you were in Russia was the Cyrillic on the signs, and the militarized security force.

Lillehammer, 1994.

Lillehammer, 1994.

In Lillehammer, the family rented an apartment in town. One of my strongest memories from that trip is of my uncle and aunt buying reindeer burgers and that same younger cousin getting to eat one. My own parents, former vegetarians, were definitely not going to buy reindeer. Much like the missed gondola ski trip, that sucked.

I remember visiting Maihaugen, the museum village of old Norwegian farm buildings. I remember cross-country skiing on the trails out of town, and falling down, and seeing so many other people on skis – more skiers than I had ever seen in my life, more skiers than I could have imagined before traveling to Norway.

I remember my aunt joining us in the stands to watch. In the photos, her credential is hidden underneath a heavy jacket; unlike the Sochi credentials that every spectator wore around their neck like a chain, our family had paper tickets tucked away in our pockets. Everything was relaxed. She also came to our apartment for a joint birthday party for my father, grandfather, and uncle. There were costumes and the adults drank wine.

Maybe this is one of the biggest things that stands out between my experience at the Olympics as a kid, and my experience in Russia last year: athletes weren’t separated from the public as they are now. I visited the Endurance Village in Sochi. That required applying for a special visitor’s pass in addition to my media credentials, days in advance. Transport there was crazy, and it wasn’t in a place that was on the way to anything. Conversely, if athletes wanted to leave to see their families, they couldn’t just walk across town – it was a day-long commitment.

Skiing in Norway, 1994.

Skiing in Norway, 1994.

One of our favorite family photos from Lillehammer is me, outside the Olympic village, jumping in the air with my aunt in front of the flags from every participating country. She could come and go as she pleased (I think), to her family birthday parties or just for a walk. And we could go see her. Our main concern was whether we would be distracting.

Much has been made of the IOC’s list of demands for a host city, which reads like a tour rider for a rock star. But while that is the root of the money problems, perhaps another part of the problem is that the Olympic spirit has simply changed since the last time the Games visited Norway. The Scandinavian sports powerhouse may be wealthy, but they have got to be one of the least ostentatious rich countries in the world.

The oil boom only happened in the 1970’s. Today, Norway has the highest per-capita Gross National Income (GNI) in the world, ahead of Qatar, Switzerland, and everyone else. In 1960, its GDP was smaller than the Bahamas. Norway’s oil riches are new enough that the country remembers what it’s like to be poor. The IOC’s current attitude is the antithesis of how Norwegians treat their wealth, and the Games might no longer fully represent how they like their sport, either.

The IOC reportedly demanded that its members be introduced to the King before an Oslo opening ceremony, and have a cocktail party paid for by the Royal Palace.

Do you know who gets to meet the King in Norway? The skier who wins a Holmenkollen World Cup, that’s who. And usually, they’re so awed that they don’t know what to say. The first words out of their mouths are never, “Balvenie on the rocks”.

Perhaps the IOC should try learning something from Norway, instead of insisting that it be the other way around.

—Chelsea Little, editor-at-large

Family ski trip on one of Liz's off days from competition, Tignes, 1992.

Family ski trip on one of Liz’s off days from competition, Tignes, 1992.


At the beginning of the month, Norway’s Anders Besseberg was re-elected as the President of the International Biathlon Union.

Besseberg has led the federation since it left a joint union with modern pentathlon in 1993, and has overseen incredible development of the sport.

How far has biathlon come since then? In 1992, women competed in the Olympics for the first time; today, Darya Domracheva rivals Martin Fourcade’s popularity and Magdalena Neuner wields her fame like a gavel from her comfortable retirement. Likewise, the sprint at the 1992 Olympics featured men from 27 countries; in Sochi, the tally was 31 countries.

As a supporting cast of Executive Board members have come and gone, Besseberg has stayed. With a tenure of over 20 years, he is one of the longest-serving heads of a major international sports federation.

Long-serving presidents are definitely not unusual in the sports world. International Ski Federation President Gian Franco Kasper and FIFA’s Sepp Blatter have both led their organizations since 1998. Lamine Diak has headed track and field’s IAAF since 1999, as has Francesco Ricci Bitti of the International Tennis Federation.

But Besseberg has six years on even Kasper and Blatter. Ottavio Cinquanta of the International Speedskating Union comes close to Besseberg’s mark, having held his presidency since 1994. Even if Besseberg is a great President – which in many ways he obviously has been – 20 years is too long.

The federations do not have term limits for their presidents, although there has recently been a call for FIFA to adopt term limits as Blatter decided to run for his fifth consecutive term. With the challenges plaguing FIFA, in terms of corruption and World Cup host cities, many feel that it is inappropriate for him to continue.

Nothing so sinister is happening in biathlon, a sport which is respected as being well-run. Its biggest (or at least most public) challenges revolve around doping, something which represents a struggle for all endurance sports.

But even without obvious conflict caused by his leadership, Besseberg himself seems to recognize at some level that change is good – and that he might need to leave so that the organization can rediscover its youth and vigor.

“I was in principle determined not to continue [as president], because even though I do not feel old, I know when I was born,” 68-year-old Besseberg told NRK after the election. In a separate interview earlier, he said he hadn’t decided to run until just before the deadline for declaring.

This time, what pushed him over the edge was the involvement of Russia’s Alexander Tikhonov in the race. Tikhonov is a decorated Russian biathlete who had previously served as First Vice President, so knew the organization well. But the retired World Champion has also been convicted for his involvement in the attempted murder of a regional politician in Russia.

Obviously, having such an individual as President would harm the reputation and integrity of the organization.

Another challenger declared as well: Canada’s Dr. Jim Carrabre, a respected anti-doping advocate who has served as Vice President of Medical Issues for years and taken with it the attendant position on the Executive Board.

But Besseberg did not find Carrabre to be a suitable successor either. In the same NRK interview before the election, he said that “I would not consider the other candidates.”

Carrabre may have had a chance were it not for the Russian’s involvement. As it was, many voters at Congress were rightfully jumpy at the prospect of the gangster heading their federation. Rather than risking splitting votes between the two other candidates, stuck with the incumbent to ensure that Tikhonov would not be elected.

Besseberg received 33 votes, Tikhonov 11, and Carrabre 6.

It’s tough to imagine taking on the role of President of a hugely profitable sport’s international federation without ever having done so before. The job does not come with a roadmap, much less a list of required qualifications or job experience.

But if two previous members of his own Executive Board are not qualified to lead the IBU, then who exactly does Besseberg have in mind for the job when he does eventually and inevitably step down? Or is it that there are strong candidates out there, but they are afraid to run against the longtime leader?

If there are really no viable candidates in the biathlon world, then Besseberg himself should perhaps be held partially accountable. If true, then he has apparently been neglecting to cultivate others within his organization who might eventually lead it.

And the presidency is not the only aspect of leadership where the IBU displays stagnancy. The composition of the Executive Board remained largely unchanged after the election despite some high-profile campaigns. Only two positions saw turnover: Victor Maigurov took over the First Vice President position from a fellow Russian, and Sweden’s Olle Dahlin filling the post of Vice President for Development, previously held by the late Czech Vaclav Firtik. For five of the eight positions, the incumbent ran unopposed.

This is troubling: change is good and necessary for the development of sport, like in all other aspects of professional life.

At the past Congress, Besseberg’s Executive Board proposed, and then successfully saw passed, several noteworthy changes and improvements to the sport.

They implemented a new Junior IBU Cup circuit, to offer young racers better opportunities for high-level competition. They changed the scoring system to be more fair to smaller, developing teams (a proposal that was initially developed by the Technical Committee, and then pitched to the board). And they tackled thorny issues having to do with mid-race cancellations and weather challenges that have plagued the World Cup in the last two seasons.

But some sources of innovation seem halfhearted and gimmicky. The Super Sprint Mixed Relay joined the list of approved World Cup formats, despite tepid reception after a test race in Oslo last season.

And more could be done to develop the sport outside of Europe.

The sport is certainly not headed in the wrong direction under Besseberg’s leadership. He will continue to innovate and provide the IBU with a strong financial foundation, just as he has for 20 years.

But here’s hoping that this is his final sprint to the finish line, to leave his legacy and make the sport the best it can be – and that by the time the next Congress rolls around, there is a qualified candidate who can provide the IBU with a fresh face at the very top.

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The familiar platitude “money makes the world go ‘round” is as tired as Petter Northug approaching the top of the Alpe Cermis. But while such pointless sayings may induce lung burning and nausea akin to those experienced on the Final Climb, cash (or at least the promise of cash) is how we negotiate the practical transactions of daily life.

You may not need much money to hammer out level 4 bounding intervals, but try performing that session on an escalator in Chicago O’Hare or JFK, and see if it earns you a ticket to Europe.

Hard work, dedication, teamwork, great coaching and the encouragement of friends and family may be the key ingredients in the development of skiers but the opportunity to excel requires money.

In a perfect world, US cross-country skiing and nordic combined would be flush with cash from corporate sponsors and government funding, allowing top skiers and up-and-comers alike to focus on performing and improving.

It is not news that we don’t live in that world. The US Ski Team has worked hard to support the very best at a level that allows them to focus on racing, but that leaves little for the tiers below, and those on the A-team are well-funded only by the standards of this sport in the US.

As US skiing has moved from mediocrity (at best) to true international competitiveness over the past decade, and with a strong contingent of younger athletes demonstrating this is not a temporary spike, the need for financial support has grown.

If we want to see continued success and growth in the sport, we as a community need to do more than just cheer.

The challenge is that most already do. There are so many demands for money — the local club, individual athletes, regional organizations — all need support and all are critical to the mission of growing the sport and developing great skiers. And this isn’t considering all the other worthy causes unrelated to skiing and the countless hours that volunteers, parents and coaches dedicate to the sport.

But we still need to add another layer — call it the foundation or the peak — either analogy fits for the national level.

It is no secret that as a community and sport that we cannot count on USSA to come forward with any support beyond the top level. There is going to be no well-funded development program or all expenses covered trips to Europe for any but those scoring points on the World Cup.

Clubs are now commonplace and are the first line in development. Regional organizations, led by the New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA) and followed by Central Cross-Country (CXC) have taken over from USSA, allowing for better programming and a commitment to vision.

The National Nordic Foundation (NNF) was created to fill the gaping holes left by USSA on the national level — the one area where there was still nothing beyond what USSA would offer. From the relatively modest goal of raising $25,000 several years ago, NNF is now attempting to bring in $250,000 to support the development of elite cross-country and nordic combined athletes.

A major ingredient in the evolution of the sport in this country has been a commitment to racing in Europe and training camps that bring together promising skiers at all levels of the pipeline.

This is what NNF raises money to support, and the organization has grown from a nearly dormant project to one of keys to the future success of our sport.

With just two days remaining in the annual fund drive, NNF is looking to hit an important $15,000 matching grant on the nordic combined side, and is within striking distance of the full funding goal of $125,000 for cross-country.

We all have to decide where to put our dollars. Some may be able to afford significant contributions at all levels, but others have to make choices.

The hope is that we don’t steal from Peter to pay Paul, and we can’t afford to ignore one level to support another. But the good news is that there are good options and every dollar helps wherever it goes.

It wasn’t that long ago that organized local clubs with elite programs were mainly a Scandinavian oddity, and regional organizations like NENSA and CXC did not exist.

The only choice was USSA, and for a myriad of reasons this was not appealing to many.

So with the kickoff to the 2013 season just days away, I encourage you to look at the options, and if possible make a contribution, be it to your club, your region, NNF, or to all three.


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With November just a day away we are on the cusp of another ski season — opening SuperTours in West Yellowstone, World Cup racing in Sweden the same weekend, the exciting prospect of Canadian World Cups in December…plenty to look forward to before the holidays even roll around.

I believe it is safe to say that most readers of FasterSkier not only love cross-country skiing, they are passionate about competition — whether they race themselves, or are fans of friends, family or North America’s best. In many cases it is a combination of all of the preceding. In that respect skiing is like many other sports — watching, rooting, playing, with the added benefit that participation and competition are highly accessible (how many football fans can watch the big game one day, and be out playing in an actual match the next?).

People like to believe their sport of choice is different — more exciting, harder, just generally better than others. In that respect we are all biased toward what we like to do ourselves, and how we choose to be entertained and inspired.

But I do believe there is something unique about skiing (and when I write skiing I refer to all the “nordic” disciplines — cross-country, biathlon, nordic combined), and that is the community that forms around the sport. This community is close-knit, mutually supportive, and generally made of very good people. Being a skier gives access to this community, and that is a wonderful thing.

Granted, at times the closeness can be somewhat stifling, and decision making power too consolidated. Overall, however, it is the community that allows the sport to exist — from financial support for World Cup racers, to grass-roots local clubs and programs — and there is somthing about the sport that fosters such a community — a wonderful feedback loop.

This all may seem a little cliche, but sometimes cliches are appropriate. Last week we published an article on the Anchorage ski community rallying behind one of their own who was injured.

Spearheaded by 12-year-old Luke Jager, a fund-raising running race raised $15,000 for Jager’s friend Mary Robicheaux, who was seriously hurt after being struck by a car while riding her bike.

The efforts of the Anchorage ski community on behalf of Robicheaux are impressive and heartwarming, but ultimately not surprising. This is what the ski community does.

“The AK ski community is a small group, so I think regardless whether or not you know someone personally, because we all share the same love of a similar sport, that creates a bond,” Rob Whitney, husband of US Ski Team member Holly Brooks, and a long-time member of the ski commuity as an athlete, coach and supporter wrote to FasterSkier in an email.

Whitney could have been describing the greater ski community. We all know similar stories on the local, regional, and even national levels. This is why skiing is different.


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It is a beautiful morning in West Yellowstone, with somewhat more seasonal temperatures in the single digits – perfect for classic skiing.

It is quite a weekend in the North American ski racing world with the opening continental cup races in West, and the Kuusamo Mini-Tour in Finland, including NOrdic Combined races. Add to that a stacked field in the last pre-World cup biathlon events in featuring a stacked field. These races will determine the final selection for the US biathlon team for the World Cup opener.

ANd there is plenty of excitement with Kikkan Randall (USA) and Lenny Valjas (CAN) both cracking the finals in the classic sprint on Friday, and Randall sitting in 5th in the overall mini-tour standings.

While it has been a mixed bag overall for the North Americans, it is very exciting that every race features skiers who could stand on the podium on any given day.

The performance of the American women has been especially notable over the first week of World Cup racing, with LIz Stephen turning in two top-30s in her first two distance races, and Holly Brooks placing 17th in the Kuusamo 5k. And that doesn’t include strong performance from some of the younger skiers who are out mainly for experience at this point.

We also know that the Canadian men will turn things around.

Here in West, there is the usual festive atmosphere and great skiing. Bringing thousands of people together to celebrate skiing is pretty cool.


Kikkan Randall – She is so good and still keeps improving. Enjoy this because we are in the presence of greatness

Watching Leif Zimmermann V1 – When he is on, Leif floats up the climbs. Pretty sweet that he always gets it done in West.

Ditto for Morgan Arritola – Skis so smooth. Most of the top finishers in Friday’s skate appeared to be working less than many others. Just an illusion, but a testimonty to efficiency, and how these courses need to be raced.

Jessie Diggins leaving it all on the course – No one goes harder. Of course other skiers bring their A-game, but with Jessie you really see it.

Minnesota highschool kids volunteering at the SuperTour races – video to follow

The End of the Expo in West – A fun time, but exhausting. Glad to participate, and glad it is done. Are stickers really that cool 🙂

The helpful folk running the Ski Festival and SuperTour races here – they have done a great job, and gone out of their way to help us provide the best coverage we can.

An entire collegiate ski team showing up one night in the lobby of our hotel to partake of free hot chocolate


People who are content with the status quo in ski racing in North America – the “its just skiing” attitude is not helpful. Perspective is important, but so is pushing the envelope.

Impending departure to a land of no snow.

Slow internet – West Yellowstone has a single pipe feeding the town, and it doesn’t have much capacity. When everyone gets in from skiing, it slows to a crawl. An upgrade is supposedly in the works.

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It has been a beautiful Thanksgiving day in West Yellowstone, with sunny skies and temperatures climbing to 40F. The skiing is excellent and the atmosphere quite festive. There is nothing like good weather and good skiing to make people very happy.

The first races went off smoothly and tomorrow’s distance races should be a more interesting spectator experience.

All participating in the races, as athletes, coaches, organizers and volunteers have to be pleased there was no repeat of last year when a blizzard postponed the sprints to Thanksgiving day, and temperatures were frigid.

We at FasterSkier will even be able to avoid a mushy pasta or PB&J Thanksgiving, thanks to the race day off and some generous invites.

Skiing – ’nuff said
Sun – see above
Friendly locals in West – everyone is welcoming and interested in the out-of-towners – even those who aren’t really into the whole XC skiing thing.
Free Heel and Wheel – One of the best ski shops in the world – mixing ski gear and a coffee shop/cafe is brilliant. Lunch every day.
Sprint Qualifiers are over
Skiing out the door and to “work”

Sprint qualifiers – so boring to watch (no idea what is going on) and pretty tough to write about
Not skiing – One wants to ski 2-3 times per day. But work calls.
Not getting to watch Nat Herz challenge the costumed children and parents in the annual West Yellowstone Turkey Trot

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Earlier this week several Finnish newspapers reported that Juha Lalluka, a key member of the 2011 Finnish World Championship team, tested positive for human growth hormone.

The shock and disappointment did not come close to rivaling the response to the positive test of Estonian legend Andrus Vererpalu last season, but Lalluka’s seemingly out-of-nowhere performances in Oslo piqued the interest of many.

There are several notable points to this unfortunate storyline. First, anti-doping efforts seem to be working – at least some cheaters are being caught. The anecdotal consensus seems to be that the sport is significantly cleaner now than it was five years ago.

At major events there is much less discussion about who is doping and who is clean. When someone does come up dirty, the reaction is generally one of surprise (though for many, not in the case of Veerpalu).

This is generally good. What is concerning, however, is that the results of Lalluka’s A-sampple was made public prior to the testing of the B-sample. That second sample has come back positive, so it is hard to feel much sympathy for the man.

But allowing the results from the first test to reach the public is a serious violation of the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

What if the B-sample came back clean, and the original positive test was an error?

Lalluka’s name and reputation would haev still been permanently tarnished. He would forever be remembered as another doping Finn, albeit one who beat the charges.

Regardless of the fact, that in this case, the B-sample did confirm the initial positive test, WADA, and national anti-doping agencies need to ensure that A-sample results are kept under wraps until the B-sample is tested. The court of public opinion is quick to judge, and when it comes to doping, outside of nationalistic fervor, the verdict is almost always guilty.

Lalluka is gearing up to fight the doping charges, but it is a losing battle. There is little precedent for an athlete with a positive A and B sample to get off without a suspension. At this point all evidence points to another sad chapter in the performance enhancing drug saga that has become all too common in elite sport.

But cheaters and lawbreakers have rights. The rules state that a B-sample must confirm the result of the A-sample. Until those findings are complete, all information associated with the case, even the existence of the case, must be kept completely private.