Finland’s Juha Mieto skiing at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.
The forthcoming Finnish documentary Sinivalkoinen Valhe (“Blue and White Lies”) made waves in the European ski world this week by accusing two prominent figures in skiing history of taking performance-enhancing drugs at the height of their careers: Finland’s Juha Mieto and Italy’s Manuela di Centa. Mieto has never been publicly accused of cheating before and is denying allegations from the film. Di Centa was first accused of using EPO in a police investigation ten years ago but has never failed a drug test.
In the documentary, Finland’s Olympic champion weightlifter Kaarlo Kangasniemi says that Mieto sought his advice on anabolic steroid use in 1975. The conversation allegedly took place in a sauna in Saarijärvi, during which Kangasniemi asked Mieto about his previous experience with steroids.
“[Mieto] said, ‘five milligrams dianabol,’” Kangasniemi said. The weightlifter himself used steroids during his career, but the International Olympic Committee didn’t ban the substance until 1968.
At the 1976 Innsbruck Games, Mieto was part of Finland’s gold medal-winning relay team. In Lake Placid in 1980 he won two silvers (15 k and 50 k) and a bronze (4 x 10 k relay). Those performances still stand out for the Finn’s uniquely powerful manner of skiing.
Mieto denied the drug allegations to Finnish public broadcaster YLE.
“There is no evidence, that’s for sure. I deny everything,” Mieto said.
The accusations have come as a surprise to his friends and former competitors; some have gone on record to defend Mieto’s name.
“I was quite put out,” said 61-year-old Oddvar Brå said to VG Nett when the Norwegian paper relayed the news to him. Brå frequently finished just in front of or just behind Mieto when both were at the height of their ski careers.
“I had hoped and believed Mieto was clean… I hope this is not true,” Brå said. “We must look at it in this light: it is a weightlifter who is talking about this nearly 40 years later. One can wonder why he waited so long.”
This is not the first time the Finnish ski program has come under fire for performance-enhancing drug use. In 2001 the “Lahti Six,” four Finnish men and two women, tested positive for a banned blood plasma expander at the 2001 Lahti World Championships and were served two-year suspensions from competition.
Within the documentary narrative the filmmakers also accuse Finnish-born coach Jarmo Punkkinen of facilitating systematic doping during his leadership of the Italian national team between 1984 and 1990.
“Blood doping was used until 1988, perhaps longer,” said former Italian national team member Giuseppe Pulié.
According to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s website, blood doping methods were first banned in 1986 and EPO was listed as a banned substance in the 1990s.
Punkkinen denied the accusations, calling the documentary out-of-context and narrowly focused.
“I think it’s a shame that doping testing in the 1980s was not as well developed as today. My line has always been clear: the more it is tested, the better,” Punkkinen said.
Di Centa is one of Punkkinen’s former athletes; she won her first Olympic medal in 1992 and would go on to win six more, including two golds. She was first accused of using EPO ten years ago in a police investigation but has never failed a drug test. After di Centa retired from the sport she was named to the Italian and International Olympic Committees.
Punkkinen was officially di Centa’s coach only from 1987 to 1991. In the film Dario Bellodis, who coached the Italian women from 1995-1997, says that Punkkinen was involved with aspects of di Centa’s training for longer than that.
“Punkkinen trained di Centa at least to 1996,” Bellodis said. “I do not know what kind of training it was all about.”
Punkkinen denied this claim as well, saying that his work with di Centa ended in 1991 at World Championships.