On Sunday morning, a new start list was released for the Olympic men’s 50 k. It was exactly the same as the list that had been published the night before, with one glaring exception: a name had been removed and a line added at the bottom of the document.
“removed DUERR Johannes (AUT) from Start List as implementation of IOC decision from 22 FEB 2014,” the officials had written in small font.
The Austrian Olympic Committee issued a press release stating that Dürr (names are Anglicized by results systems) had tested positive for the blood-doping drug recombinant erythropoietin (EPO) and had been banned from the Olympics, effective immediately.
In the press release, the head of Austria’s Olympic team, Karl Stoss, expressed shock.
On his way out of Sochi, Dürr was caught by the press in the airport, and apologized while telling the Associated Press that it was the “worst thing I’ve done in my life.”
In the last few days, more details have emerged about the case, although the International Olympic Committee is still yet to release its report.
As initially reported, Dürr had flown back to Austria after the Olympic 30 k skiathlon, where he placed eighth, to train for the 50 k, which wouldn’t happen for almost two weeks. It was there in Obertilliach that the test was administered on February 16.
The news was delivered to the Austrian Olympic Committee on February 21, at which point Dürr had returned to Sochi. According to the Tiroler Tagezeitung newspaper, Dürr was called into a meeting. He faced the sports director of the Austrian Ski Federation, Hans Pum; the head doctor of the Austrian Olympic Committee, Wolfgang Schobersgerger; and an official from the cross-country division, Markus Gandler.
“At first he did not confess,” Gandler told the newspaper. “For a quarter of an hour he denied it.”
Gandler later lamented to the Austrian Kurier newspaper that he had believed completely that Dürr was clean; with tears in his eyes, he said, “I would have adopted him.”
But Dürr eventually admitted using EPO, which allowed Stoss to say in his press release the next morning that the athlete had done so and would be dealt with accordingly.
Dürr’s website once contained a section about clean sport, decrying the scandal at the 2006 Torino Olympics which enveloped Austrian endurance sports. His entire website has now been deleted.
Since returning home, Dürr has made more statements in interviews and the press. After admitting to the Austrian Olympic Committee that he had used EPO mid-Olympics, the skier went one step farther to Der Spiegel, a German weekly. He said he began using EPO in June 2013. Since then, Dürr has had his best results ever, finishing the Tour de Ski in third place and having the fastest pursuit times in both the 9 k and 35 k pursuits.
He told Der Spiegel that he had passed 14 doping tests so far that season, even when he took a double dose. He explained that he began taking half doses around the Olympics because he knew testing would be ramped up.
“I’m stupid, but not that stupid,” he said.
Dürr, who has a wife and a young child, said that even though he knew it was wrong, he felt that he could not make a living ski racing except if he took extraordinary measures.
“I had a good season behind me, but I also knew that with my current income, I could never bring a good life to my family,” he told Der Spiegel. “I have always known that it is the wrong thing… [now] I have no plan. Economically I am facing ruin.”
Dürr, who is 26 years old, re-stated in another interview that his family situation was what drove him to try EPO.
“I was overwhelmed with my life at that time,” he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper. “My little boy was just screaming and not sleeping at all.”
Still, doping did not make him feel better. He told the paper that every time he took the drug, he felt “like a junkie.” He has repeatedly said that he is glad the saga is over, and that he deeply regrets all the people who he has disappointed.
“That was the worst,” he said on a “Sports Week” television program. “Leaving the public hoodwinked was difficult, but to lie to your wife, parents, brothers and sisters, that was the worst.”
It’s still unclear exactly how Dürr administered his program. He told the Austrian Olympic Committee that his coaches and teammates were not involved, which came as a relief after the systematic doping scandal of 2006.
“The athlete himself confessed that he is the only one who did that and he takes all the responsibility on himself,” Stoss had said on the first day of the scandal.
But others are questioning if it is really possible that team officials had no idea that Dürr was doping. He has said told the far-right Austrian newspaper Krone that he “knew the wrong people.” But are the “wrong people” Austrian?
Dürr later claimed to the Kurier newspaper that he had obtained both the drugs and the doping schedule from someone in a former Yugoslavian republic.
The news is having a huge effect on Austrian sports. Peter Schröcksnadel, president of the Austrian Ski Federation, is considering whether to cut cross country skiing out of the federation and make it stand on its own, since the athletes are sullying the name of Austrian snow sports, according to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
Dürr is at risk of having violated not only the athlete code of conduct, but also more substantial laws, such as the ones prohibiting sports fraud. The Federal Criminal Police will reportedly investigate the case once the sports federations have finished.