This article has been updated to include comments from Canadian World Cup Team member Alex Harvey as told to Le Journal de Montreal on Wednesday.
As the news spreads of the International Olympic Committee’s decision to sanction two Russian cross-country skiers, Alexander Legkov and Evgeniy Belov, for doping at the 2014 Olympics at home in Sochi, Russia, a growing number of skiers and coaches from across the globe are reacting on social media.
“Hell yes, IOC. Finally starting to take some action,” U.S. Ski Team (USST) member Simi Hamilton wrote on Twitter. “I have a feeling pressure from us clean athletes has paid off!”
“Today marks a win for clean athletes,” USST Women’s Coach Matt Whitcomb tweeted. “Two cheats are out. It’s a start.”
Norway’s Petter Northug posted a photo on Instagram of what looked like brunch in a tropical setting with the words: “Feire OL bronse!” (translates to “Celebrating Olympic bronze!”). Northug already has four Olympic medals to his name, two of which are gold (all from the 2010 Olympics), but the men’s 4 x 10-kilometer Olympic relay medal from 2014, which will be awarded retroactively to the Norwegian team (after they placed fourth behind Sweden in first, Russia in second and France in third) will be the first medal for Northug’s teammates Eldar Rønning and Chris Andre Jespersen.
Later on Wednesday, Northug posted a jocular meme on Instagram, picturing himself racing in the Sochi relay with the words: “You know you are the best anchor when you bring the medal home 4 years after the race.”
Legkov was part of Russia’s silver-medal relay in Sochi, and as a result of the IOC’s ruling, he must return the two medals he won there (relay silver and 50 k gold). Additionally, the 2014 Olympic results of Legkov and Belov are to be voided and both athletes are barred from competing at (or being granted credentials to) future Olympics. However, both are expected to appeal the ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) by this Thursday at the latest.
“It is weird to get the medal in the mail. But if he gets convicted, of course I will take it,” Jespersen told Norway’s Nettavisen, according to a translation. “It’s my only Olympic medal. It is clear I will take it.”
In an interview with Le Journal de Montreal, Alex Harvey, the leading member of the Canadian World Cup Team who finished third in the overall World Cup and second in the distance standings last season, said he had his suspicions about Legkov — particularly after the 50 k freestyle mass start (in which Harvey placed 19th).
“On the climbs, we could see he was artificially stronger than the rest,” Harvey said, according to a translation. “In Sochi, the last two kilometers were filled with big climbs. It was a course made for Russians knowing that they were doping.”
He added that the end of each course in Sochi ended with a long, brutal uphill that was exceptionally “physically demanding”.
As for the recent doping bans involving professional cross-country skiers, Harvey said, “It’s a shame because our sport is now compared with cycling. It is in cross-country skiing and in biathlon that the largest number of dope cases occur.”
And while he was in favor of the IOC’s decision, he hoped the buck wouldn’t stop there.
“I’m happy that the IOC finally acted, but Russian skiers are still racing … and one in particular who wasn’t bad in Lahti,” he said, alluding to Sergey Ustiugov, who took gold or silver in all five races he competed in at Lahti World Championships.
“Ustiugov was young at the Sochi [Olympic Games], but he still reached the final in the sprint,” Harvey said. “Three of the top six men fell, but he was on his way to a podium that day. What the McLaren Report revealed was that the full team was involved in doping. But Ustiugov’s name never came out. And as long as his name doens’t come up, we can only have doubts.”
Meanwhile, the law firm representing Legkov and Belov is enraged, according to Nettavisen.
“The decision deserves the term scandal,” the Wieschemann firm stated in its press release on Wednesday. “[It] mocks the declaration of the President of the IOC, Dr. Thomas Bach, to decide only on the basis of secure evidence.”
While the IOC’s Disciplinary Commission (also referred to as the Oswald Commission) has yet to release its full decision and explain how it arrived at the final rulings, cases for 26 other Russian athletes (four of which are nordic skiers) who allegedly doped in Sochi are still pending, the CBC reported.
“The Oswald Commission has announced that all hearings for active athletes who could qualify for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 will be completed by the end of November,” the IOC stated.
As of Wednesday, exactly 100 days out from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, it remained unclear whether the commission obtained further evidence concerning Legkov and Belov beyond what was already presented to the CAS.
Wieschemann claims the commission ruled “without further investigation and without further evidence…”
“Denis Oswald still stated at the last summit of the IOC that his investigations would go far beyond those of Prof. Richard McLaren,” the firm’s press release stated. “Well that’s actually not the case. The investigation has only been limited to obtaining a new forensic opinion…”
And while some of the most outspoken individuals in the XC world continue to speak out, others are weighing in on social media as well.
“… It’s disturbing to find out that some athletes in cross-country skiing have likely doped, and have gone so long unpunished,” Caitlin Patterson of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project wrote on Facebook. “But it reminds me that we must be vigilant, keep looking for ways to support anti-doping testing programs, put pressure on governing bodies to take a stand for clean sport, educate ourselves on progress and pitfalls of the cause, and speak up when we can.
“I haven’t spoken much on this politicized topic, but recent news such as this disqualification makes me distinctly aware of how much I value clean sport and all it stands for,” Patterson, who has started 27 World Cup races, continued. “Thank you IOC for taking this step towards preserving clean sport! Let’s keep it going, keep the pressure on, and fight to #CompeteClean and #PlayTrue!”
Former U.S. skier Sylvan Ellefson, who retired in 2014 after racing 23 World Cups, took to Instagram: “Thankful that our @usnordicskiteam contingency all get to move up a couple spots, but I mostly feel for those who have always been moral in their decision making. Those who train and race relentlessly, with their head down, just to find out their competition is taking the easy road. I could go on, but nothing lights me up more than cheaters.”
— Chelsea Little, Harald Zimmer, Gavin Kentch, and François Léger Dionne contributed