The 2003 Nordic World Ski Championship started today in Val Di Fiemme, Italy, with the womens 15 km classical technique mass-start race. The story is again about blood values, even though I would like to first focus on the athletes and the event.
Mass Start of the Women's 15K. Photo from www.valdifiemme2003.com
The weather and skiing conditions are first class. Although the only snow at the venue is man-made, the skiing is perfect. The courses are hard, with many steep hills where only the best skiers can ski straight up, the rest herring-boning. The downhills are steep and technical as well, and quite “curvy” in many places.
The wax conditions for the race were fairly easy, with binder and blue/purple hardwax in temperatures around 15 – 20 degrees F.
The womens mass-start ended up being a race between Bente Skari, Norway, and Kristina Smigun, Estonia. Kristina and Bente skied away from the field already on the first of the three 5km laps. Russian Olga Savjalova stayed fairly close, but could not keep the pace on the second half of the race. On the last lap, we could see Bente gaining some distance on Katrina even on the flat sections, and got a gap midway on the last lap, winning in the end with a 13 second margin. Bente may be on her way to winning an unprecedented 6 golds in this Championship.
Wendy Wagner had a good race in 32nd place, just over 3 minutes behind.
The men are racing their 30 km mass-start tomorrow, with no clear favorite. The Estonian Veerpalu may be the favorite after winning last weekends World Cup race. Kris Freeman, the new US hotshot is not skiing the first race, resting up for the 15 km classical race in a few days.
As mentioned earlier, another sort of story emerged last night, when the Jury got word that two athletes had been measured with blood hemoglobin values above the allowed number. One of the implied nations, Finland, released a press-release explaining the situation. The rules are clear, not allowing the athletes start rights for a period of 5 days. The high blood value is not a proof of blood doping, but was explained by the Finish Team as being caused by using an altitude chamber/house (too much or too close to the race day). The athletes blood samples are also being further tested. More on that below.
The live TV coverage in Europe from the race was very successful, and even better and more exiting skiing is expected for the mens 30 km race next.
VAL DI FIEMME,Italy– Two cross-country skiers received five-day suspensions Tuesday from the world Nordic championships after a high level of hemoglobin was found in their blood.
Ski officials said Kaisa Varis of Finlandand Svetlana Nagejkina of Belaruswere not 'suspended for doping, but for their own health following pre-race blood tests. “It's not considered doping, it's for the protection of the athletes,” International Ski Federation (FIS) spokesman Toni Noetzli said. “It's the first time this winter.
“The Finns told me that Varis was training in an alpine room to simulate high altitude, and that may have affected her levels,” Noetzli said. “It's a common practice and it's not against the rules.”
Both skiers missed the 15-kilometer classical race Tuesday, and will also have to sit out the 10-kilometer freestyle event Thursday.
On Monday, FIS officials here unveiled their drug testing plans for the championships in a sport that has been blighted by several high-profile positive tests in recent years.
Officials seemed confident as they described an agreement with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to have an international team of eight doping experts on hand to observe the usual pre- and post-race blood and urine tests during the two-week championships.
Sweden's Bengt Saltin, one of the leading scientists involved in the fight against doping and a member of WADA, said the system would be more effective than the one used at the Olympics last year, where three cross-country skiers were stripped of their medals due to positive tests.
During the last world championships in 2001, six top Finnish skiers failed drugs tests on home snow in Lahti.
OFFICIALS UNVEIL ANTI-DOPING PLANS FOR NORDIC WORLDS
BY ANDREW DAMPF
Feb. 17, 2003Â
VAL DI FIEMME,Italy- International ski and doping officials unveiled their drug testing plans Monday for the nordic world ski championships, one of the centerpieces of a sport that has been plagued by several high-profile doping cases in the past few years. Officials seemed confident as they described an agreement with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to have an international team of eight doping experts on hand at the two-week event to observe the usual pre- and post-race blood and urine tests.
Sweden's Bengt Saltin, one of the leading scientists involved in the fight against doping and a member of WADA, said the system would be more effective than the one used at the Olympics last year, where three cross country skiers were stripped of their medals due to positive tests.
“The system is the same, but here we have an independent agency contracted by FIS (International Ski Federation), and together with WADA, we have a database that makes it easier for those doing the tests,” he said. “Since November 2001 we have five, maybe 10 blood tests on every skier, so we have a pretty good idea of what their normal level is.”
Testing will be carried out by International Doping Testing and Management, a professional agency, in conjunction with the Italian National Anti-Doping Agency.
There will be approximately 250 pre-race tests, plus post-race urine and blood exams on the top four finishers and a minimum of two random athletes after each cross country and nordic combined event.
It was post-race tests that resulted in the disqualification of Spain's Johann Muehlegg and Russians Larissa Lazutina and Olga Danilova from long-distance cross country races at the Olympics last year. All three athletes received two-year bans. And during the last world championships in 2001, six top Finnish skiers failed doping tests on home snow in Lahti.
The FIS said it now spends 1 million Swiss francs (US$730,000) annually on its fight against doping.
FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis dismissed talk that Saltin had a list of athletes he was targeting for abnormal blood levels in these championships.
“There have been a lot of questions about this so-called 'hit list,”' she said. “There are many lists, but there is only one important list – the list of all the athletes that have been tested – as far as FIS is concerned.”
Joseph Christian de Pencier, the director of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, is leading the WADA team of independent observers.
“It's a team of volunteers,” he said. “We report on our observation after the fact. We do not conduct doping controls, but by our presence we ensure that the tests are effective and without bias.
“FIS' efforts are among the leaders world wide, and that gives us faith that if there is a problem we know FIS deals with it,” he added.
The championships begin Tuesday and conclude March 1.Â Â