Doping Allegations Continue to haunt Finnish National Team
The International Ski Federation notified the Finnish Ski Association on Wednesday that one of their athletes had failed a drug test during the World Championships in Val Di Fiemme, Italy. The timing could not have been worse for the Finnish team personnel, who have worked hard for the past two years to rebuild their national program after the great scandal of the 2001 Lahti World Championships. Both the FIS and the Finnish Federation are awaiting the results of the second, B-test before revealing the name of the athlete in question. That test should be ready on March 17th.
Team officials have identified the skier as a woman, and frantic work by the Finnish News Bureau (FNB) has lead to the conclusion that Kaisa Varis is most likely the one. FIS rules prohibit an athlete from competing while awaiting the outcome of a B-test (after first failing the A-test). All the Finnish skiers who are currently in Norway are cleared to compete in this weekend’s World Cup, and Varis is the only female skier from the World Championship team who had not traveled to Norway. Varis has also had a shadow of suspicion hanging over her since she was prevented from racing in the World Championship’s opening 15 km race due to a high hematocrit level. High heatomcrit does not necessarily mean an athlete is doped, and Varis subsequently passed a test that was administered on that day. At the time, Varis blamed her high â€˜crit level on a miscalculation and overuse of an altitude tent.
The latest news could spell disaster for the Finnish national ski team. The Finnish government’s investigatory committee has suspended all state aid to the federation, and it is unlikely that the Finnish team will be represented in either of the next two World Cup weekends—including the races next weekend in Lahti. Finnish Ski President Seppo Rehunen had given his personal guarantee that Finnish skies were clean during the Val di Fiemme Worlds. â€œIt is like a slap in the face,â€ he told reporters Friday. â€œI will gladly resign if it helps.â€
Another front figure who anticipates resigning is team head coach Reijo JylhÃ¤. â€œThis is a terrible situation for the skiers. I think it can be the end for Finnish cross-country skiing. It will take at least ten years to build up again the effort after this,â€ JylhÃ¤ told NRK reporters. â€œI will need to find a new job. I am out of work. After the Lahti World Championship I have put my soul into cleaning up the doping,â€ said a disappointed JylhÃ¤. When asked if he had any responsibility in the situation, he replied â€œNo, this happened far from my control.â€
Just prior to the start of the World Championships in Lahti, the international racing community learned that Kais Varis and Kari-Pekka KyrÃ¶ were dating. KyrÃ¶ was the national team head coach during the 2001 season, and has been directly implemented in the purchasing and administering of the banned substance HES to Finnish skiers. Both the FIS and the Finnish Federation had banned KyrÃ¶ from any involvement in ski racing, so it came as quite a shock that Varis would allow herself to be connected to KyrÃ¶ in any way. Neither Varis nor KyrÃ¶ could be reached for comment. KyrÃ¶ had been scheduled to participate in a TV program Friday evening, but had canceled the appearance even before news of the test results were made public for â€œpersonal resons.â€