NewsOpinionUS Ski TeamWorld CupThe US Doper Problem

FasterSkier FasterSkierApril 15, 200922

The US Nordic community has a doper problem. The problem is that we have a tendency to allow dopers to occupy too much of our field of vision. Doping alone has never made a winner, and if we want to improve our results we need to be prepared to learn winning ways from winners.

Simply put, as a nation we haven’t done very well. We’ve got very large participation – we’re one of the “big” markets in the world. We’ve got well developed programs for all ages. But we have very poor results compared with much of the world. As I’ve watched Kris Freeman strive toward international success and as I’ve tried to contribute to his efforts, I’ve come to realize that there is more to winning races than simply becoming the fittest guy out there. Our skiers consistently under-deliver on their physical potential against international competition. We need to be focusing on a better understanding of the sport and what it takes to deliver medal-worthy performances. I think many of us, myself included, have been too quick to vilify dopers – to place cheaters as an obstacle in our path to success.

My suggestion is not to ignore the dopers. I believe we need to study and understand the procedures and processes currently used by cheaters in our sport. Only by understanding the advantage the dopers have can we understand the deficit that we need to make up in our pursuit of podium results. We need to pay attention to the nations and individuals we suspect of cheating, and we need to pay attention to their results. I believe the picture that emerges from this examination is one of a few very suspicious successful athletes, and a much larger number of very suspicious mediocre athletes. Looking at the season-long World Cup results, or even just at major championship results, I believe that there are plenty of successful athletes we have no reason to suspect of cheating. While it is indisputable that doping practices can give an unfair advantage, it’s also indisputable that winners have other qualities, whether they’re cheating or not. Doping alone has never won medals.

When Kris was fourth at World Championships this year he told me that when he’s that close to real success, when he feels that the best are beatable, it’s easy to believe that they may not be cheaters. What is clear for Kris, as it is for the rest of the World Cup field, is that the difference between his best performance and an average performance is huge. Kris’s 15K in Liberec was between one and two percent better than any other race he had this season. That’s 30 to 45 seconds in a 15K – the difference between 4th and 16th, or the difference between a win and a top-10. If Kris has a bad day, he can be minutes back. This is true for the entire field – a bad day can be quite bad. I’m not aware of any other endurance sport where the difference between a good day and a bad day is as large. Success in cross country ski racing is all about delivering good days.

We have a tendency to focus on the measurable physiological characteristics of successful athletes. This is natural, but it fails to paint a complete picture of success. While it’s a sure bet that a World Cup winner will have a pretty darned high maximal VO2, there is no way to predict results from a population of elite skiers based on testing uptake. My personal observation is that peak performances in different sports depend on different factors. In skiing a great performance depends on having access to really high energy. This is hardly a measurable scientific variable – but it’s an observable fact. A winning performance is always a notably energetic performance – watching Kris race World Cups it’s easy to see when he’s nailing it, and when he’s going to be one or two percent off.

While we can’t necessarily measure or document “energy”, I’m convinced that we need to focus much more attention on the ability to bring peak energy to races.  Sure – fitness is first. You can’t be successful without great fitness. But I’ve watched endless cases where guys with demonstrably great training practices and fantastic fitness fundamentally fail to delivery winning performances, even against their “lesser” teammates. We can’t afford to ignore fitness, and as a population we need to produce fitter athletes across the board. But we need to focus more attention on developing good racers rather than developing good trainers.

What does this have to do with dopers? Not terribly much – and that’s my point. The goal has to be delivering peak performances when it counts. Nobody on this planet is good enough to win an Olympic medal without a peak race effort. Dopers may have a leg-up on delivering that peak performance, but it’s still a skill that must be learned and developed. Plenty of dopers never make it. Andrus Veerpalu has an astonishing record of producing winning performances. Many of us have been skeptical of him for a long time, and he’s recently been named in the humanplasma doping scandal. But there’s more to learn from a guy like Veerpalu than just where to get help with transfusions. While he may deserve to be stripped of all his medals, he is probably the single most talented big race skier in the last ten years. If we allow the suspicion of doping to stand as an obstacle to beating him then we’ll never succeed. When Kris heard that Veerpalu had been named his first reaction was to ask whether his medal from Liberec would be stripped. There is no chance that Veerpalu will have any medals taken from him unless he confesses to something.  FIS will not pursue this matter. Kris was disappointed – “damn, I want a medal” he said. Well, he can get a medal but it’s going to come in the future, and to do it he’s going to have to beat a bunch of guys, many of whom will be cheating.

Dopers don’t have the answer – they have a shortcut that may get them a little closer to the goal. We don’t need to have all the cheaters identified and removed in order to succeed. We need to find the answer that all winners have found. A handful of Americans have stumbled upon the answer at times. Kris did in 2003. Bill Koch did in 1976. Reproducing that first breakthrough performance can be a hard thing. Kochie finally won the World Cup overall six years after his Olympic medal. Kris produced his second 4th place World Championship result six years after his first. Until we find a way to reproduce these performances without wasting six years trying we’ll have a hard time in this sport. While we don’t have many potential Olympic medalists in this country, we’ve got plenty of athletes who can be regular point-getters on the World Cup. Until these skiers can deliver their best performances when it counts, there will be no path to success for developing athletes. If we can’t reach a better understanding of this sport then our best hope for success will be the next lightning strike that comes along.

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22 comments

  • Avatar
    davidf2d

    April 15, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    I think you have hit the nail on the head. I’m not sure if you can “train” someone to be bigger on the big stage. In every sport, there’s always a few who rise to the occassion. Michael Jordan comes to mind. But to be successful, we can try to understand as best we can how to “bring it” more consistently.
    Maybe with the World Cup having more races and more min-Tours which are extra stressful, there isn’t really a way to always be on.
    David Lovgren

  • Avatar
    Cloxxki

    April 15, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Nice write-up Zach.
    A thing often kept silent, out of ignorance or hoping for the competition’s ignorance, is legal additives.
    Each athlete responds differently to specific additives, but some are bound to bost performance, just like no-one takes just pure water for long endurance racing anyone, and everyone knows how they react to proteins. And, there is more.
    The optimal mix of additives for a given athlete will never be found, and I do believe the amount of gain will offer diminishing returns as you use more of them. Surely, a “lazy” athlete’s drup like EPO or CERA cannot be substituted for pure accute performance gain by legal addives one would have no problem of showing in the kitchen cabinet to a visiting anti-doping tester. But there’s gain to be had there.
    To find what works for an individual athlete takes time. As much as figuring out good waxing. And it may even cost the same. But it’s a legal performance enhancer, and hardly a health hazard when done sensibly. Make sure what you use is pure though. A favorite race booster is d-ribose. Harmless, boringly legal, but significant. Only to be used for races, or when you need quick recovery to be manage more volume, both in a race as on a week.

    The lazy dopers that are inevitably eventually caught for EPO or blood transfusions are probably not prepared to take their time and figure out what works for them. Rather a half shot of easy EPO than a carefully devised “cocktail” that performs just as “poorly”.

    I’ll just state the obvious, that additives also cannot bridge a lack in training, or inefficient training for that matter. But when you’re platoing, you may want to consider what many non-doping, unquestioned Olympic medaillists are silently doing. It’s not like doping, but it gets the best out of you, and it lets you sleep better at night. And hey, isn’t sleep a key performance factor?

  • Avatar
    ianharvey

    April 16, 2009 at 9:07 am

    I agree with the idea that we need to avoid focusing on the excuse that others are doping and this is why we can expect to fall short. We do need to train and prepare like the contests are fair.

    That said, it is unfair to our athletes and Nordic community to write off the effect of doping. We are measured not by our speed, but by our speed compared to the competition. If the competition is doped and skiing that much faster, we can be “winning” and finish in the teens even. This is a simple fact.

    For those head in the sand types, I tell you to simply look at the Russian biathlon team’s results this winter. They were doped up, 3 got caught, they backed off to avoid further scandal and then with the exception of one athlete, the entire team was dramatically slower (from end of January through the end of the season). You name Veerpalu as a “big race skier” and say that our athletes need to strive to be more like him. Heck, he’s the last one that we should use as an example. He is clearly a big race skier because of his medical preparation which he uses soley for the big races. In general, he doesn’t contest the races that are not “big”.

    It would be great if cross country skiing were like running on a track, so we could simply focus on our times and use objective measurements. Max VO2 tests and fall uphill running tests are not this though. In the winter, after a ski race, we not able to say, “It is a fact that although I didn’t get a great result today, I skied the fastest that I have ever skied and thus had a successful day. Somehow the competition skied dramatically faster, but I had my best day ever.” In track and field, you can do this (like swimming) which is great and offers something that we can’t take advantage of.

    US results have climbed dramatically as WADA and FIS started catching people. There are less options open to dopers/cheaters. That said, there are still tons of options that offer a huge leg up such as Human Growth Hormones, Insulin, blood transfusions, as well as changing the method of administering EPO (and its variants) and Testosterone such that they are not picked up in the tests. You might ask how someone could be so stupid as to take EPO or Testosterone as it can now clearly be detected? It is because they do microdoses (and have been for many years) without detection. Sometimes they do get caught though either in the case of a testing improvement or a mistake on the cheater’s end.

    Yes, focus on achievement and not making excuses. Yes, focus on positive things that we can change such as our own abilities. Recognize though that results are dependent on how others ski (and prepare). We need to be fair to our athletes when we assess their results which we do after every race.

  • Avatar
    nordic_dave

    April 16, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Yes I think you have a very good point Mr. Caldwell.

    However getting past admiring the problem and getting past random success, what are your suggestions for solutions?

    Ian made some nice comments and I think Ian is very informed
    on the subject matter. He did make a comparison to runners and swimmers. Well back in the day East German female swimmers were freak shows, where is this type of program now? How about Waldemier Cerpinksi of yes again the DDR, showing up out of no where upstaging Frank Shorter for the Gold in the marathon at Montreal in ’76? Fact is, those finite measurable times and results would not compare well to today’s performances and results in Swimming and Distance running (not sprinting), two pretty clean sports compared to other sports.

    So yes you are right we can evolve, we can win without doping and yes it will take numbers in terms of more talent coming up through the system, training correctly, racing the right races with good coaching.

    That’s were you come in. How often are coaches collaborating and communicationg on best practices? Yes many basic concepts are currently shared widely on physiology, technique. Yet for example, I am aware Kris Freeman has some usual training habits. How do these unusual training habits best prepare him for the rigors of the WC season? There probably is no absolute right way in terms of every athlete duplicating the training of another succesul athlete, yet understanding what works for Kris as opposed to another succesful athlete would quite possibly be interesting reading and helpful for many.
    This type of discussion has gone on for many years in other sports. I see very little of it here, it would appear more like everyone in the U.S. is still trying to figure it out.

    Another example of training concepts, it would appear from comments made by some informed coaches that our talented youth skiers simply haven’t prepared themselves on a gradual systematic basis to train the bigger volume hours required to compete at the next level. Then to speculate further, making this adjustment once making the USST is simply lost opportunity in terms of development.

    Yes I agree with you, we have a robust cross country ski market
    here in the U.S. yet we simply aren’t there yet in consistently finding the podium in Cross Country yet Nordic Combined is a fascinating story that should also be told as to how we succeeded there in a sport much less main stream in comparison. It is nice to know though that we do have more skiers getting into the red group and some Development team skiers knocking on the door.

  • Avatar
    genegold

    April 16, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    In his comments, Ian Harvey says we need to avoid focusing on doping as an excuse and then proceeds to focus solely on it. The statistical hole in his argument is that, as Zach has implicitly suggested, unless you look at the results posted by the whole pool of dopers, and compare them with those of the pool of non-dopers, one’s conclusions are necessarily biased (distorted) toward known podium cases. Since there’s awfully good reason to believe that many of the leading pack week-in week-out, including podium finishers, are playing it straight, it does no good to blame one’s not being among them very often on doping.

    Similarly, Ian claims that “US results have climbed dramatically as WADA and FIS started catching people.” To the extent that those results have dramaticaly improved – and how much of that is natural variation and statistical artifact? – an apparent relationship between increased testing vs. results only establishes a statistical correlation of some magnitude, not a cause and effect relationship. There are lots of other factors involved, not the least of which was the coincidence of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah and the much greater and more coordinated attention to elite and youth development programs nationally, both leading up to it and continuing over the past decade.

    In the process of transferring VHS tapes to computer today, I was watching Lee Borowski’s skating video, in which he explains why he reluctantly included many shots of Muhlegg at the SLC Olympics: simply put, his technique was superb. That’s how I take Zach’s example of Veerpalu (on the possibility he’s been doping). American skiers’ performances – and thus international results – will be no better than how well they learn, individually and collectively, what it takes to deliver top level performances more consistently.

    I appreciate Zach’s posing the issue publicly, opening a national discussion without trying to prejudice it by suggesting answers (to the extent he has any in mind).

  • Avatar
    PixelPaul

    April 17, 2009 at 8:21 am

    “Swimming and Distance running (not sprinting), two pretty clean sports compared to other sports.”

    You’re kidding right?

  • Avatar
    Mike Trecker

    April 17, 2009 at 8:41 am

    It seems to me that this is a healthy discussion but I take exception to one comment by Nordic Dave who states that distance running and swimming are two fairly clean sports compared to others. This statement is completely unfair and untrue. Both of these sports have had their fair share of problems, the governing bodies of these sports just do a better job of protecting their own interests and sweeping controversy under the rug, something cycling got away with through the turn of the century. In fact the Omerta, or Code of Silence in cycling is so strong that the many positives that have come to light only scratch the surface of an entire culture so deep rooted that it will be nearly impossible to get rid of.

    Just last summer several Russian distance runners were withheld from the Beijing Games for doping and let’s not forget the Chinese swimmers from a few years ago who broke every world record available by such margins that the whole world knew, KNEW they were doped. When accused, the Chinese cited “phylosophical differences” in a sense saying, if you’re not doping, you’re not trying hard enough.

    The fact is every sport has it’s cheats whether it’s doping or lowering your NASCAR ride 1/2″ for an unfair aerodynamic advantage. If you want to play and you want to play fair, somehow you have to get past the fact that there are cheats out there every day, and you need to go out there and do what you need to do to beat them down. It can be done. Zach’s main point is how to repeat these times when it did happen?

  • Avatar
    dorcas

    April 17, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Back to Zach’s main point – How do you bring peak energy into every fight, (race) for a medal? Galanes and Estle pointed out our lack of it to Leslie, Ingrid, Nina and me years ago – “you girls are too nice. Someone hups you and you say “excuse me!” and get out of the way. Where’s your fight?” “What are we supposed to say?” asked Leslie, jokingly “Out of my way, B@#$%!” ?!
    Well, YES! At the WC level it’s a fight. It requires an Attitude. Not excuses.
    Look at the time and text you’ve wasted above. Leave it to Marty, the labs and the lawyers. Our athletes are better served focusing on finding their own Fight to win races.
    Time well spent is reading Terry Orlick’s, In Pursuit of Excellence, to study how to replicate peak performances.

  • Avatar
    ianharvey

    April 17, 2009 at 10:01 am

    The reason I am writing back in again is because I have an interest in defending our athletes. I was one and remember returning home after having some of the best races in my life to comments about how we “really sucked” over there (Europe). And then of course you have average races at US Nationals, “kill it”, and everybody talks about how awesome you did and how come you didn’t ski like that in Europe?

    The one point I wanted to make is that doping is still being done. Please reread my entry. There are NO legitimate tests for some of the most effective substances that are used to cheat, such as Human Growth Hormone. There are methods for taking other banned substances which make them slightly less effective, but thus avoid detection. This still gives significant advantage. These substances can be taken during training and during the racing season to give significant advantage throughout the entire season especially in distance races. They backed off for a bit from around 2002 to 2004, but now the testing technology is back to being predictable, for now at least. It is also in the FIS (and UCI, IBU, FINA, and other governing bodies) interest not to have positive tests. I also know of instances where positive tests were covered up by the international (not national) agencies to avoid bad PR. I’ve written the FIS numerous times and tried to pressure them to expose them. One such instance was in December of 2001 when a few Russians (in addition to a number of other top athletes) tested positive in Davos, but were not suspended or even recognised. Why do you think Beckie Scott was awarded the Gold medal after having finished in Bronze position? It was not due to the tests at the 2002 OWG, but rather because these December tests were made public in a private way and it came out that Danilova and Lazutina should not have been allowed to start in the 2002 OWG. I hassled Sarah Lewis the FIS General Secretary and the doctor who caught the Russians and who told about it in a German newspaper specifically regarding this in early January 2002 and told many Americans about this exact thing as well as told them about some other positives that came to light later.

    We are not talking about the Nordic culture that we have in North America. This is serious business over there. Skiing is a way to a better life and a way not just to make a name for yourself, but a way to support your family. Entire teams and individuals are doing what they “need to do” and this is normal in their culture.

    Why is it that so many countries often have 2-3 or more “medical support” people traveling with them in skiing too? Some of these people are from cycling! For example, the doctors that took care of the Germans in the 90s (referred to as the “Freiburg Mafia” by many in Germany) were behind Telekom’s doping scandal during the late 90s. Same with Muehlegg’s doctor. Same with the Italians. Don’t even get me started with the Russians. We are talking about the same people and the same technology and methods. You may have heard about Italy’s Professor Conconi who was hired by the UCI to find a solution for the EPO problems in the peleton. It turns out that he was the main doping doctor at the time and records of him doping the Italian team during the time that they won their famous Olympic relay in Lillehammer were found on his computer. What did the ski public do though? They ignorantly celebrated this “victory”. Get your heads out of the sand!! Ski results are all relative.

    There is so much information on this all out there that you simply don’t know, but you are all acting like you know what you are talking about and it is aggravating because you are being unfair to the top North American skiers who ARE among the best in the world. This is very unpopular news of course as people don’t want to believe it, which I understand, but I think we need to recognize it, have our eyes open, try our best, and do it OUR way (common sense, science, hard work, and innovation).

    I am not dwelling on doping. I don’t even think about it despite this knowledge. I love skiing and ski racing. I hope to be healthy enough to ski the rest of my life. This factor just needs to be recognized and accounted for by our national teams’ support group (the skiing public). We should be rooting for and supporting North American skiers for many reasons, this is one of them.

  • Avatar
    ianharvey

    April 17, 2009 at 11:32 am

    How many of you readers knew that there were 5 positive A samples from 5 different World Cup cross country skiers this winter whose B samples were “mishandled” and thus no results or names are available? All 5 started in Liberec at the World Championships. I think it is pretty clear that a few of these 5 won Cross Country medals in Liberec. Kris Freeman was 4th. “Man, that guy just can’t get up for the big races” (It was his second time finishing 4th in World Championships). Wake up! He almost certainly was one of the top 3 clean finishers. The aforementioned Veerpalu “got up” for the race and won. Remember, this guy has been linked to doping a couple of times including to the Austrian lab recently.

  • Avatar
    Mike Trecker

    April 17, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Let’s recall further the results from the 2002 Olympic Men’s 15k Classic where Veerpalu won and Jaek Mae was 3rd. I remember distinctly the dis-belief of the Norwegians who were looking at the results on the big board and shaking their heads in amazement at the same time I was. But I also remember how proud I was for our team that year. So many of our athletes had their best races ever during these Games and that nearly made me forget that cheaters even exist. We know that the testers can’t catch everyone but we can also accentuate the positive if we wish.

  • Avatar
    Mike Trecker

    April 17, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    By the way, as we discuss this topic American cyclist Tyler Hamilton has tested positive for a second time and retired from cycling. I bring this up because another issue we now have to deal with is the fact that the other sporting nations around the world no longer trust our quality results as clean. The following is a direct quote from someone who just posted his comments on Yahoo Eurosport regarding Tyler…..

    “cheat and illegal doping throughout his life followed­ by denial and liers – exactly the same as his­ countryman ARMSTRONG and the other drug taking American­ cheat who won the Tour De France…same as their­ athletic sprinters – steroids and drug taking are­ almost compulsory in US sport not to mention baseball,­ american football and basketball. Not only in sports – ­ It’s not for nothing they are the world’s­ biggest market for cocaine and heroin, it’s­ embedded in their culture now same as firing your gun,­ teaching your 8 year old brat to do the same and then­ crowing on about how it’s your right to defend­ yourself and your freedom – sickos….then they scratch­ their heads and wonder why some fruitcake goes loopy­ ats chool and shoots dead 20-30 classmates.” – quote from Eurosport Cycling blogger

    So we have to be honest with ourselves along these lines as well. Even though we all believe our athletes to be clean, there is enough precedent of American cheaters to cast doubt on our results when we do well. We have also had several high hemoglobin tests come back at especially in-opportune times and these have knocked our reputation back a couple of rungs. And we still have the Kerry Lynch debacle to deal with and the echoes it still brings. One thing I would highly encourage is that our own staff make damn sure we have had the last of high hemoglobin results, whether it’s de-hydration or improper use of an altitude chamber, we can’t afford it.

  • Avatar
    nordic_dave

    April 17, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    No I’m not kidding you look at who’s WINNING in Distance Running and Swimming and tie doping to it. Good luck in your search. That would be podiums in World Championships and Olympics medals stripped by WADA. Oh, LOL, almost forgot Mr. Phelps used dope alright yet it would be pretty hard to state that it was performance enhancing. Russian swimmer who was ranked umm where? Which proves Zach’s point and the discussion at hand.

    Thanks Dorcas for the book ref.

  • Avatar
    Douglas Diehl

    April 17, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    I have to appreciate Ian’s frustration with Doping on the World Cup Circuit. As a former Olympian and with connections through his business he has a keen knowlege of whats happening on the WC Circuit. To be clear what he said in his first post was we shouldn’t focus on Doping but we shouldn’t lose sight of it either. Personnaly I don’t think US Ski Team Members are dweling on who is Doping on the WC. They focus on becoming better and faster. However for them and all of us I think these time bombs which keep being uncovered in the world of Doping is facinating. There are twist and turns with who is involved. The bottom line is we want the bad guys to get caught. Isn’t that how the story should end. Keeping the discussion about Doping alive is paramount to the sport. That being said I would rather hear about Doping versus what we’ve heard from the US Ski Team since the departure of Koch, Caldwell, Gallenes (sp?), and Simmeneau (sp?). Sure it’s a miracle these guys showed up during the same time. What we hear now is our skiers don’t travel well, they have jet lag, they need to adjust to the food, they are soft track skiers, they are hard track skiers, ect. Take a guy like Ivan Bobikov. He flies from Canada to Europe. The next morning he’s in the top 15 in a WC race. At the Tour De Ski he had the fastest uphill skate the final day after being sick all week. Either this guy travels well, forgets he is sick, or he’s got the drive and guts to push through. Our own former Head Coach Trond Nystad said in a interview after leaving the team our skiers weren’t committed to training 800+ hours a year. He said their hours were filled with fluff. Perhaps we should play hard ball with our skiers like the German Team model. If you don’t perform you’re gone. Axel Teichman a skier who won the WC overall and on any given day can slaughter the field was left off the team a few seasons ago. As far as ideas I like what Zach said. Perhaps we can put an emphasis on guiding our skiers to become pyschologically stronger skiers. I would think in this realm of human determination a skier can find the 1%-2% which will put them on the podium. However after watching the video of Kris Freeman skiing the 15km Classic at the Worlds, it’s hard to imagine the guy could put in a more gutsy effort. Thats my two cents.

  • Avatar
    caldxski

    April 18, 2009 at 7:00 am

    I first went to Europe as a rookie coach in 1966 when I headed–all alone– the FIS Team to Oslo. We had five guys. Women weren’t on the scene. We had a manager, no doctor. We shared a fairly crappy, old rooming house with the Russians. The Cold War being in the Norwegians’ minds, they said they did not want to appear to favor either country at these championships and so we both got the least good accommodations in town. It worked out well for us because the Russians shared their staff with us, especially their masseur, who gave all the guys massages.

    Some of the team had raced in Europe before and so before the first race I asked them who they wanted splits on. One or two wanted splits on their teammates and I knew we were in trouble. I told them we didn’t come to Norway to race each other and so we eventually settled on the East Germans. It was a good match-up and along the way we got to know some of their team, guys like Klause and Grimmer.

    Two years later we went to Grenoble for the Games, same splits, same two teams basically, and we weren’t embarrassed by the DDR.

    Then came Czechoslovakia in 1970. Again, basically the same two teams, figuring on the same splits. First race I’m out on the course and in checking my first split I thought my watch was screwed up or I figured on the wrong start time for someone. Next split, worse! It didn’t take long to figure out that we were being totally outclassed by the DDR guys.

    After that race I skied around the stadium and talked to a bunch of coaches that I knew well by know, using my best fractured German, “Was gibt mit DDR?” To a man they all looked around to see who was watching, then rolled up their sleeves and pretended to do an injection.

    So there it was, right out in the open. Naturally, there had been rumors long before, years before in fact, not just about the DDR, but other countries as well. But here the jump in results was so startling as to give the game away.

    I’ve always figured there at least three things we can do about the drug scene in skiing. We can try to adopt it, but I know of no one who would favor that. I surely don’t. Next, we can wimper about it and use it as an excuse and sort of give up. Well, that’s never been my forte. Finally, we can take advantage of it, get a bit pissed off and work like hell to beat the cheaters. This is clearly what many other countries have done. The doping actually raised the bar for cross-country racing. How to beat the cheaters is I think what Zach was talking about. Unfortunately, too much of the discussion has degenerated into who’s doping, what good results are, how good our skiers really are, and so on.

    Until I’m convinced that our skiers are training harder (especially more hours) than I think they are AND that they have learned to ski technically well, I will consider statements about our prowess, about our having some of the best skiers in the world but they’re being pushed down the ladder by the dopers, etc., as self-defeating. This sort of talk sounds too much like an excuse. Are we accusing the Swedes and the Norwegians of doping? They generally trounce almost all our skiers. How about Babikov, Kershaw and Harvey of Canada? These guys doping? I doubt it and so we should ask what the story is here instead of talking about doping. How are these skiers doing it?

    We can get into arguments on what constitutes good results, so let’s look at our US distance skiers, men’s division. (Most of the world focuses on these skiers, while we in the US have focussed on the sprints of late.) If there’s anyone in the US who can hold a candle to Kris Freeman, I ‘d like to meet him. The rest of our field is distant! We need to ask ourselves why we don’t have more Kris Freemans. (His medical problems may actually help him better focus on big event races since he’s into the business of listening to his body. Someone suggested Zach supply info on Freeman’s training program and I think most of us know that has been forthcoming, almost to the point of boredom.)

    We can go back–and I know you younger folks hate this–to around 1982, long after acknowledged doping was taking place and look at the club of Caldwell, Galanes, Koch and Simoneau. If these guys were doping–they were all in the Red group–it sure fooled me and would have to be classed as the most successful, undiscovered drug program in the world. The team didn’t even have a doctor along on their trips to the WC events and to the FIS in Oslo in 1982.

    The same question comes up again–how did these guys do it? I can tell you that they trained damned hard and skied damned well and knew how to get up for races. After we can get our skiers into this mode we can start paying attention to less important items which often deflect us too much these days, such as equipment, waxes, pole lengths, proper clothing, levels one through five or whatever, charts, graphs, pulse rate monitors, snow conditions, specialty events, doping, etc. Yup, sounds old-fashioned and that’s exactly what it is. But it works.

    John Caldwell

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    Tim Kelley

    April 19, 2009 at 11:17 am

    This comment thread is typical of fasterskier: off-topic nordie-nerd babble, off-topic nordie-nerd babble, off-topic nordie-nerd babble and then … a succinct, on-topic, well written, dripping with intelligence and insight post is made by – John Caldwell. This makes one wonder – why the heck doesn’t John Caldwell have a blog on fasterskier? Is it because he can write well? Is it because he is way smarter than the average FS blogger? Age discrimination? Is it an aversion to knowing about mistakes skiers made in the past (so the same mistakes can be repeated by future generations of xc skiers)? We shouldn’t have to wade through off-topic comments to read the good stuff JC has to say. He should be a featured FS blogger (IMO).

  • FasterSkier
    FasterSkier

    April 20, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Tim – I have asked John if he would like to have a blog on FS. There is no discrimination here. At various times during the last few years we have been more and less proactive in pursuing new bloggers. If anyone ever has a suggestion for a potential blogger, I want to hear it. We have been a little lees enthusiastic about adding more bloggers, as we have had issues with follow through – I’m sure you have noticed that many of our bloggers rarely, if ever post. Given the set-up work, etc, we have generally put our time in to other areas. But if John wants a blog, it is his for the taking!

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    davidf2d

    April 22, 2009 at 7:07 am

    Remember the Ben Johnson inquiry in Canada ( my country)? Goes to show, no one has a monopoly on “of course we’re above suspicion”. I ski for fun, but I have a hobby where I’m quite competitive. No money or fame but it’s fun to do. I wass told that it’s not cheating unless you get caught. If the judges allow it, or don’t catch it, why not do it? After all WINNING IS ALL THAT MATTERS. It’s not just the Nordic ski community that has a problem with cheaters. Ian Harvey is dead on. There’s an awful lot of test result suppression going on. There was an article recently where one of the top guys in the EPO field said that several World Cup champs were either dopers or hamsters based on their blood genetics. First gen EPO was grown in hamster cells. Now we’re on third gen. Ironically the main one is called CERA! Use the stuff for your skis, not your blood! Essentially, you can test positive every day of the year. The testers have to be able to name the exact drug with absolute confidence. So, you just buy one variant after another from Chinese and Indian drug labs and they have no official name and therefore your test is labeled not positive for a banned drug. Virpi Kuitinen’s personal coach has a life time ban from the FIS yet in Finland he’s still allowed to coach etc. Oh, but of course, she’s completely above reproach. At least Canada gave lifetime bans to guys like “Chemical Charlie” and enforced them.

    I suspect that there have been many similar discussions such as this in the Swedish ski community, because their team has been pretty sad for a while and they are supposed to be the cradle of Nordic!

    Doping exists. People are disadvantaged by the cheats. The FIS sure downplayed Beckie Scott being the real winner because Russia is a bigger player than Canada. But, to blame all bad results on doping is also not much use. There needs to be healthy discussion as to why results aren’t better, and how to best go about changing that. I don’t think going back to how things were done in 1980 has any value. Look at the storms over Helgerud’s recent articles and comments about Vegard Ulvang for proof training methods move onwards.

    As always, if you don’t like what you’re reading, change the channel, don’t piss on those doing the talking unless you’ve got some earth shattering to say.
    David Lovgre

  • FasterSkier
    FasterSkier

    April 22, 2009 at 9:49 am

    One thing that is important to remember is that due process and individual’s rights must be protected. It is better to have overly strict requirements for testing then to have false positives. A positive test could ruin an athlete’s career – labs and protocols need to be held to a very high standard. That isn’t to say that the system is perfect (or even working well) – mishandling of samples and suppression of results is unacceptable, but we need to avoid witch hunts and a culture of guilty until proven innocent.

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    Jamey Holstein

    April 25, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    real simple, and work in other sports:

    Ya form a pro league, the athletes perform to standards, and get paid (as they should) well for doing well, and you loose your contracts if you do not perform. If you are 25 years old and still have not performed to several top 30 placings per year in 5km or longer, or are not consistently within 7% or so of the winner, during a full season of racing, move over and lets spend the money on somebody who can possibly get on podiums.

    Sorry, Canada is going to kill us in next Olys because they have a much stronger governing body with a stronger commitment to x-c ski racing and getting more kids per capita involved.

    USST and USSA has had 30 years to make a winning team and they have not been able to. They have a good x-c coaching staff, but lousy funding when compared to total funds raised by the organization. As Donald Trump says…”your fired”. Give the NGB status to APU, CXC, or NENSA for 15 years and see what happens – THEY care only about OUR sport.

    BTW, “Best in the World” is a scary-good marketing slogan and I hope the USSA marketing firm got a good bonus for that.

    Let the girls jump in the Olys or we should boycott! Grow a pair!

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    jmeserve

    April 28, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Great Points JC. You need to take fskier up on its offer and write a regular column. Thanks!

    Jeff

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