On Friday twenty coaches from seven teams, including Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Sweden, Norway, and the United States, held a meeting about their concerns over Russian doping.
Tension has been building steadily and surely since last season, when four Russian cross country skiers and three Russian biathletes tested positive for EPO – only the latest in a rash of charges against Russian athletes since 2001. Last spring when high-profile racers Yevgeny Dementiev (one Olympic gold) and Julia Tchepelova (three Olympic golds) were sentenced with a two year ban from competition for their positive tests in January, the outcry from the nordic community was even louder due to the fact that these skiers had been successful for so long and had followed on the coattails of a number of other Russian doping charges. After this, even the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) voiced its concern over Russian national testing procedures, and called for a change in the system.
For coaches of athletes who are working hard and racing clean, it is frustrating to think that there may be a country whose athletes are doping – and not being caught. The fact that there were no drug tests at the World Cup opener last weekend in Beitostollen made many people angry and only added to the growing frustration among clean athletes and their coaches.
This is why Justin Wadsworth, former US Olympic Ski Team member and currently on the US Ski Team World Cup staff, decided to organize a meeting of nations to discuss concerns over Russian doping trends and strategize possible actions. Wadsworth was moved to action because he felt that there were many people talking about the issue, but the talk was too quiet and too discreet. He had been communicating with the Norwegian and Swiss coaches for some time, and said the goal of Friday’s meeting was to get the other nations on the same page. Wadsworth hopes that the coaches will approach the head of FIS Nordic skiing, Vegard Ulvang, with their individual concerns and also that they will get their own federations to approach the FIS about taking stronger measures to ensure fair testing up until the Vancouver Olympics.
The president of the FIS, Gian-Franco Kasper, is also a member of the International Olympic committee and WADA. He stated, on Saturday, that if there were any further charges against the Russians there would be sanctions against the nation.
But is this strong enough action?
Perhaps not for Dave Wood, head coach of the Canadian National Team and long-time advocate of greater doping controls at the international level, who told the Canadian Press in an interview that the Russians may need to be disqualified from the Olympics, in light of the fact that “It’s an annual event in the spring that there is a list of Russians disqualified.” Wood also adds, “It’s discouraging because our people are being tested two or three times a month and you go outside of the country and people are doing nothing.”
On their side, the Russian federation is not apologizing. Georgy Mnatsakanov, general secretary of the Russian Ski Federation, contends that the issue is only with a couple individuals, and not with the whole Russian ski team. Addressing concerns with the cleanliness of Russian athletes Mnatsakanov told the Canadian press “They are participating in a competition, they are being tested and if it’s OK then it’s OK, we don’t need external trust or distrust.”
David Howman, director general of WADA, ensures that there are measures in place to get the Russian system of drug testing up to speed and make it a more viable process. He believes that after signing a contract three weeks ago, the Russian Federation will “learn how to run an effective program.”
Vidar Lofshus, assistant coach to the Norwegian national team, has his misgivings about the current FIS doping protocols, telling the Canadian press, “I just wish the process of the International Ski Federation was a bit faster.”