The Russian Ski Association (FLGR) has received high praise over the last two months for its work to combat performance-enhancing drug use. After being fined more than $180,000 this spring, the country escaped a second round of penalties at meetings of the International Ski Federation (FIS) in early November, thanks to its anti-doping efforts—which included changes in officials and coaches affiliated with scandals.
“We know they are on the right track,” Gian Franco Kasper, the FIS president, told the Associated Press.
But while nearly ten individuals have been barred from employment by the Russian national team, at least one coach, Anatoly Tchepalov, continues to work with athletes racing and training at an international level. Tchepalov was spotted in early November at events in Finland sanctioned by FIS, where one of his athletes, Sergei Shiriaev, skied to a victory over stars like Pietro Piller Cottrer, Tobias Angerer, and Kris Freeman.
“He was there,” said Pepa Miloucheva, the coach of the Vermont-based Craftsbury Green Racing Project, in an e-mail. Miloucheva’s team was racing in Finland at the time.
Tchepalov is the father and former coach of Olympic champion and convicted doper Julia Tchepalova, who was caught using the blood-boosting drug EPO at a race in 2009 and banned from the sport for two years.
Tchepalov also coaches Shiriaev—who served a two-year ban for EPO use that ended in 2009—and Vassili Rotchev, an Olympic medalist who is married to Tchepalova.
In a press release earlier this month, the FLGR stated that Tchepalov would not be engaged as a coach of Russia’s national team for the next four years, due to his involvement in past doping cases.
But according to Andrey Kondrashov, a Russian Eurosport commentator, Tchepalov broke his contract with the national team two years ago—and there is nothing that the FLGR can do to keep Tchepalov from continuing to coach Shiriaev, Rotchev, and others.
“The sports federations have no rights to disqualify coaches under the Russian Constitution and labor legislation,” Kondrashov wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier. “That is why coaches are prohibited from working with the national team only.”
Shiriaev and Rotchev were asked if they wanted to join the national team last spring, but in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant in November, FLGR President Elena Vyalbe said that the two athletes made a decision to work with Tchepalov instead.
The FLGR did not respond to a request for comment about Tchepalov’s status. But according to FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis, skiers like Shiriaev and Rotchev are free to pick their own support staff.
“According to the information received by the Russian Ski Association, Mr. Tchepalov has been removed from any coaching function within the Russian Ski Association,” Lewis wrote in an e-mail. “Athletes that are not part of the national team…can choose the coach(es) they want to train with.”
The FLGR suspended eight other coaches aside from Tchepalov, but he is not the only one to remain in the sport. Former national team head coach Yuri Charkovsky is now the squad’s manager, while according to Vyalbe’s interview with Kommersant, another coach, Victor Smirnov, is working as a technician for the Kazakhstan team.
Asked whether she foresaw any action to be taken against Tchepalov or other coaches in similar situations, Lewis said that issue was in the hands of the FLGR.
“This is a matter for the Russian Ski Association to follow up as to whether the officials they have dismissed are breaching the terms of their dismissal,” she said.
But according to Kondrashov, there is not much more that the FLGR can do. Tchepalov, he said, “works independently, without financial support from the state and federation.”
“Tchepalov [is] not deprived of a job [as] coach, and therefore has the right under Russian law to appear in any field,” Kondrashov said.
Kondrashov said that there are several other athletes on Tchepalov’s team, most notably 23-year-old Alexey Slepov, who took fourth at one of the races in Finland earlier this year.
So far this winter, Tchepalov’s highest-profile skiers have competed solely in second-tier races—not on the World Cup, where thousands of dollars of prize money are at stake at each competition. But in the Kommersant interview, Vyalbe said that Shiriaev and Rotchev could make an appearance at World Championships in Oslo, if they qualified.
Criteria for making the Russian team for that event would be released in December, Vyalbe said.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.