Citing an anonymous source, Postimees, Estonia’s largest newspaper is reporting that Andrus Veerpalu, the recently-retired Olympic and world champion medalist, has tested positive for doping.
In an article posted earlier this week, Postimees said that an A-sample taken from Veerpalu in January had failed an anti-doping control, but that the opening of his B-sample, which is used for confirmation, has not yet occurred.
The details of the report are sketchy, though. No sources are named, no documents are referenced, and officials with the Estonian Ski Federation, Estonian Anti-Doping Agency, and International Ski Federation have denied any knowledge of the positive test.
“We all have sources, but nobody has seen paper about [a] positive doping control,” Jaan Martinson, a veteran Estonian ski journalist, wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier on Sunday.
Rumors about doping have long dogged Veerpalu, who has a knack for popping big results at big races. But none have ever been confirmed.
He retired suddenly earlier this year, just before the 2011 World Ski Championships in Oslo, where he was expected to end his career, citing illness and a knee injury. That, Martinson said, was where the rumors about a doping probe got started.
Outside of Norway, Estonia has one of the most vibrant ski cultures in the world—one that frequently has front-page newspaper coverage of its star athletes, and a handful of dedicated beat reporters.
Along with fellow Estonian Olympic medalists Jaak Mae and Kristina Smigun-Vaehi, Veerpalu is a national hero in his country. But with Smigun’s retirement after the 2010 season, Veerpalu’s retirement this year, and Mae also expected to hang them up this month, Estonian skiing already appeared headed towards some tough times—before the news about the failed doping test.
The national team coach, Mati Alaver, has discussed leaving to coach the Russians, and key support staff may be leaving with him. And if Postimees’s article proves accurate, it will be another, huge blow to the Estonian Ski Federation.
“It’s [a] very sensitive story,” Martinson 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.