GeneralNewsOlympicsNearly a Decade Later, Hoffmann’s Ban Prompts Thoughts

Avatar Alex KochonDecember 8, 20117

Two years ago, Austrian cross-country skier Christian Hoffmann removed himself from the international-racing scene by retiring. That didn’t keep him out of headlines.

On Monday, Austria’s anti-doping agency, NADA, handed the world champion a six-year ban from the sport. The decision was retroactive from 2009, in which Hoffman had been suspended two years for being associated with a Vienna blood bank, Humanplasma.

NADA most recently found the 36-year-old Hoffmann guilty of having his blood taken for doping purposes at the Vienna lab between 2003 and 2006, and tagged on a ban of four years for co-owning a centrifuge for blood enrichment.

Hoffmann’s lawyer, Hans-Moritz Pott, told reporters they would fiercely fight the verdict. He reiterated that Hoffmann never tested positive for a banned substance, and said they would appeal the case to an independent arbitration committee, and ultimately, the Supreme Court of the civil-court system.

“Not one violation of the rules has been proven,” Pott told the Austria Press Agency. “(Hoffmann) says has he has competed cleanly for 23 years and he can’t let them do this to him.”

After prosecutors insisted they wanted to keep Hoffmann from competing in the 2014 Olympics, Hoffmann told the Upper Austrian News they had been trying to take him down for years.

“They wanted to make sure that I never absolve (to) race,” Hoffmann said, according to a translation. He has not indicated he would like to make a comeback.

In 1999, Hoffmann was part of Austria’s world-championship winning relay. He took gold at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics in the 30 k, after the initial winner, Johann Mühlegg of Spain, failed a doping test.

Ten Austrian cross-country skiers were tested at the Salt Lake Games for using illegal substances, but all tested negative. Hoffman’s former coach, Walter Mayer, received a 15-month jail term in August for his connection to doping activities.

Hoffmann and teammate Roland Diethart, who received a lifelong Olympic ban after Turin (2006), were supposed to appear at the Mayer’s hearing. They did not show up, along with biathlete Wolfgang Perner, who was also banned from the Olympics.

A former ski official, Johannes Obererlacher, claimed to have walked in on Mayer while he was giving Hoffmann a blood transfusion at the 2002 Games. The International Olympic Committee questioned Hoffmann and cleared him of the accusation, the AFP reported.

Most known for his Olympic medal, Hoffmann anchored the Austrian men’s relay that edged the Americans for fourth by six-tenths of a second. Carl Swenson raced him to the finish.

In February 2002, Swenson told ESPN he was excited to hang with Hoffmann and test him in the final stretch.

“I wish I had a little fresher legs. I think I could have pushed him all the way to the finish,” he said.

Now a member of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Swenson is committed to cleaning up the sport. While the USADA board member couldn’t comment on behalf of the agency, he offered his reaction to Hoffmann’s ban in an email.

“It’s good news when a doper gets caught,” Swenson wrote. “It’s sad to think of the people that were cheated out of a better result.

“There will always be racers who try to cheat, personally I don’t give much thought to what they got away with,” he added. “I get some satisfaction knowing that every cheater walks away worried that he will be exposed one day.”

So far, Hoffmann spent some $14,000 euros — about $18,800 dollars — on legal fees. His attorney said the money didn’t matter.

“We benefit from everything, even if the costs are huge,” Pott said.

Finances may not be a concern for Hoffmann, who shared the cost of a $100,500 blood centrifuge. Athletes testified he lent the centrifuge to them, which is a criminal offense under Austrian anti-doping laws.

Based on his offenses, the NADA Law Commission gave Hoffmann the minimum sentence of four years. He could have received a life in jail.

In a press release, the Law Commission stated its decision considered World Anti-Doping Agency standards. Citing WADA code, the Austrian disciplinary commission decided not to cancel all of Hoffmann’s results.

Tracing the first “material time” in which Hoffmann’s performance was affected and voiding his results accordingly would be “an impermissible double possible punishment,” the NADA press release stated.

The head coach of Canada’s national cross-country ski team, Justin Wadsworth was also on the American’s fifth-place relay at the 2002 Games. He thought the Austrian’s ban was a bit comical, considering Hoffmann retired from the sport in 2009.

“We knew he was doping,” Wadsworth wrote in an email. “I mean we had no hard evidence as athletes, but we knew it that same way we knew Mühlegg and others were doping as well.”

Around that time, several cross-country skiers were convicted. In 2001, six Finish skiers were caught using a banned substance: Jari Isometsa, Harri Kirvesniemi, Janne Immonen, Myka Myllyla, Milla Jauho, and Virpi Kuitunen.

“It sucked then, and it still sucks now,” Wadsworth wrote. “It really takes the purity and beauty of sport and diminishes it to the greed and other things in life that plague our society today.

“I guess as a clean athlete you must ski for the love of the sport and let the chips fall where they may,” he wrote. “I take pleasure watching clean athletes win today, because I know there’s still doping going on, and when you can win clean there’s another reason to celebrate.”

A current U.S. Ski Team member, Kris Freeman competed on the men’s relay in his first Olympics in 2002.

“Everyone who watched Hoffmann ski knew he was doped to the gills,” Freeman wrote in an email. “(The ban) should have been handed down a decade ago.”

He pointed to the case of Estonia’s Andrus Veerpalu, who retired from the sport in January and received a three-year ban for doping in August. The International Ski Federation (FIS) decided to bar the 40-year-old from competing until Feb. 23, 2014, the last day of the Sochi Winter Olympics.

“(The FIS) waited until one of their stars was effectively retired before handing down a statement punishment,” Freeman wrote.

Until a cheating star is penalized in his or her prime, Freeman said he wouldn’t be satisfied.

Because the FIS wasn’t involved in Hoffmann’s case, Sarah Fussek, assistant to the secretary general, couldn’t comment on specifics. She wrote in an email there was no indication the FIS would be involved in an appeal.

While Hoffmann’s case wasn’t final, Fussek wrote it could not be compared to others, but she referenced a few instances in which an athlete never failed a drug test yet was convicted. In 2011, the FIS handed Nikolay Pankratov (RUS) a two-year ban for possessing drug-injecting equipment. Denis Vorobiev (BLR) received a similar ban in 2005 when human growth hormone was found in his waist bag.

Swenson wrote that “more sophisticated dopers” often caught with evidence besides a positive drug test.

“The more difficult it becomes to dope, the more people must be involved, and the more likely that someone will talk,” he wrote. “I don’t know the specifics of this case, but it sounds like expensive equipment, technicians and doctors must have been involved. That is hard to hide.”

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Alex Kochon

Alex Kochon (alex@fasterskier.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.

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7 comments

  • Avatar
    davord

    December 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I wonder about this myself regarding sports such as cycling. I mean, how can some still think that any of the top Tour de France riders of the past 15-20 years have ridden the race clean? I guess Armstrong gets a free pass since he ‘has done so much for cancer…’ but what about the others?

    In regards to xc skiing, what about those skiers/teams that have long been associated with doping, but haven’t tested positive, like the Italians (working with Ferrari, the same doctor who works/worked with Armstrong, among others for so long)? Manuela Di Centa was linked to EPO use long before Danilova, Lazutina and Muehlegg were caught using in 2002. What about the Germans and the sports labs in Freiburg (home of Telekom/T Mobile and Claudia Pechstein doping) and Vienna? What about Jens Filbrich getting a free pass with high hemoglobin levels so easily? What about Vincent Vittoz’s A sample that turned positive for Furosemide a few weeks before he won gold at the 2005 WSC? We already know about the Finns and 2001, and now with Lalukka. What does that say about Heikkinen, a guy who has more up and down days than anyone on tour, yet finds a way to peak for the big races (TDS, WSC)?

  • Avatar
    trski

    December 8, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    First of all, I want to be clear, this is a NOT a personal attack on your blog. BUT…….

    I would love to know how you know that L.A. doped ? No one has been able to produce anything definitive other than an innuendo or an I saw so and so. Novitsky has NOTHING and he knows it. He is also not going to bring a sham of a case to trial because he knows what occurred in the Bonds case and Balco. It was all smoothed over by the court while the taxpayers paid a bunch money. What did the government get for it? What did it solve ?

    People are angry at Armstrong because he is not apologetic, nor does he mince words about his will to win. He is easy to pick on because he does not sit there and try to explain himself to every jerk out there with a theory on his professional and personal life.

    I guess that is a part of why he won 7 times, won a world championship, a Tour Du Pont Title, a Liege Bastogne Liege title, a Settamana Bergamasca title, a Leadville 100 title, a Corestates Triple Crown and numerous other titles.

    It is getting up at ungodly hours, training until you are so sore and emaciated from sitting in the saddle that you have to be carried to your room. Then, doing it again the next day, all with a singular focus.

    If you want to deter doping, educate your kids early about the effects of drugs on your life and your profession. Educate kids that your name and reputation is the cornerstone for what you have in life. Once it is tarnished, it is hard to repair. It can be a valuable lesson to the young athletes trying to make it.

    My father educated me and I was able to see that cheating was not the way to win. I just worked harder.

    Thanks.

    TR

  • Avatar
    Mike Trecker

    December 8, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Lance is one of the greatest champions of one of the greatest doped up eras in sports history. That carries a certain conundrum along with it. Innocent or guilty, he will be forever connected with this era. Also, no Liege title for Lance. Tyler Hamilton is the only American to have won any of the one day monuments.

  • Avatar
    Lars

    December 9, 2011 at 12:41 am

    I believe Armstrong was doped there is just to much smoke there for it not to be a fire.
    And all the doping in cycling kinda ruined the sport for me.

  • Avatar
    davord

    December 9, 2011 at 2:13 am

    Wow trski, I hit a soft spot, didn’t I? LOL. Umad? Anyway, you are entitled to your opinion, as am I and the rest of the people that comment here. Like Mike Trecker and Lars say, Armstrong was a pro in an era where you had to dope to win something, everyone was doing it. Just because you think there is no proof, doesn’t mean he didn’t do it. Marion Jones didn’t fail a dope test, yet she had to return quite a few of her medals and spent almost a year in jail. Roger Clemens didn’t fail a dope test, neither did Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire, yet it’s pretty clear they were ‘doped to the gills’ while playing, and everyone can see that. BTW, Armstrong DID in fact test positive a few times in his racing days. The most notable ones were at the 1999 TDF and 2001 TDS. I don’t know Armstrong personally, so I can’t say whether he is a great individual or not, but racing in a EPO/HGH/Darbopoetin/CERA, etc era and dominating the TDF for more or less the whole 7 years he won, I am not falling for it. I fell for it when I was a teenager, watching and cheering him on, thinking what a great role model he is and all the fair play moments he had with Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Tyler, Floyd, etc, knowing what I know now, and how corrupt the UCI is/was, I ain’t gonna fall for again….Again, he certainly wasn’t the only one who doped, wasn’t the first, and certainly (as evidenced by cycling today) he wasn’t the last.

  • Avatar
    highstream

    December 9, 2011 at 11:36 am

    It’s important to recognize that there are at least three separate issues involved in any doping case: what the athlete is doing (doping), testing (results) and the politics of how the other two are handled, both in the large sense of politics and the more narrow of how an organization(s) wants to sell itself. Much of what’s being debated here and discussed in the article about Hoffman predates the current situation. At the end of the 1990s, the IOC got scared of being exposed by national police agencies (Italian doping, SLC bribery) and agreed to let WADA be set up, but it took some years for it to be given independent powers, authority and a budget to match (e.g., the Bush Administration delayed the American share for a long time, until it became an embarassment). Well into the past decade, and probably still, negative testing results were largely meaningless, since doping protocols used by athletes and their coaches could easily avoid positive results and the larger and powerful federations and organizing committees could get positive results quashed (if not steal them outright, as it’s believed 1984 LA Oly Cmte did with large numbers of American positives). This is capitalism and nationalism, folks, so it’s no accident that athletes feel pressure to dope and in politics conservatives in effect defend doping (e.g., Republicans in the U.S. Congressional hearings and conservatives in Germany’s parliament).

    For those interested in actually learning something about the subject, for starters I’d suggest a couple of basic reads: Speed Trap by Charlie Daniels, who was Ben Johnson’s coach and a very thoughtful and intelligent guy (as well as an excellent coach); and the recent monograph by Thomas Hunt, Drug Games: The International Olympic Committee and the Politics of Doping, 1960-2008.

  • Avatar
    Cloxxki

    December 10, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    @trski
    I was like you. Even got too-near to offering Lance a business deal could not and would not have refused. Am I ever thankful it didn’t come to that from my side thanks to timing issues…
    To get a perspective on Lance, you’ll need to do some reading. A whole lot of reading. This time not his regular fan-biographies.
    I tell you, the guy looks worse than the most multi-talented crooks in history. One needs a good index to navigate his wrongdoings. It would spans pages, just the index. To get into any sort of general information, and name just the names and prime connections, man you have a full-on book there. The man’s been busy. I need to get through a chunk of the reading before I was able to step back, and see the yellow fade to grey.
    Anyway, Lance DID test positive, despite have this very best blood doping docter giving him his undevided attention. He’s a mediocre talent, and his World Championship gold, albeit doped, reflects his typical ability. A quick guy, just not a mountain eater. Just to summarize my main thoughts and consideration, wouldd span pages on here as well. It’s all out into the open, apart likely from the very nastiests of truths. It always is worse than people can expect. It was so with Landis (whom I believed), and it’s usually that way when people get time to form opinions. It’a very, very dark story. Burning yellow wrist bands will not be the end of this one, when people understand the magnitude of his crimes against truth, decent inter-human behavior, sportsmanship and charity.

    About this then.
    Michael Weiss was also banned. He recently beat Lance in the X-Terra triathlon world (some other guys in between). Weiss never tested positive, but was hooked onto the same machinery Hoffmann was, apparently.
    My fellow ccountryman Michael Boogerd, the cyclist, was their blood brother, but he seems to be able to ignore the problem away. UCI is so much better at keeping heroes of their sport out of trouble.

    By the way, Emil Hegle Svendsen, you know the biathlon super star, complained that he wasn’t doping tested all off-season. Out of Competition testing is the one place where there’s any chance to catch dopers. Yet Svendsen was apparently trusted all the way through his preparation. That’s wrong. An insult to fairplay, and the legend in the making himself. The things he could be doing to boost his blood and muscles over 7 months of off-season…
    Blood sampling is essential in these sports, and is often not chosen, due to budget considerations.
    In-competition testing is very ineffective (both the Tour de France and Vuelta came up totally negative, to give you an idea) because dopers actually consider the risk of getting caught, anticipate the testing, and make sure to be “clean” on day of racing. Bernard Kohl was tested 200 times until he drank too little before peeing, and got a positive.

    Thanks to folsk like Landis and Hamilton, we know know what endurance athletes are up to, and how much performance gain can be had while remaining undetected. It’s just staggering. A very cautious estimate of mine is 10% of aerobic capacity at threshold. That sort of a boost would bring my body right into world elite level, would I not be morally incapable of such practices. Then, I never biked or skied for the money or fame, but to prove something to myself. Or whomever slotted in behind me at the finish line. I lost small margins over World- and Olympic champs whom I now realize, were doped to the gills. Developed fake bodies due to the PEDs they used in training. They will never be mere mortals again. The testosterone, the human groth hormone, that stuff changes your body, and mind. The effect is not gone when the substance leaves your body sufficiently to test nagative. Look at Veerpalu sprinting up like crazy at old age, after 2 decades of that stuff.

    Doping is, so bad in so many ways, on so many levels. And it’s commonplace in so many more sports than anyone is ccomfortable with. Americans used to be pre-considered clean. Turns out they kinda runs the PED labs in cycling. Turns out dopers rarely keep it to their own sport. Look at the bloodbrotherships in Austria. Triathletes, Road cyclists, Skiers.
    Amateurs and Masters are known to dope. Test positive for EPO for crying out loud. It’s becoming synonimous for “will to win”. It’s morally accepted within pro sports, and it’s becoming harder to tell the oppositiong from those just playing along.

    The most recently active athlete I am aware of, having always claimed to just be talented and clean, and be considered so by both doping hunters and competition, is Greg Lemond. I’ll give that to the Americans. Even The French regarded him as a true champ. Unbeatable when he was on form. Fignon on his deathbed pretty much said he doped, has his cancer to thank from that, and that he believed Lemond was just THAT good while clean, a genetic freak.

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