Dürr Had Used EPO Since June, Passed 14 Anti-Doping Tests; IOC Decision Still Pending

Chelsea LittleFebruary 26, 201423
Johannes Duerr (second from right) during the Tour de Ski's 35 k pursuit from Cortina to Toblach, Italy, in December. Duerr has since been kicked out of the Olympics for doping.
One of these men is a doper: Johannes Dürr (second from right) during the Tour de Ski’s 35 k pursuit from Cortina to Toblach, Italy, in December. The Austrian has since been kicked out of the Olympics for using EPO. Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus.

On Sunday morning, a new start list was released for the Olympic men’s 50 k. It was exactly the same as the list that had been published the night before, with one glaring exception: a name had been removed and a line added at the bottom of the document.

“removed DUERR Johannes (AUT) from Start List as implementation of IOC decision from 22 FEB 2014,” the officials had written in small font.

The Austrian Olympic Committee issued a press release stating that Dürr (names are Anglicized by results systems) had tested positive for the blood-doping drug recombinant erythropoietin (EPO) and had been banned from the Olympics, effective immediately.

In the press release, the head of Austria’s Olympic team, Karl Stoss, expressed shock.

On his way out of Sochi, Dürr was caught by the press in the airport, and apologized while telling the Associated Press that it was the “worst thing I’ve done in my life.”

In the last few days, more details have emerged about the case, although the International Olympic Committee is still yet to release its report.

As initially reported, Dürr had flown back to Austria after the Olympic 30 k skiathlon, where he placed eighth, to train for the 50 k, which wouldn’t happen for almost two weeks. It was there in Obertilliach that the test was administered on February 16.

The news was delivered to the Austrian Olympic Committee on February 21, at which point Dürr had returned to Sochi. According to the Tiroler Tagezeitung newspaper, Dürr  was called into a meeting. He faced the sports director of the Austrian Ski Federation, Hans Pum; the head doctor of the Austrian Olympic Committee, Wolfgang Schobersgerger; and an official from the cross-country division, Markus Gandler.

“At first he did not confess,” Gandler told the newspaper. “For a quarter of an hour he denied it.”

Gandler later lamented to the Austrian Kurier newspaper that he had believed completely that Dürr was clean; with tears in his eyes, he said, “I would have adopted him.”

But Dürr eventually admitted using EPO, which allowed Stoss to say in his press release the next morning that the athlete had done so and would be dealt with accordingly.

Dürr’s website once contained a section about clean sport, decrying the scandal at the 2006 Torino Olympics which enveloped Austrian endurance sports. His entire website has now been deleted.

Since returning home, Dürr has made more statements in interviews and the press. After admitting to the Austrian Olympic Committee that he had used EPO mid-Olympics, the skier went one step farther to Der Spiegel, a German weekly. He said he began using EPO in June 2013. Since then, Dürr has had his best results ever, finishing the Tour de Ski in third place and having the fastest pursuit times in both the 9 k and 35 k pursuits.

He told Der Spiegel that he had passed 14 doping tests so far that season, even when he took a double dose. He explained that he began taking half doses around the Olympics because he knew testing would be ramped up.

“I’m stupid, but not that stupid,” he said.

Dürr, who has a wife and a young child, said that even though he knew it was wrong, he felt that he could not make a living ski racing except if he took extraordinary measures.

“I had a good season behind me, but I also knew that with my current income, I could never bring a good life to my family,” he told Der Spiegel. “I have always known that it is the wrong thing… [now] I have no plan. Economically I am facing ruin.”

Dürr, who is 26 years old, re-stated in another interview that his family situation was what drove him to try EPO.

“I was overwhelmed with my life at that time,” he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper. “My little boy was just screaming and not sleeping at all.”

Still, doping did not make him feel better. He told the paper that every time he took the drug, he felt “like a junkie.” He has repeatedly said that he is glad the saga is over, and that he deeply regrets all the people who he has disappointed.

“That was the worst,” he said on a “Sports Week” television program. “Leaving the public hoodwinked was difficult, but to lie to your wife, parents, brothers and sisters, that was the worst.”

It’s still unclear exactly how Dürr administered his program. He told the Austrian Olympic Committee that his coaches and teammates were not involved, which came as a relief after the systematic doping scandal of 2006.

“The athlete himself confessed that he is the only one who did that and he takes all the responsibility on himself,” Stoss had said on the first day of the scandal.

But others are questioning if it is really possible that team officials had no idea that Dürr was doping. He has said told the far-right Austrian newspaper Krone that he “knew the wrong people.” But are the “wrong people” Austrian?

Dürr later claimed to the Kurier newspaper that he had obtained both the drugs and the doping schedule from someone in a former Yugoslavian republic.

The news is having a huge effect on Austrian sports. Peter Schröcksnadel, president of the Austrian Ski Federation, is considering whether to cut cross country skiing out of the federation and make it stand on its own, since the athletes are sullying the name of Austrian snow sports, according to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

Dürr is at risk of having violated not only the athlete code of conduct, but also more substantial laws, such as the ones prohibiting sports fraud. The Federal Criminal Police will reportedly investigate the case once the sports federations have finished.

Chelsea Little

Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.

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  • campirecord

    February 26, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Lovely… double dosing and clean athlete propaganda… and we are all criminals for asking questions… I hope xc ski goes beyond the naiveté that this is a clean sport, or that it was once tainted but never again… A top athlete knows very well that its impossible to gain so much in so little time. At that level, only marginal gains for a short window are possible, anything else is questionable. It makes me very happy when I see athletes get sick or have a very bad block of results… this is normal physiology.

  • davord

    February 26, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    This guy is lying from bottom to top. He learned well from Armstrong, Ricardo Ricco, Michael Rasmussen, etc. “Former Yugoslav Republic?” There are 6 of those now, which one was it actually? The closest one to Austria would be Slovenia, but really only 2 or 3 top Slovenian professional athletes have been involved in any sort of doping in recent history, maybe ever, as far as I know. I don’t see a mention of it in either article. As far as obtaining it in whichever former Yugoslav Republic, I have to question that as well. Why go south where doping is very rare and technology not quite up to Austrian standards? Typical 21st century doper explanations from Duerr. At least he didn’t come up with Richard Gasquet excuse (tennis) where he was caught using cocaine due to ‘kissing a woman who had consumed it at a party.’ Or Alberto Contador who ate ‘contaminated meat’ and blamed it on that…Austria has plenty of doping opportunities, and is right up there with producing the biggest dopers in professional sports, right up there with the US, Russia, Bulgaria, Spain, Italy, Finnland. Good riddance.

  • skijumper

    February 26, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    No need for biological passport, he was probably the only guy doing this

  • gkentch

    February 26, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    To state the obvious concern, note that the guy passed the first 14 tests he was given. Sort of makes you seriously question the efficacy of any test out there.

  • Strider2

    February 26, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Dang that’s pretty disconcerting. I know it’s easy to say this in hindsight, but the TDS 35k was quite an eye-brow raising race. Also, “former Yugoslavian republic”???

  • JimGalanes

    February 26, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Clean sport is a long way off as doping is culturally ingrained in many sports. In the meantime WADA has to get tougher, life time bans on the first offense for the athletes, coaches, and any team officials involved. Implement the Biological Passport Program, and severe penalties for the National Sports (Ski) Federations.

  • longtimer

    February 26, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Add to JimGalanes, fines and criminal penalties especially if they are making money. And hang onto those blood samples for another five or ten years because what is undectable today might be easy to find when the testing gets better.

  • WI skier

    February 26, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Hopefully he will work with WADA and other relevant parties to help them improve their testing. It is curious why he passed the first 14 tests and then was caught when he was doping at a lower level. I assumed all tests were suppose to be the same. I don’t know if he was caught because of better tests, or if his body was just now putting out whatever was needed to cross the pass/fail line.

  • mcmsnowmaster

    February 26, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    Holy Hannah this is disturbing on many levels. 1st – if this guy is really doing it by himself, he managed to pass 14 drug tests, imagine what a “state sponsored” program would be capable of.
    2nd – EPO is a very expensive drug, $1000 a vial my pharmacist friend tells me, not likely he’s doing this by himself.
    And lastly, can we not be suspicious of other “strange” performances from the Olympics. Dario Cologna coming off training on a sit skier to beat the best in the world, or the new Finnish young star. The ski community can’t be afraid to ask these questions with the history of our sport. Progress is gradual, leaps in progress need to be examined and questioned.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    February 26, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Snow master dude….his coaches and teammates saw his progress in time trials, intervals and races. Unles they were all retarded, they were a part of it no doubt. His former East German friends/advisors are very knowledgeable, I am sure. No dopers as of yet fess up until they are about to be, or have been, busted. Problem is little old x-c skiing is just too small a sport to afford bio-passport program that cycling has.

  • Tim Kelley

    February 26, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    So the guy is pumping EPO, yet he gets past 14 drug tests. Maybe he was flying solo or maybe someone was working with him to coach him on how to correctly does and pass drug tests. In either case, the drug tests are apparently way too easy to circumvent. Which is a polite way to say that the drug tests are an effing joke. Now would be a good time to name the genius scientists or doctors that came up with WADA’s “failproof” drug testing program. How much money goes to WADA and other drug testing operations? Seems like it is a waste of money if a guy can pass EPO drug tests at will. 14 times. Wow. The sad thing is that possibly some skiers will read that and say to themselves: “Ha! What an amateur!” I’ve passed 50 drugs tests!”

  • John Forrest Tomlinson

    February 27, 2014 at 6:45 am

    “Seems like it is a waste of money if a guy can pass EPO drug tests at will.”

    So are you saying stop drug testing? Really? Or what?

  • joeconn4

    February 27, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    I hope there is a way to collect all the money he has earned in this sport since June 2013 and distribute it to those athletes he stole from. And that’s not just prize money, that means any endorsement deals, bonuses, whatever.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    February 27, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    we be huffin’ now! Get ya some Xenon!
    so the Russians now admit to sucking on the old Xenon gas…WTF, this is just getting dumber and dumber. “Lets all get us some Swix Xenon for the next big race so we are competitive” Why not manipulate genes and shit too while your at it? If the Ruskies are huffing it, I bet the Finns are a huffin’ too, and probably Austrians, and over the ridge in Swiss Cheese country too. Hell it’s one big Xenon party! And it ‘aint like you’re gonna make many millions of dollars if you finish on the podium of an X-C ski race, unless you live in Sweden or Norway, and even then, only maybe.
    I remember Dead shows when Nitrous Oxide was still legal too, but we all knew we would get stoned.

  • T.Eastman

    February 28, 2014 at 12:21 am

    “I remember Dead shows when Nitrous Oxide was still legal too, but we all knew we would get stoned.”

    What would Pig Pen say?

  • Ben Arians

    February 28, 2014 at 2:08 am

    It’s possible that the biological passport is what helped catch Duerr. I would guess that the 14 tests that he did “pass” might have been helpful in creating some proof that something was up. Probably they were on to him, but needed more proof than what they were getting out of the other tests. 14 tests seems like a lot from June to mid February, but what do I know, I don’t know what the norm is for a top athlete. It would be interesting to know how many times someone like Bjorgen, or Northug, or Legkov for that matter, get tested out of competition in a year. Also, what a great reason for doping: “My kid was crying, so I decided to take EPO.” I wonder what his son is going to think 14 years from now when he finds out that his dad blamed him for starting to dope. Dad of the year!

  • John Forrest Tomlinson

    February 28, 2014 at 7:24 am

    Breathing xenon is not against the rules? Then it’s not doping. Pretty straightforward.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    February 28, 2014 at 8:57 am

    If there is nothing wrong with huffin’ the “x”, why did these pussies not just bring their tanks to the start and huff on international camera? Cause they know it ain’t right, that’s why. What other teams are huffin’?

  • E

    February 28, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Not sure why everybody is so worried about xenon. Athletes have been using nitrogen to stimulate EPO for years without much fuss. If WADA thinks it’s an issue then maybe we’ll see it addressed. As for the cost of EPO, I wonder how prohibitive the cost would be in Europe. I don’t actually know the answer but in general, drugs are many times cheaper in Other countries and especially in Europe.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    February 28, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    Man, I just don’t get it. I was lucky enough to find my way as a punk-ass lad to be able to train with many USST athletes, and World Cup podium skiers. I spent a lot of long training hours and many beers discussing training and life, and I never heard talk of sucking gas (or shooting shit) as an acceptable way to get faster. Just talk of different training hours and nutrition, and even training at altitude, but never injecting or breathing a not-normally available substance as a way to improve. Sorry, but if Tim Kelley says sucking the X is not an acceptable way to improve performance, it is good enough for me. It is wrong, is doping, and should be on the WADA list of banned practices. Any athlete who used this to prevail in the Olympics should come forward and admit it to the press if they feel all is so kosher.

  • offpistereese

    March 1, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    I think it is naive to think skiing, or any endurance sport, is clean. It is too easy to get around the testing, especially if the passport is not employed full strength. People are always going to find a way to be faster, legal or not, when it means more money.

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