Exclusive Interview: Estonia’s (Former) Skiing Prime Minister Speaks

Nathaniel HerzMarch 10, 2014
Former Estonian prime minister Andrus Ansip at the Laura Cross-Country & Biathlon Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Former Estonian prime minister Andrus Ansip at the Laura Cross-Country & Biathlon Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip resigned last week, to allow his political party to choose a replacement before elections in 2015.

But wait—this is a skiing website. What do we care about Estonian politics? Because, as befits this ski-crazy nation, Ansip is an avid cross-country skier himself, holding the title of Worldloppet master—meaning that he’s finished 10 of the races in the international marathon series. That likely makes him the fastest prime minister on skis.

Ansip showed up at the cross-country ski venue at the Sochi Olympics in an unmarked motorcade, along with a surly security detail.

After what looked like a serious conversation with an Estonian skiing official, a FasterSkier reporter—who caught a glimpse of Ansip’s name on his Olympic credential—intercepted the politician for a brief conversation about his interest in the sport, and the status of cross-country skiing in Estonia.

A few important things to keep in mind. Estonia was once a cross-country skiing powerhouse. In the 1990s and 2000s, Andrus Veerpalu, Jaak Mae, and Kristina Smigun-Vähi all won Olympic medals, and medals at the cross-country skiing World Championships.

Those three, however, have all retired, and there’s currently no one on the Estonian team ranked in the top 75 in the world. And, confirming suspicions that long dogged him on the international circuit, officials with the International Ski Federation in 2011 said that Veerpalu had failed a drug test on the eve of his retirement.

That positive test, for human growth hormone, was ultimately invalidated by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last year for technical reasons, but the court’s opinion nonetheless said it was likely Veerpalu had taken HGH.

Here’s the interview, which was lightly edited for clarity.

FasterSkier: Tell me about your interest in skiing.

Andrus Ansip: Some people, they are collecting different stamps or coins. And then some people are collecting different cross-country skiing marathons. I’m one of those crazy people who are collecting different cross-country ski marathons. I took part in Gatineau—yeah, I’ve been in Canada. I’ve took part in all the European Worldloppet Series marathons—our own Tartu Marathon I’m taking part in almost every year, in this marathon. And then, Vasaloppet, 90 kilometers-long marathon, I took part in this marathon twice. Then, Birkebeinerrenet (in Norway), the Finlandia-hiihto, Konig Ludwig Lauf in Germany, La Transjurassienne in France, Marcialonga in Italy, and Kangaroo Hoppet (in Australia).

FS: Do you think you’re the fastest prime minister?

AA: I don’t think how many prime ministers are exactly interested in cross-country skiing—not so many of them, I think. But yep, I’m first prime minister who got this Worldloppet Master title. So it means I’m the first that took part in 10 different cross-country skiing marathons around the world.

Sorry to say but your marathon, American Birkebeiner, is the only one I didn’t take part in. It’s because we are celebrating the anniversary of our republic exactly at the same week.

FS: Fair enough.

AA: But one day, I will take part in the American Birkebeiner anyway.

FS: What are you guys doing, as a government, to kind of rebuild the Estonian team after the retirement of Jaak Mae, and Andrus Veerpalu, and Kristina Smigun-Vähi?

AA: You know, it’s kind of not up to par. It’s up to our people, and I’m quite proud of our young people who are interested in sports, and training very, very hard. We have real aims in sports. So, I hope one day, we will get gold medals from Olympic Games once again.

Today, we have a quite famous young girl—Kelly Sildaru, she’s (12) years old. It’s in the sport—like snowboarding, but it’s with skis…?

FS: Slopestyle?

AA: Slopestyle. She’s really good in slopestyle, already. She beat even those who are taking part in the Olympic Games in Sochi already. But (12) years old—it’s not (old enough) to take part in the Olympic Games. So I hope, one day, Estonians, they will win Olympic gold medals once again.

FS: Last question: Do you think Veerpalu was innocent?

AA: Veerpalu. It’s a decision made by court. So, I don’t want to speculate about decisions made by independent court. But of course, everyone wants to keep fingers crossed. Their own heroes—we would like to believe our heroes, they were clean. But at the same time, of course, sports, they have to be clean. They have to be really clean, and doping is not accepted. So, I hope nowadays, Olympic Games, and sports, are more clean than some years ago.

FS: Thanks very much.
AA: You’re welcome.

Nathaniel Herz

Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.

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