BiathlonGeneralNewsRacingTikhonov Brings Color to Politically Tense Race for IBU Presidency

Avatar Chelsea LittleAugust 10, 2014
Alexander Tikhonov in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, in 2007. Photo: vow via creative commons.
Alexander Tikhonov in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, in 2007. Photo: vow via creative commons.

A third candidate has joined the race for the International Biathlon Union (IBU) Presidency, to be voted on at the IBU Congress in December: Alexander Tikhonov, a legendary Soviet biathlete.

Tikhonov won relay gold in four straight Olympic Games, as well as racking up five individual World Championship titles between 1969 and 1977. His overall 11 gold medals at World Championship events put him a three-way tie for the most successful biathlete of all time, on par with Frank Luck of Germany and Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway, but behind “King of Biathlon” Ole Einar Bjørndalen of Norway.

The former athlete has remained active in the biathlon world, holding the title of IBU Vice President for a time as well as helming the Russian federation in the mid-2000’s. Among other things, he has been the main driving force behind the Summer Biathlon World Championships.

The race is already heating up, with incumbent Anders Besseberg of Norway defending his policies. Besseberg has led the IBU ever since the position was established in 1993.

He has faced criticism from Dr. Jim Carrabre, a Canadian who lives in Minneapolis (USA) and is the IBU’s Vice President of Medical Issues. A longtime anti-doping advocate, Carrabre has claimed that the IBU lacks transparency under the leadership of Besseberg and Secretary General Nicole Resch. Carrabre announced his own run for the presidency in late June.

At the same time, Carrabre sent a scathing open letter to Besseberg deploring his decision to halt blood-passport testing at future Olympic Games, a call which was made without consulting the IBU’s own Medical Committee.

Besseberg appeared to be using his political wiles to the best advantage when he delayed responding to Carrabre’s letter until nearly a month later, timing his own response so that it was directly after the announcement of several long-awaited doping bans. In the response, which also took the format of an open letter, Besseberg defended his own work on anti-doping and touted his seat on the World Anti-Doping Agency Board.

But the race is getting even juicier with the addition of Tikhonov, who has rarely held back from voicing his opinions and has a colorful past.

In 2007, Tikhonov was convicted for conspiring to kill the governor of the Kemerovo Oblast, a region in Siberia. The incident had happened in 2000, when Tikhonov had allegedly connected some businessmen who wanted the governor dead, with his younger brother Victor, who helped them find hit men. Because Tikhonov was living in Austria at the time, he didn’t face trial for another seven years.

And though he was sentenced to three years in prison, he was immediately amnestied and never served any time.

His continuing involvement in the biathlon world has been looked down upon by many. In a 2010 New York Times article, both Carrabre and Besseberg lamented that Tikhonov’s involvement meant that people could legitimately say the sport was run by criminals.

In that article, Besseberg called it a “tricky and difficult” situation.

In an e-mail to FasterSkier this weekend, Carrabre was considerably more neutral.

“Not surprised to see him come back,” he wrote. “He has been the big supporter and influence for the summer biathlon world championships.”

Others are less charitable.

“I take a dim view of the situation if he is elected,” Tore B

Tikhonov had been particularly outspoken this year, commenting repeatedly on the Russian team’s successes and failures, as well as their doping scandal involving Irina Starykh and Ekaterina Iourieva. It was Tikhonov who alleged that two well-known “doping doctors” had been spotted at the World Cup in Hochfilzen, Austria, where Starykh was particularly successful.

In announcing his bid for the Presidency, Tikhonov has come out again in criticism of how the Russian team handles doping issues: he says they simply facilitate it.

“The worst thing is that none of our coaches or managers have ever paid for it, a bad situation that should be changed,” he told the Russian press, according to a translation. “You have to make a new law against doping. Look at Germany: half an hour after Sachenbacher-Stehle’s positive test, the police went and searched her parents’ house. We instead act like nobody cares.”

As for whether the Starykh scandal will affect his bid for the Presidency, Tikhonov claimed that the blame should be placed on Mikhail Prokhorov, the New Jersey Nets owner and outgoing head of the Russian Federation. There were no doping problems during his own tenure as the federation’s head, Tikhonov said.

But that’s not exactly true: there were two cases. Olga Pyleva won silver in the 15 km individual at the 2006 Olympics, but was subsequently disqualified for failing a drug test (the substance in question was the stimulant carphedon). Natalia Burdiga was later caught using the same stimulant.

And the Russian team was widely suspected of more broad doping offenses. Suspicions were to some extent confirmed when three more high-profile athletes (Ekaterina Iourieva, who recently tested positive for EPO a second time; Albina Akhatova; and Dmitry Yaroshenko) failed drug tests shortly after Tikhonov’s term ended – but Tikhonov claimed that they were innocent.

Nevertheless, he is running as another “hard on doping” candidate, along with several other priorities. According to the Russian website Championat, he wants to revive the Summer World Cup, which has languished since his departure from the Vice Presidency, and make more fast-paced race formats on the winter World Cup.

Tikhonov has in many ways made few friends for himself in the previous years. For instance, he recently claimed that German coach Wolfgang Pichler, hired in part to lend some anti-doping legitimacy to the Russian team but also because of his great success coaching the Swedes, had ruined the squad.

As such, few believe that he can win the election. Commentator Evginiy Slyosarenko wrote on Sportbox.ru that “there is no one (except perhaps Alexander Tikhonov), who believes in the success of the presidential campaign. Because the best biathlete of the 20th century after all the years of benefitting the biathlon world managed to alienate all of its key figures… the former director of the RRF Sergey Kushchenko, is another influential person in biathlon, and it is easier to imagine that the delegates vote for him than for Tikhonov.”

In fact, Tikhonov’s appearance on the ballot list is the result of some complex politics. Russia initially nominated him for President and Victor Maygurev for First Vice President. Allegedly, IBU Secretary General Resch sent the federation a letter stating that each country could only nominate one individual for one of the offices. Nobody could find evidence of such a rule existing, and Resch never produced it, but Russia complied. NRK reports that Tikhonov’s bid was instead supported by the Georgian federation.

Tikhonov himself said that he doesn’t believe he has any chance of winning – and that “it’s always tough when running against Besseberg,” perhaps a veiled implication that Carrabre may not fare so well, either.

For his part, Besseberg told NRK that he hadn’t decided to run for re-election until the day before nominations were due.

“For me it was important that the directors and the key biathlon presidents wanted me to continue,” he said. “I wouldn’t consider the other candidates.”

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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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