Sundby Sanctioned for Asthma Medication Use, Stripped of 2015 TdS and Overall World Cup Titles

BrainspiralJuly 20, 2016
A pumped Martin Johnsrud Sundby (Norway) after winning the men's 15 k classic pursuit for the overall Lillehammer mini-tour title on Sunday in Norway. (Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus)
Martin Johnsrud Sundby (Norway) after winning the men’s 15 k classic pursuit for the overall Lillehammer mini-tour title in December 2014 in Norway, following the Davos World Cup. (Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus)

Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby has been stripped of his 2015 Tour de Ski and 2014/2015 overall World Cup titles after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld an appeal by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) against him and the International Ski Federation (FIS).

The reigning three-time overall World Cup champion, Sundby, 31, was penalized for twice exceeding the amount of salbutamol, also known as albuterol and a “standard therapy against asthma symptoms,” according to a FIS press release, allowed in an athlete’s system and not possessing the necessary medical exemption when he was tested.

Based on WADA rules, the maximum amount that is allowed to be inhaled is 1600 micrograms over 24 hours. Sundby’s samples taken Dec. 13, 2014 after the 15-kilometer classic in Davos, Switzerland, and Jan. 8, 2015 after the 25 k freestyle pursuit at the Tour de Ski in Toblach, Italy, and analyzed by a WADA accredited laboratory exceeded those limits.

“While the medication is normally applied by a handheld metric dose inhaler (MDI), the athlete used a nebulizer to administer the prescribed salbutamol for the treatment of his asthma, which requires a higher labelled dosage than the MDI and thereby exceeded the allowed maximum dose,” FIS stated in its press release on Wednesday. “The FIS Doping Panel had therefore found that the athlete had not committed an anti-doping rule violation when he used a nebulizer as a legitimate means to administer salbutamol instead of a metric dose inhaler (MDI).

“The CAS found however that the epithet ‘inhaled’ was meant to distinguish inhalation from other mechanics of inhalation like ingestion or injection and did not refer to the stage of administration (e.g. the amount that comes out of the device or which was eventually delivered to the athlete’s mouth or lungs),” the release continued. “The allowed dose must be understood as the dose prescribed by the doctor, i.e. the ‘labelled’ or ‘nominal’ dose. Any higher dose, e.g. because of the need to use a nebulizer, requires a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). When the tests were conducted in December 2014 and January 2015, the athlete was not in possession of a TUE and therefore found guilty of an anti-doping rule violation.”

WADA appealed the FIS Doping Panel’s decision, made Sept. 4, 2015, which defended Sundby. The CAS upheld WADA’s appeal and, effective July 11, 2016, sanctioned Sundby for two months. FIS announced this decision in its press release.

“I was at the store when the team doctor called. I was told that I had been over the limit twice,” Sundby said at a press conference as reported by NRK, according to a direct translation. “There and then it felt like the sky came crashing down. I could not believe it. I have never ever used an asthmatic dose that hasn’t been prescribed.”

“It felt like the sky came crashing down. I could not believe it. I have never ever used an asthmatic dose that hasn’t been prescribed.” — Martin Johnsrud Sundby

According to FIS, while CAS “acknowledged in the athlete’s favour that he had not intentionally broken the rules, that has a medical condition requiring the administration of salbutamol and that he had used salbutamol by nebulizer as prescribed by his team doctor, as he had done so before without any problems,” they also noted that anti-doping rules must be strictly adhered to and “that the prescription of the team doctor as to the use of the nebulizer to administer salbutamol outside of a hospital was arguably questionable from a medical point of view as well as the fact that the athlete and his team doctor had not made any enquiry of WADA, FIS or the manufacturer whether inhalation by a nebulizer would still require a TUE under the revised anti-doping rules.”

Sundby’s win on Dec. 13, 2014 in Davos (where he edged his teammate Didrik Tønseth by 6.6 seconds) and third-place finish in the Toblach 25 k (behind teammate Petter Northug and Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson, respectively) have been nulled. In addition to being disqualified from those races, Sundby is no longer listed as the overall champion of the 2015 Tour de Ski, after he initially won the final hill climb by 34.5 seconds over Northug in Val di Fiemme, Italy. Northug is now listed as the winner and Sundby is not on the final results. Sundby is also no longer the 2014/2015 overall World Cup champion, Switzerland’s Dario Cologna is.

In a separate press release, FIS announced the recalculated results and standings from 2014/2015:

“The impact on the 2014/15 FIS Cross Country Cup World Cup standings and FIS Tour de Ski standings are as follows:

– Sundby forfeits the 143 points he earned for the two races where he has been disqualified – 100 World Cup points for the victory in Davos and 43 points for his third place finish in Toblach.

– With the Sundby disqualification on the 13th December 2014, the podium for the 15 km classic in Davos (SUI) is now as follows: 1. Didrik Toenseth (NOR); 2. Dario Cologna (SUI); 3. Sjur Roethe (NOR).

– With the Sundby disqualification at the 8th January 2015 in the 25 km pursuit in Toblach (ITA), the podium for that race is now as follows: 1. Petter Northug JR. (NOR); 2. Calle Halfvarsson (SWE); 3. Evgeniy Belov (RUS).

– In accordance with the Tour de Ski regulations, Sundby also forfeits his overall 2015 Tour de Ski victory and 400 World Cup points he earned for it as well as prize money of CHF 108’000. The new standings for the 2015 Tour de Ski are as follows: 1) Petter Northug JR. (NOR); 2. Evgeniy Belov (RUS); 3. Calle Halfvarsson (SWE).

– The breakdown of prize money from the Tour de Ski 2015 that Sundby has to return for redistribution to the newly ranked athletes is as follows: CHF 90,000 or first place in the Tour de Ski, CHF 2,000 from the third place of the Tour de Ski sprint standings and the World Cup earnings for the two races, CHF 15,000 for the victory in Davos and CHF 1,000 for the third place finish in Toblach.

– Additionally, Sundby forfeits the World Cup points and prize money from the remaining Tour de Ski races after Toblach, namely the last two stages in Val di Fiemme in which he finished 8th and 3rd. This amounts to a further 73 World Cup points and CHF 1,000 in prize money.

– The final 2014/15 FIS Cross Country World Cup standings have also been recalculated and are as follows: 1. Dario Cologna (SUI) – 1103 points; Petter Northug JR. (NOR) – 1047 points; Finn Haagen Krogh (NOR) – 897 points. Sundby moves down to sixth place in the overall World Cup standings with 748 points and forfeits CHF 22,275 in the overall World Cup prize money standings.

– In total, Sundby forfeits 616 World Cup points for the 2014/15 season and CHF 131,275 in prize money. This includes all races directly and indirectly affected by the CAS decision.”

“I was sure that the case would be dropped quite fast, but then it turned out that WADA didn’t understand the rules in the same way as the whole Norwegian medical team,” he continued. “When WADA appealed, I thought it was a formality. I went into the 2015/2016-season knowing I was innocent, and also that I was acquitted. I think the verdict is totally unreasonable. I have to live with it, and I will stay strong knowing I have done nothing wrong.”

“FIS fully shares the view of the CAS that Martin Johnsrud Sundby is not to be considered as an intentional doping offender but that his sanctions result from the strict application of the anti-doping rules and the WADA Prohibited List as a consequence of his reliance on questionable medical advice to administer salbutamol outside a hospital,” FIS concluded.

According to the Norwegian Ski Federation, Sundby had the best season of his career this past winter without inhaling salbutamol.

“I am pleased that the Norwegian Ski Association so firmly takes responsibility for what happened, and that they so firmly emphasize that I personally have not tried to do anything illegal in this case,” Sundby said in the team press release, according to a direct translation. “Of course, I understand that this case is of public interest, and that’s why I come to this press conference and reply to media inquiries. However, I ask for understanding that I will return to the two most important things in my life after this: my closest family and my career as a ski racer.

“The situation I am in currently is any athlete’s nightmare. I’ve always competed clean. I hope and believe this case will not have further consequences for my future career or my preparation for the upcoming season.”


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