While reporting regarding systematic doping by Russian teams has been building up for several years, the second part of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s McLaren report still took some by surprise in terms of the pure scope of the allegations.
Tiger Shaw, CEO of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), was one of them.
“I am shocked by the level: the number of individuals colluding is shocking,” he said in an interview on Friday. “How anybody could have ever thought that something like this could be secret forever is incredible.”
Shaw said that in some USSA disciplines, there are no Russian athletes competing at a high level, so he expected past competition results to remain more or less unchanged.
For others, however, the implications were bigger. Cross-country skiing clearly falls into that category.
“Obviously it’s going to have an impact in terms of the athletes, where the results will be changed and their medals taken away and they will be banned,” Shaw said. “I presume that the federations will have to make all these decisions.”
The sport “skiing” appears 75 times in the Schedule of Samples and ADAMS Reports document that is part of the McLaren Report’s evidence package. McLaren and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have anonymized the athlete names, so lines of data cannot be linked to any individual athlete.
While the discipline is sometimes further delineated, for example as “skiing | cross country” (or “cross country skiing” – there is no consistent rule for terminology) it is difficult to tell how many data points correspond to which disciplines. Some entries are also labeled as “Skiing – IPC Cross Country”, but many just say “skiing”, leaving uncertainty as to whether they are from able-bodied or para-nordic competitors, regardless of the discipline.
Many of these 75 data points do not have information about what substances were detected in the samples, if any. But some clearly do: one for the blood-doping drug erythropoietin (EPO); another for a high ratio of exogenous testosterone; yet another for budesonide, a corticosteroid used in inhalers; and another for trimetazidine, a heart drug which, like meldonium, is a metabolic modulator which combats angina.
Another athlete tested positive for “phthalates”, plasticizers which are sometimes used in IV bags and are often assumed to indicate blood transfusions. They are also, however, present in other kinds of packaging.
In all of these cases the results were reported to WADA’s anti-doping test management system, ADAMS, as negative tests: no prohibited substances found. Translated emails used in the investigation also refer to some of these cases, showing that they were discussed between personnel who were supposed to be enforcing anti-doping rules.
The information has been forwarded from WADA to the 32 international sports federations (IFs) where athletes were implicated in the report, and has also been forwarded to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It is up to those organizations to sift through the information and determine penalties and suspensions, or decide to do further investigation.
Shaw believed that the International Ski Federation (FIS) was taking the report seriously.
“I think they are going to take pretty swift action,” he said. “There are a large number of athletes that have to be dealt with. There’s no question that they will take swift and efficient action… our place is as a stakeholder and a component of international governance. Our role at the FIS level is that [USSA Board Chair] Dexter Paine is one of the vice presidents. So it’s a pivotal day and there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Some work was short-term, he said: determining sanctions for athletes implicated in the report.
But other work was long-term, in terms of dismantling the system which led to such systematic cheating in Russia.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of competitions were implicated in the coverup, some of which occurred after the 2014 Olympics, which was the catalyst and main focus of the report.
That has led U.S. and Canadian athletes in luge and skeleton to discuss a boycott of competitions held in Russia this year. Shaw said he understood their position. FIS has World Cup events in almost every discipline scheduled for Russia this season, and in mid-October FIS President Gian Franco Kasper said that Russia could be stripped of its right to hold those competitions depending on the outcome of the McLaren report.
“I don’t think anybody feels safe about being there, being in a country that had this high level of collusion,” Shaw said. “Each sport and each country is going to have to deal with it in their own way. For that, we work closely with the [United States Olympic Committee] and our athletes.”
Far from regretting if U.S. athletes spoke out on the doping issue, Shaw seemed to be relieved that more and more, they are doing so.
“The bottom line is that we absolutely stand behind, and believe in, clean sports and clean athletes,” Shaw said. “So we will stand behind any effort and make any effort in the long term to make sure that happens. And that means, to a degree, working through the system we have now, and working to help change it for the better, which a lot of people are trying to do, including, it sounds like, an increasing number of athletes. Thank goodness they are speaking up because it’s all about them in the first place, isn’t it?”
“The bottom line is that we absolutely stand behind, and believe in, clean sports and clean athletes. … Thank goodness they are speaking up because it’s all about them in the first place, isn’t it?” — Tiger Shaw, USSA President and CEO
Meanwhile, many Russian athletes likely implicated in the report are on the start lists for international competitions this weekend.
Shaw said that his message to U.S. Ski Team athletes was that they should continue to focus on excelling, and doing so clean.
“They put their heads down and they go out and race,” he said. “Due process must be followed…. Justice is going to be served, but any individual athlete, they have to take the longer view on how they can help change the system.”
Some were already doing just that.
“I’m going to take tomorrow to focus on the races and try to do a better job of processing and understand the Mclaren report after the race on Sunday,” cross-country skier Sophie Caldwell wrote in an email on Friday afternoon.
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.