Slovenian biathlete Klemen Bauer has competed in nine World Championships and three Olympics, landing just one spot away from a medal in the sprint in Vancouver in 2010. He has a handful of top-10 World Cup finishes to call his own.
Bauer has also been a prominent voice for fair and ethical sport, speaking out in support of the anti-doping process and more recently participating in a campaign to eradicate sexual abuse from sport.
But a few weeks ago, he learned that a longtime teammate, Teja Gregorin, had used a banned growth hormone promoter at the 2010 Olympics, where she had also come very close to a medal. (Four years later, she won a bronze medal in the pursuit at the Sochi Olympics.)
Bauer tweeted cryptically when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that one athlete had been caught doping when samples from the 2010 Olympics were re-tested this year using up-to-date analytical methods. When it was announced that Gregorin was the athlete in question, he tweeted, “Sad, mad, & disappointed.”
In a press conference after the news was released, Gregorin said, “I sincerely apologize to all who have been affected my actions in any way.”
Among those affected are, obviously, Gregorin’s competitors, some of whom have voiced their own anger. But her teammates are also affected. Bauer, along with Andreja Mali and Jakov Fak, won mixed relay silver at 2012 World Championships. It remains to be seen whether that result will be invalidated.
Besides that, the Slovenian team’s reputation is affected.
“I feel bad for her other teammates, like Klemen, who has been at this for a long, long time, and it would seem that he will be the victim of speculation surrounding the case,” said U.S. veteran biathlete Lowell Bailey. “That’s just the natural tendency. ‘Well, if there’s one case, then how did she do it? Why did she do it? Who was helping her?’ All those questions come up.”
Bailey has known Bauer for almost his entire biathlon career, and said that Bauer supported his efforts to get other World Cup biathletes to sign a petition to the International Biathlon Union (IBU) to hold a meeting with athletes to discuss anti-doping policy and in particular the McLaren report.
“Klemen is like a lot of other athletes – he is really a really hard-working, motivated, determined athlete,” U.S. veteran Lowell Bailey said in an interview last week. “He has always been a person that understands the seriousness of what it takes to be a career biathlete, but also understands that there’s a balance there. He has a son, Axel, and a family, and he has that personal balance that is important for a lot of the elder statesmen of the biathlon world. He’s a great guy and I have always enjoyed competing against him and with him.”
Bauer agreed to answer some questions about the Gregorin case and how it is affecting him and his team. The lightly edited interview is presented below, followed by more context from Bailey.
FasterSkier: When did you hear about this case and what was your reaction? Were you with the team at the time, or did you have to process this all on your own?
Klemen Bauer: We (athletes) were informed a week before the public announcement. First reaction was shocking and frustrating. Then I was really mad and sad about it. I was on my own at the time. We were all back home.
FS: I guess you have known Teja for a long time.
KB: Yeah. I’ve known her since I was a little kid. She started in the same local club, training with her father. We were training mostly together (at training camps) for the past eight years.
FS: Would you have thought someone could do something like this with nobody else finding out?
KB: I think it’s an easy job to do it without anybody knowing it — as long as it’s a matter of an individual, which it was in Teja’s case.
FS: Do you think or do you worry that this violation by Teja will also affect your reputation? Slovenia’s reputation?
KB: Absolutely. That was actually one of my first biggest concerns. All the good stories we [Slovenian biathlon] have created in the past 8-10 years were destroyed in a moment. Well, hopefully it won’t be that cruel as I think — At this point I find it crucial to expose that it was an act of a single individual athlete. Me personally, I don’t like teams who were involved into doping scandals, so I can imagine the response of the athletes after this. But as I said, I really hope they will realize the rest of us are far away from what happened.
FS: Have you talked to any athletes from other teams/countries since the news came out?
KB: Not really.
FS: What about Teja, have you talked to her?
KB: Not at all. I have no intention to. I will wait for her to come in and explain (apologize).
FS: Has this affected your training for the upcoming season?
KB: It was hard to fall asleep first few couple of days after the news, but the training went well. Sometimes I even got an extra boost, when thinking about it – my anger came out.
FS: What about your attitude?
KB: In general after any doping scandal, my morale goes down. I would rather give up right away. But let’s say I still kind of believe in fair, clean sport (which is very naive), and probably that’s what still keeps me in sport. After recent events I’m even more determined to prove that a good result can be done in a fair, clean way.
FS: Is there anything else you would like to say about this situation, to fans of the sport for instance?
KB: I’d like to emphasize to have faith in our small team — most of other athletes are still young — and not to judge us by the act of one individual.
FS: Is this something you would have said in the past, when an individual from another team was caught?
KB: There are countries doing it [doping] on national level (supported by their government), and there are individuals. Of course a single act usually leads to suspicion of the whole rest of the team even if not so. I might be a little more careful about my judgment after this incident.
Bailey could sympathize with Bauer to some extent – the American had no idea that Gregorin had been doping, and he did not indicate that he’d ever had suspicions of the Slovenian team, who he called “always really friendly and open.”
It got more personal for Bailey when he pulled up that athletes’ petition during the interview and realized that Gregorin had signed it, adding her voice to demands for stronger anti-doping policies.
“That’s troubling to see from someone who had three positive tests – that, in my mind, represents knowingly committing an anti-doping rule violation,” he said. “To be quite honest, she was an athlete who I had a lot of respect for. She came from a smaller country in terms of biathlon and had some really impressive results. I always looked at her as an example of an athlete who was working hard within the rules. So it’s a feeling of betrayal to have something like this come out.”
Bailey emphasized that Gregorin deserves due process. When the case is over, competitors and fans may know more about how and why she decided to dope.
“I stand steadfastly behind every athlete having due process – there has been a lot of discussion about just treatment of alleged doping cases,” Bailey said. “I totally support that. I support due process and quick and fair and just proceedings. I hope that her case is treated that way. But it’s really sad. It’s really unfortunate to see that happen.”
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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.