Doping in Norway – Over the fall, this has been the No. 1 topic in the sport of cross-country skiing, and involves two separate doping cases and two suspensions of the best male and female skiers in the world.
Does this mean there is something rotten in cross-country skiing in Norway? Maybe. According to Theresa Johaug, she is innocent of doping, but guilty of ignoring the package labelling and of trusting her team doctor. It is hard to believe, however, that neither of them saw the huge NO DOPING label on the box and tube of lip cream. Whatever she is guilty of, it is the athlete's responsibility to make sure that a doping product is not used. It has been recommended that she receive a 14-month suspension, which is the shortest ever given for the use of this product. To her supporters, her tears are real, and they believe she shouldn't be punished so heavily. To her detractors, they are “crocodile tears,” and that they are masking something. I am on the fence here – she has been too good for too long for me to believe that she is using steroids for performance, however, this is a banned substance and she should have been more attentive. What do you think?
The other major doping story in Norway involves asthma medication. Actually, it is three stories. One story is about Martin Johnsrud Sundby using too much before races. The second revolves around the number of asthmatics on the Norwegian team. The third concerns Norwegian coaches' and doctors' recommendation that skiers who do not have asthma use the medication “for preventative measures.”
As a lifelong asthmatic, I have no problem with skiers diagnosed with asthma by a reputable independent doctor using asthma medication. It certainly helps me to breathe “normally” at high intensities. I do have a problem with using higher-than-correct dosages, as did Johnsrud Sundby. I also have a problem with using the nebulizers in the waxing trailer between qualifying and heats on sprint days. And I most definitely have a problem with using the medication if you are not asthmatic. To me, using too much is taking advantage of an existing situation to get an unnatural performance enhancement, and using it if you don't need it is downright cheating. Many doctors and researchers in Scandinavia are quoted as saying that using these medications will not help someone who does not have asthma. If this is the case, then why are the coaches and doctors on the Norwegian team telling their athletes to use it?
New CEO for Cross Country Canada – After less than a year in the position, Pierre Lafontaine has left CCC for Cycling Canada. This was bound to happen, given his living situation. His family remained in the Ottawa, Ont. area while he was resided alone in a rental suite in Canmore, Alta. This may work for a young athlete, but not for him. While in Canmore, he missed his family, and while at home in Chelsea, Que., he was not able to perform his job nearly as well.
It didn't take long for CCC to announce his replacement. Shane Pearsall is a former Olympic chef de mission and athlete, a former CEO at Bobsleigh and Luge and, even more importantly, an executive in the “oil patch” in the past decade. With CCC'S biggest challenge being a lack of funds, he appears to be the right person for the job.
Early-season Results – As I write this column, it seems to be business as usual on both the Canadian and American teams as the season gets underway. Alex Harvey is consistently near the top of the results for Canada and Jessie Diggins continues to shine for the U.S. Her win in Lillehammer demonstrated that she continues to improve, and she is now one of the top-three non-norwegian skiers in the world. With Charlotte Kalla currently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, Diggins may move up even more.
The rest of the Canadian team, with the exception of a 13th place by Len Valjas, has not done all that well. This is the start of the qualifying period for Canada for the 2018 Olympics, and, so far, Harvey has made the required two results to be nominated and Valjas has done it once. Devon Kershaw has been close, but the rest of the men and women skiers are a long way off individually. It looks as if they may have to make the standard in the relays or Team sprints in order to qualify. There are still many races left this year and into the start of next year, so no need to panic just yet. It would be better though to qualify this season and plan to be at one's best in February 2018 and not have to be concerned with peaking early in the Olympic season.
The American women's team continues to be strong, with great depth. It seems that every race there are at least three women in the top 30 collecting points. The men continue to be in the middle of the pack and, to me, do not seem to be moving forward.
Norway continues to dominate the men's and women's result lists, with incredible depth in both teams. Cross-country skiing in Norway is like hockey in Canada. Kids grow up wanting to be skiers. They see skiers on TV every day, the top skiers are superstars in the country and there are great ski facilities in every small town and city. Nowhere else in the world is the sport of cross-country skiing as important as it is in Norway. It really is a nation “Born on Skis.”
Theresa Johaug claims it was an innocent mistake despite the labelling on the package.