Antidoping Norge announced Friday that they were extending the suspension of Norway’s top cross-country skier Therese Johaug by two months, until February 19, pending the outcome of a hearing on the charges against her. Johaug, meanwhile, isn’t giving up a comeback and already has a new support apparatus around her.
The extension was called “routine,” since she initially was forced out of action until December 19. “Since her case hasn’t been heard yet (by a judicial council within the national athletics federation), her suspension has been extended until Februay 19, 2017” or until the council acts, wrote Antidoping Norge in a press release.
An open hearing on her case has been set for January 25-27, at which point she’ll give her version of how she ended up testing postive for a steroid in September. It’s already been accepted that the steroid was contained in a cream she was given by the national ski team’s doctor to treat sunburn blisters on her lips. He has since resigned but Johaug, like all athletes, is ultimately responsible for what products she uses. She faces a 14-month suspension for negligence because she failed to notice a doping warning on the cream’s packaging.
Johaug has claimed innocence and reacted with shock and tears to the doping charges, but has tried to recover and keep training on her own since she’s no longer allowed to train with the Norwegian team. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) carried a lengthy interview with her earlier this month, showing her skiing at Sjusjøen in the mountains of Hedmark County and working with a new coach, Pål Gunnar Mikkelsplass, doctor Ola Sand, psychologist Britt Tjaet Foxell and Snorre Haugland, responsible for waxing her skis.
Johaug has also been skiing with her brother Karstein, a fellow racer, and is determined to compete in the next Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018. “When I wake up in the morning, there are two letters in my head, ‘OL,'” Johaug told NRK, once again fighting back tears as she used the abbreviation for the Olympics in Norway.
“I have to see the opportunities … and be 100 percent prepared to come back again,” Johaug said. “I feel I have extremely talented and professional people around me, and we will get through this together.”
Johaug also still has support from her teammates, who have already skied with her privately. They’re not allowed to train with her during the season, though, and they say it’s tough on all of them. “We have been on the team together for 11 years and that’s a part of her family,” fellow skiing star Marit Bjørgen told newspaper Aftenposten recently. “Suddenly it’s all gone. Now we’ll be good girlfriends” and train together when they can.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported this week that the doping charges and suspension can cost Johaug as much as NOK 10 million because of lost winnings, bonuses from sponsors and her compensation agreement with the Norwegian ski federation. Johaug’s losses will mount if sponsors break their contracts with her, and in addition come the expenses of her training. She no longer can use any of the Norwegian Olympic organization or the skiing federation’s resources.
Johaug still seems to have a lot of popular support in Norway, however, and many see her as a victim of overly strict doping rules. Johaug told NRK she’s also found inspiration in how Bjørgen already has won races after missing last season because she had a baby and how Norwegian champion Martin Johnsrud Sundby also has fought his way back to the winners’ podium after facing suspension and doping charges because of incorrect use of an asthma medicine.