Skiers ‘shocked’ over doping claims

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Former Norwegian ski champions, their coaches and top ski association officials are unanimously  blasting claims in a new Finnish documentary that their sport was plagued by doping during the glory years of the 1990s. That’s when Norwegian skiers won a pile of gold medals, not least at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer in 1994.

Norwegian skiers excelled in the Winter Olympics at Lillehammer in 1994, and at many other competitions during the 1990s. Now they flatly deny allegations in a Finnish documentary that doping was involved. PHOTO: Wikipedia/Scanpix

The claims were made by an anonymous source said by Finnish filmmaker Arto Halonen to be “a central person” tied to the Norwegian cross-country skiing team during its “gullalder (golden age).” Halonen said the source claims that doping was widespread among Norwegian skiers at that time.

The anonymous allegations cast a pall over all the skiing stars from that time, such as Vegard Ulvang, Thomas Alsgaard, Bente Martinsen Skari and Bjørn Dæhlie. Alsgaard, both an Olympic and World Champion in the 1990s, was among those saying he was “shocked” by the allegations, and simply doesn’t believe them. He also flatly denies doping among his teammates.

Alsgaard told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on its national nightly news program Dagsrevyen Thursday that he had nothing to hide but it was “impossible to defend onesself against anonymous, cowardly sources.”

He urged Halonen to “come forward with the source, who is he? Let him tell us what (information) he’s sitting on, and then I promise with 100 percent certainty that we’ll manage to defend ourselves against this. I know myself that I have nothing to hide.”

NRK reported that Ulvang also was “shocked” by the allegations, while Skari and Dæhlie contend they’re groundless. The film marks the third time that doping has been tied to Norwegian sport this fall, and the allegations come in the same week when a top Norwegian track and field coach also is fending off alleged links to doping.

Filmmaker confident in his source
Halonen told NRK, though, that he felt confident enough in his source that he included the doping allegations in the film, When his heroes lie. His anonymous source said doping wasn’t only a problem in Finland, where some top skiers tested positive, but in Norway and Sweden as well.

“He (the source) added that if the truth about the Norwegians’ success came out, there wouldn’t be any winners, only losers,” Halonen said. He said he was prepared to meet opposition in Norway. “Both athletes and their leaders will contest the allegations,” he told NRK. “But in the film you see the truth. It’s a natural reaction to deny, because everyone enjoys winning presentations and won’t make room for the truth. I think it’s about time we take up this discussion and get clean heroes, that’s what we need.”

A Norwegian doctor, Helge Oftebro, is also quoted in the film as saying that leaders of the ski team can’t honestly say with certainty that no one uses doping in their sport. Oftebro told NRK his quote was taken out of context.

No positive tests
The film was to be shown on NRK2 Saturday night after NRK chief Hans Tore Bjerkaas found the anonymous source to be relevant, correctly quoted and in a position to have information. Bjerkaas knows who the source is, and said he thinks the film is “good,” focusing mostly on the Finnish skiing milieu with only a few, if explosive, references to the situation in other countries.

The film’s allegations clearly angered the president of Norway’s skiing federation (Norges Skiforbund) Erik Røste, who was head coach of the national skiing team during portions of the ‘990s. Røste also said it was “impossible” to deal with such anonymous charges, and challenged the source to reveal himself. Both he and Inggard Lerein of Antidoping Norge, the national anti-doping agency, noted that no top Norwegian skiers have ever tested positive.

Halonen stood his ground, claiming it was almost impossible in top athletics to do well without doping. Rubbish, claims Dæhlie. “These are shocking allegations, and completely at odds with the lives we led,” Dæhlie told NRK.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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