UPDATED: Norway’s world champion skier Therese Johaug has been suspended for two months by the legal committee of the country’s anti-doping agency, Antidoping Norge, after testing positive for use of a banned substance. Her doctor also faces charges and the suspension means Johaug, who has ranked among the world’s best cross-country skiers for several years, will most likely be unable to compete in the ski season’s opening events next month.
The suspension was ordered after Antidoping Norge’s administration concluded its preliminary investigation of the positive test results. The antidoping agency stressed in a press release issued Wednesday that the suspension is temporary, pending final judgment of Johaug’s case. The supension is due to run until December 18, “or until the time when a verdict is reached,” also if such a verdict emerges before December 18.
Johaug tested positive in September to use of the mild but banned steroid clostebol, which was contained in a tube of salve she used to treat lip sores late last summer. Antidoping Norge noted that both Johaug’s A- and B-test results were positive and that clostebol is “prohibited both in and outside of competition.”
The agency’s report went on to note that “a positive test result is viewed as a violation” of international regulations (NIF’s paragraph 12.3 (1)a).
‘Not without guilt’
Antidoping Norge forwarded the results of its investigation to the judicial entity that evaluates doping violations within Norwegian athletics, Påtalenemnda i Antidoping Norge, which is led by former Oslo police chief Anstein Gjengedal. It formally issued the suspension order and now must decide whether Johaug’s case should be forwarded to the Norwegian athletics federation’s NIFs domsutvalg, another commission that functions like a local court for athletes. That decision, along with a recommendation for any punishment, will be made after Antidoping Norge’s administration carries on with its investigation and forwards its conclusions.
Gjengedal said the suspension was ordered because his committee, after reviewing results of the preliminary investigation, “was of the opinion that the athlete (Johaug) could not be said to have acted without guilt.” The actual regulation against use of the banned substance applied, and a supension must then be imposed, Gjengedal noted, adding that the suspension means the athlete cannot take part in any competition or organized training for as long as it’s in effect.
Johaug won’t appeal
Johaug had already opted against traveling to a training session in Italy with the rest of Norway’s national women’s ski team this week, and is reportedly training on her own. Her attorney said over the weekend that she needed a period of peace and quiet in the midst of what’s become one of the biggest sports dramas in Norwegian history that also compounds threats to the reputation of Norway’s national sport.
Gjengedal stressed that “we so far have only taken a position on the question of a suspension, and at this point, we do not want to comment on details of the case.” Johaug can appeal the suspension to the NIF domsutvalg, but stated in a press release issued through Norway’s national skiing federation that she would not.
She stated that the suspension was difficult to accept, but that she would instead “concentrate on what’s most important, to work for full acquittal (of doping charges). I look forward to a thorough and full evaluation of the case as quickly as possible.”
Doctor faces charges, too
Antidoping Norge reported that it also is opening a case against Dr Fredrik Bendiksen, who resigned last week as a doctor for the national ski team after admitting that he’d given the banned salve to Johaug and told her it was safe to use. Both Johaug and Bendiksen allegedy overlooked clear warnings on the salve’s packaging that it was a banned substance for athletes.
Bendiksen was also called in for questioning by Antidoping Norge, because doping regulations also apply to health care personnel. Antidoping Norge’s legal committee is thus also concerned that Bendiksen violated rules against prescribing og giving a banned substance to an athlete and ordered that “a case can be opened against national team doctor Fredrik Bendiksen for possible violation of doping regulations.”
Johaug draws criticism and support
The Johaug case continues to dominate headlines in Norway, as skiing fans come to grips with the fact that the nation’s two current champions (Johaug and Martin Johnsrud Sundby) have been hit with doping charges. Sundby was convicted for violating regulations tied to the use of his otherwise legal asthma medicine, while Johaug is accused of using a banned substance.
While Sundby’s case was kept under wraps during its entire legal process, and only revealed this past summer, Johaug opted to go public with her positive test results immediately. She has been the target of much criticism but also has won sympathy. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported earlier on Wednesday that sales of her Johaug-brand apparel skyrocketed over the weekend, both via her online sales site and in local sporting goods stores. Retailers say the sales spike is an indication of public support for Johaug.
“It’s a bit early to say what the consequences of all this will be, but it looks like folks support Johaug,” the Nordic director of Active Brands, which markets Johaug apparel, told NRK. Øystein Bråta of Active Brands said he thinks many “share the impression that this case is sad and clumsy, but that there hasn’t been any conscious cheating by Johaug.” It’s now up to the sports judicial process to determine whether that’s correct.