Norway’s skiing champion Therese Johaug, her reputation at stake after testing positive for a steroid, agreed to answer more questions on Thursday but didn’t have many new answers. The teary-eyed Johaug still insists she’s innocent of any attempt to intentionally take steroids, and now fears she may miss the entire upcoming ski season.
She noted how her life “has turned upside down” since the minute she was told that she’d tested positive for a steroid contained in a salve she used to treat sores on her sunburned lips after high-altitude training in Italy last summer.
“I don’t remember there was any warning on the package,” she told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), which was among selected media outlets chosen to meet with Johaug Thursday afternoon. She has been in seclusion since her sensational doping case went public earlier this month, but felt a need to respond to questions and criticism since then.
‘Relied 100 percent’ on the team’s doctor
Johaug repeated her earlier claims that she was handed the salve by Dr Fredrik Bendiksen, the doctor for Norway’s cross-country ski team, and told that it didn’t violate any anti-doping regulations. Even though Johaug has earlier claimed that she always checks any medicine she’s given, she admitted that “I didn’t study the (Trofodermin salve’s) package at all.” She instead relied on her doctor’s assurances that it was safe to use. He has since resigned as team doctor.
Asked whether she checked via an Internet search, for example, whether the salve complied with anti-doping regulations, she shook her head and said “no, I relied 100 percent on what he (Bendiksen) said.” Asked whether she still feels she can’t be blamed, she said “yes,” adding that she couldn’t think of anything she should have done differently at the time.
“I feel I did everything I should have done,” Johaug told NRK. “I went to my doctor and asked if he had a cream that I could have on my lips. He was the one who bought the cream (at an Italian pharmacy), he was the one who put the cream in my hand and to my question whether it was on the doping list, he said ‘no’ and I trusted him, a man who’s worked with this so long.”
Out in the cold
The 28-year-old Johaug, who has won multiple gold medals, the overall World Cup and World Champioship races, is now literally out in the cold. Since being suspended pending the investigation into her doping case, she’s not allowed to train with the rest of Norway’s team nor have access to any coaching or facilities. She’s on her own, just weeks before the start of the season. Her suspension runs until mid-December and can be extended until the investigation is complete.
That means Johaug will miss the season opener, the first races of the World Cup season and, most likely, the Tour de Ski that she won last year.
“I must say that the day when all the other team members traveled to Van Senales (back in Italy) was terribly strange,” Johaug said. She’s lost the entire professional apparatus around her that had come to be second nature.
She claimed she will return to the sport, but worries that this season may be lost. “I don’t know, I just have to do what I’m allowed to do,” she said. “And I hope that I can come back as quickly as possible. But I’m realistic, and I see that this process can take time.”
Johaug said she was upset that her version of events has been questioned. She also was grateful for the support she has received from friends, family, her partner, professional rower Nils Jakob Hoff, and teammates. “All that has been the main reason that I’ve gotten through this,” she said.
Asked whether Norwegian sports fans can rely on her, she said “Yes, I have been so honest in this case. I have told the truth and there’s nothing else to say.”