Marit Bjørgen could polish her crown as Norway’s skiing queen over the weekend but then had to gear up for less pleasant tasks off the ski trails. After winning again in World Cup competition, she was set to testify in the doping case against her distressed national teammate Therese Johaug.
Just days after winning two World Cup races, Bjørgen will be among those having to answer questions at the first hearing on Antidoping Norge’s charges against Johaug. “I’m tense and nervous,” Bjørgen told newspaper VG late last week.
That was before the 36-year-old veteran made another grand comeback in World Cup competition at Ulricehamn in Sweden over the weekend. First she won a 10-kilometer race on Saturday, beating Krista Pärmäkoski of Finland by 10.7 seconds, a solid margin in cross country skiing races. Charlotte Kalla of Sweden placed third on home turf.
Then, on Sunday, Bjørgen also out-classed her rivals by crossing the finish line well ahead of the pack in the women’s relay, giving Norway the victory over Germany in second place and Sweden in third. Norway’s winning team also included Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, Heidi Weng and Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen.
Now Bjørgen and her teammates will be forced to switch their focus to the hearing that their fellow skier Johaug must undergo on Wednesday and Thursday. Antidoping Norge has charged Johaug after she tested positive in September for the steroid klostebol, which was contained in some lip salve she’d used to treat sunburn blisters. The salve had been given to her by the Norwegian team’s doctor, but the athletes themselves are ultimately held responsible.
Antidoping Norge has proposed suspending Johaug for 14 months and this skiing season has already been spoiled. Despite being nervous, Bjørgen told VG that she thought it was “important for me to contribute with what I can” at the hearing, “to help Therese.”
The hearing, to be held at Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo, has attracted so much media attention that it had to be moved to a bigger location. Lawyers won’t allow it to be broadcast live, but it will be streamed. Testimony presented is aimed at providing three judges in the case with the foundation needed to determine what sort of punishment Johaug should receive, if she’s not acquitted. The latter is highly unlikely, given the strict rules against doping, no matter what the circumstances were.
A verdict is expected in a few months, which can also be appealed.