As the shock subsides over Therese Johaug’s 18-month suspension from the sport she loves, the skiing star herself has decided not to appeal her doping verdict to Switzerland’s Supreme Court. She’s now training for an expected comeback when her suspension ends on April 17, 2018.
“There was an extremely small chance the case would be taken up (by the Swiss Supreme Court) and I think (appealing) would just be a waste of resources,” Johaug’s manager Jørn Ernst told Nettavisen on Tuesday. “We’re finished with this, and Therese will move forward.”
She has said that she feels she was treated unfairly by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, which extended her suspension for using a cream to treat painful lip sores that contained a steroid. She’s been supported by many other Norwegian skiing stars and officials who feel the 18-month suspension, which also means she can’t compete in next year’s Olympics, was much too strict. The anti-doping regulations that led to the suspension have also been criticized as being too strict.
“I don’t think the mistake (made by Johaug in not checking the cream’s contents) is in accordance with the consequences it has,” said Erik Røste, president of Norway’s national skiing federaton. Norwegian ski queen Marit Bjørgen said the harsh verdict against Johaug “takes away some of the joy of sports.” She said she cried with Johaug, a good friend and skiing teammate, when the verdict was handed down. It was much tougher than the 13-month suspension that had been issued by Norway’s own anti-doping board.
‘Rules we all have to follow’
Others, however, have claimed that many Norwegians’ outrage over Johaug’s doping verdict isn’t fair, or rational, either. “Of course it’s sad,” said Rikard Grip, head of the Swedish skiing team, ” but there are rules that we all have to follow.” Aino Kaisa Saarinen, a Finnish skier, said it was expected that the Norwegian suspension would be lengthened: “Now the best experts have made it clear. It was a serious case and the punishment is correct.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is behind the regulations that led to Johaug’s suspension. Norwegian officials and athletes have wanted the rules to be tougher than they once were. Both Norwegian and international experts have claimed that a strict regulatory framework is necessary to tackle doping in sports.
All, including CAS and the international skiing federation FIS, agree that Johaug did not deliberately try to cheat and use a steroid. But all athletes, including Johaug, are ultimately responsible for what they ingest. All athletes found with illegal substances in their systems must be punished.
“The cornerstone of the WADA code is the principle of (athletes’) strict responsibility,” Catherine MacLean of WADA told newspaper Aftenposten. Those enforcing that code, and the rules, can’t take the consequences for athletes into consideration. CAS couldn’t punish Johaug with anything less than a 12-mont suspension, or more than 24 months. It settled on 18 months.
Norway has championed strict rules and tough punishments
Aftenposten ended up editorializing late last week that Johaug has not been unfairly treated. “Norway has earlier been an advocate of strict punishments in the international anti-doping effort,” the paper wrote. “These standpoints can’t be changed just because one of the nation’s own is hit by them.”
Johaug, meanwhile, is now assembling her own team around her, since she’s not allowed to either train or compete with the national team. Pål Gunnar Mikkelplass has been hired as her personal coach. Her brother Karstein is her sparring partner and trains with her. Her commercial sponsors are staying with her, at least so far.
“I have said that I won’t give up until I can stand at a starting line once again, and I stand by that,” Johaug said at a press conference just after the CAS suspension was issued. She’ll be back, and has some genuine sympathy even from arch rivals: “It’s difficult to put words on the terrible situation Therese is in right now,” said Swedish cross country skiing star Charlotte Kalla. “I suffer with her as a friend and competitor.”