The Duped Cheat

Doping Top Secret: Confession – Inside the mind of a doper Sportschau 17.01.2019 45:21 Min. Verfügbar bis 17.01.2020 Das Erste

Cross-Country Skiing

The Duped Cheat

Austrian cross-country skier Johannes Dürr tested positive for doping at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. In the documentary “Doping Top Secret: Confession. Inside the mind of a doper”, he becomes the first winter sports athlete to reveal all about the background to what had occurred. His arsenal of cheating methods included not only EPO and growth hormones, but also blood doping, which Dürr regularly received in Germany.By Hajo Seppelt, Wolfgang Bausch, Rolf-Günther Schulze, Jörg Winterfeldt

Little is left of the glory that Johannes Dürr achieved through dishonest means. The cross-country skier lives a life, completely devoid of glamour. He lives on the edge of Innsbruck, Austria, in a fifteen square metre room in a shared apartment. He has installed a bunk bed in his room for his son, Noah, because the kid finds it cool and, above all, because it saves space. When invited into his kitchen for our story, one of his flatmates remains seated at the table, with stoic calm, enjoying a plate of pasta and a glass of wine.

But this doesn’t bother Johannes Dürr. He was never one of those who starts showing off the moment they become a great athlete. Dürr, 31, is from a modest home in Lower Austria. He grew up with seven siblings. He has not forgotten his roots, and cares nothing for appearances. “To me, things need to work and have a use. It doesn’t really matter to me what they look like,” he says, “these status things do nothing for me, they give me no added benefit. I don’t need Prada shades, or anything like that. It’s not important to me at all.”

In February, five years ago, when his life changed so abruptly and brutally, Johannes Dürr would never have thought that he may once again cause a stir in his sport. That he would become known, not for his rapid rise in sport, but for the story behind his downfall.

A return home to dope

Johannes Duerr during training

Austria's former medal hopeful is currently training for a comeback.

On 22nd February 2014 at the Winter Games in Sochi, Dürr’s bosses from the Austrian Ski Association had him dragged out of bed shortly before midnight to make quick work of the matter: Dürr was hurried into a hotel, where he was to wait for a premature flight home. A doping sample, taken during a training camp back home in Austria, had shown traces of the endurance drug EPO. Between his first race at the Olympic Games in Sochi and the final competition over 50 kilometres, where he was hoping for gold, Dürr returned home to practice. And to dope.

He admitted this at once. During filming for the ARD documentary “Doping Top Secret: Confession. Inside the mind of a doper” he then belatedly came clean about all that lay behind his large-scale cheating. Unlike the period when he was unmasked as a cheat, Johannes Dürr now describes, in front of the cameras, how an emerging athlete from a provincial background was able to implement a sophisticated, and virtually undetectable, doping program involving autologous transfusions and with foreign support. 

Cross country skiier Duerr makes his confession

Cross country skiier Johannes Duerr reports on ARD about his doping past.

Dürr honed his body with a whole arsenal of means to help boost his hopes of an Olympic gold medal. Besides EPO, he also took growth hormones, tried out insulin, and even underwent blood transfusions.  His own blood was drawn from his body, concentrated red blood cells were extracted, and it was reinjected shortly before competitions. This highly effective method allows more oxygen to flow to the muscles. What’s more, it’s virtually undetectable.

In a conspiratorial manner, he drove all over Germany, where most of his blood doping sessions took place. “I was always watching out to make sure there were no police around or someone who could maybe be watching. You always – or at least I always – felt like you were being observed somehow,” says Dürr, “while the blood was being extracted, there were obviously moments when I was very concerned, because the equipment operated very, very loudly. I, for one, was always worried about getting caught. The equipment makes a very specific noise.”

Blood doping in Germany

For a total cost of five thousand euros, Dürr had his blood manipulated in hotels at Munich Airport, in the city centre, in a motel at the Irschenberg Service Area on the A8, and in a car park next to his hotel in Oberhof. There was a deal that his helper would get a cut of any of the winnings. As the time approached for the race where he was hoping to win Olympic gold, immediately before returning to Sochi, he received his last shot at the Hotel Ramada Innsbruck. The blood doping that took place in that hotel can safely be described as the most brazen of all: the building with the striking, skewed design is situated directly across from the light blue, inconspicuous headquarters of the powerful Austrian Ski Association.

Despite this all, he does not give the impression of being a ruthless doper. “Basically, I am a very honest person. To me, honesty is always the basis for any human relationship so we can treat each other as equals,” he says. When he was caught doping, and had to wait for his flight home, full of shame, he toyed with the idea of suicide, Dürr says. “At that moment, I wanted more than anything to just jump out of the window. The thought was so overwhelming, that it was actually only at the last moment as I was, I guess, looking down over the railing, I suddenly remembered my son, thank God.”

Johannes Duerr had suicidal thoughts

At rock bottom: After his positive test, Johannes Duerr thought of suicide.

In spite of it all, Dürr gives a clear account of how he was able to cross the moral line and engage in banned practices. He gives a report of how his performance was gradually developed in the elite institutions of the Austrian Ski Association, of the absolute principle of performance, and of the rigorous culling process. And of the accompanying pharmaceuticals. Even at the Ski High School in Stams: “Everyone dabbled around on their own, so to speak, going in to other kids’ rooms and asking: aha, a new pill, what’s that? Interesting, aha, do I need it, too? 

Pretence of asthma

Under the care of the Association, he steadily progressed in this disastrous direction, where at some point top athletes submit to a regime of drugs that differs only slightly to that of a seriously ill patient. From iron and vitamin injections, and permitted infusions by team doctors before a Junior World Championships, for example, Dürr inevitably came closer to the illegal zone in barely noticeable increments. The Austrian Ski Association denies any active assistance in or toleration of forbidden practices.

However, Dürr reports that a member of the support team was amazed to hear that he had not yet cheated in a lung test, and advised him to simulate asthma so as to gain permission to use forbidden medications, thanks to therapeutic use exemptions, known as TUEs. “I had already experienced this, that lots of people around me had these TUEs and that everyone carried an asthma spray around with them, and before the race, it’s common practice for everyone to quickly get their spray out of their drink pouch and to inhale deeply from it two or three times.”

The abandonment of his own ethical standards – participation in clean sports – was inspired by two realisations: under the national coach Bernd Raupach, imported from Germany, who was to lead the Austrian cross-country skiers following the scandal in Torino in 2006 to a new level of success, it dawned on Dürr that, in his mind, Raupach’s hard training regime “can’t be achieved without doping.”

At the same time, he registers how opponents who he used to be able to beat were now suddenly overtaking him. “With all this knowledge or experience, the frustration always got greater and greater, because you throw your whole life into the ring and, ultimately, if you then don’t go that last step it’s all for nothing.”

Elite sport creates the cynicism

Sochi - where Duerr was hoping for victory

Sochi: Johannes Duerr returns to the sight of his downfall.

Johannes Dürr felt that those responsible in his Association knew which means were required to win medals. When he hinted at this feeling he had during a public speaking appearance, the Austrian Ski Association immediately brought out the big judicial guns that were to stop Dürr from repeating such statements: the ÖSV obtained an injunction against its athlete.

In any case, elite sport already reliably creates the cynicism of its own accord. One example: during Dürr’s two-year suspension for doping, it emerged that the Games in Sochi were probably the dirtiest of all time, due to Russian state-sponsored doping. And, in Dürr’s absence, the great 50 kilometre race was won by… three Russians.

In recent months, Johannes Dürr has been training hard once again. He dreams of some kind of miracle enabling him to compete in the home World Championships in Seefeld, at least in the relay, in spite of all his Association’s condemnation. Apart from that, Dürr, who works as a self-employed customs auditor, has long since followed his sport with sober realism. “It can probably be said that most of what you see on television is an illusion. It has nothing to do with the reality of life. So this illusion, this desire to project into elite sport that they are pure heroes, infallible people, is, of course, illusory.”


Stand: 17.01.2019, 17:45