Doping Top Secret

Cross-Country Skiing: Medalists under suspicion of manipulation

Hajo Seppelt und Edmund Willison

A huge database containing over 10,000 blood tests belonging to nearly two thousand winter sports stars exposes the extraordinary prevalence of abnormal values amongst cross-country skiing medallists at the Olympics and World Championships. Natural causes for this are very unlikely, experts conclude.

The ARD Doping Editorial team, together with colleagues from The Sunday Times, Swedish television SVT and Swiss digital magazine Republik, have been given access to a huge database of more than 10.000 blood tests from nearly two thousand winter sports stars.

The database, which has been collected between 2001 and 2010, was handed over to the journalists by a whistleblower. Many of the athletes in the list are still active today and have won medals at major sports events also after 2010. 

313 medals under suspicion

An extensive data analysis reveals: 46% of all cross-country skiing medals at the Olympic Games and World Championships between 2001 and 2017 were won by athletes who returned at least one abnormal blood value. This amounts to a total of 313 medals cast under suspicion. According to experts, there is only a one in a hundred chance that an athlete would have an abnormal value for reasons other than doping. Cross-country skiers who did not finish in medal positions registered drastically fewer abnormal blood values.

Cross-Country Skiing: Medalists under suspicion of manipulation | Sportschau | 04.02.2018 | 06:21 Min. | Verfügbar bis 04.02.2019 | Das Erste

The data show that more than fifty cross-country skiers on the qualification list for South Korea have recorded abnormal blood test scores which suggest that they may have cheated in the past and escaped without sanction. 

Pressing questions ahead of South Korea

After the full extent of state supported cheating by Russian athletes at Sochi 2014 was revealed, the upcoming winter games were meant to signify a new dawn for clean sport.

Now just days before the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, these revelations raise questions concerning the prevalence of doping at the upcoming Olympic Winter Games.

Experts: Analysis points to widespread doping

The ARD Doping Editorial team sought the expertise of two leading doctors in the anti-doping field in an attempt to further uncover the prevalence of doping in cross-country skiing. The pair rigorously analysed the blood values of the cross-country skiing medallists who have registered abnormal values.

After the analysis, one of the experts James Stray-Gunderson, an American physician who has worked in the past with the International Ski Federation (FIS), commented: “There are a significant number of medallists that had abnormal or highly abnormal blood profile results that suggested there is a significant incidence of doping in cross-country skiing”

Until 2010, FIS did not have a legally recognised instrument at its disposal to initiate doping proceedings on the basis of blood values. It was not until 2010 that the so-called biological passport was introduced in the anti-doping regulations. With this instrument, sports federations have the possibility to initiate procedures by analysing blood values and to punish athletes after confirmation by experts.

Still, the results of the expert’s analysis are startling: a third of all Olympic and World championship medals have been won over the last 16 years by male and female cross-country skiers whose blood test results were classed as “likely doping” or “suspicious” by at least one expert.

Athletes from Russia, Norway, Sweden, Austria and Germany under suspicion

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sheer number of suspicious Russian athletes stood out in the results. Yet there were also athletes with suspicious blood values from the sport’s most successful nations such as Norway, Germany, Sweden and Austria – among them many medallists.

The depth of this suspected doping casts doubt on fair competition at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. Cross-country skiers who have perhaps managed to evade the grasp of the anti-doping system for many years will be competing in Pyeongchang.