Friday, June 27, 2008

Yeah, That's Dope, G!

As June edges into July, we're probably nearing the peak of doping season. All over the world, cyclists are finishing up their EPO regimes in preparation for the Tour de France, which starts in about a week. And of course, Olympians of every nation are deep into their doping schedules, doctoring themselves with EPO, HGH, testosterone, or turtle soup.

At the other end of the syringe, so to speak, sporting organizations are trying to do more to combat doping in all its nefarious forms. Unfortunately, new research - from Denmark, which knows a bit about doping - has found that the tests for EPO - the drug of choice for endurance athletes - are highly unreliable. In other words, dope away; if you can't escape detection, you can probably discredit the test.

While EPO use is probably endemic, good old fashioned testosterone is still tripping up some athletes, too. In late May, the FIS inflicted its usual two-year ban on Maxim Odnodvortsev, who was found with a skewed ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone - just like our man Floyd Landis. Odnodvortsev was tested on Valentine's Day 2007, exactly two weeks after he won a 30km freestyle race in Jilin, China. That win came in an FIS race - one of the B-circuit events which are largely the province of up-and-comers or just plain slower national-team skiers. Odnodvortsev is clearly in the second category, a journeyman who was probably seeking the breakthrough results that would seal a spot on the KAZ team. Though he's been skiing on the World Cup since 2001, he has mostly skied on Kazakh relay teams; his best personal result on the World Cup was a twelfth-place finish at Holmenkollen in 2006. Odnodvortsev's ban extends to April 2010. Great job on missing the 2010 Olympics, Max!

On an equally - if not more - dismal level, Finnish skiing is still being contaminated with fallout from the scanda that erupted at the 2001 World Championships in Lahti, Finland. Earlier this spring, Kari-Pekka Kyrö, the former head coach of the Finnish national ski team, leveled public accusations that the Finnish national team had sponsored a long-term doping project for its elite athletes. Infamously, six Finnish skiers (including the current overall W.C. champ Virpi Kuitunen) were found to have been doping a discovery made after Kyrö himself left a bag of doping equipment at a gas station during the Lahti games.

The Finnish Ski Association (FSA) countered Kyrö's allegation by saying that the only "dope" its racers were offered was baking powder, a ridiculous claim that perhaps contributed to the decision by the Finnish equivalent of the FBI to re-investigate the doping accusations. Shortly thereafter, another member of the FSA coaching staff admitted that the organization purchased doping agents for use by national-team skiers at the 2001 championships.

Though the cases are seven years old now, there is a great deal at stake. Not only is Finnish skiing finally on a firm upswing, with Virpi Kuitunen the current World Cup overall champion and a number of good female and male racers placing well, but Jari Piirainen, whom Kyrö identified as "the commander of the doping company" when he was the head of cross-country skiing at the FSA from 1989 to 1997, is currently the managing director of the entire FSA. Piirainen has a lot to lose if Kyrö's claims are borne out.

Kyrö, on the other hand, has probably lost everything he can lose: not only was he fired from the FSA for his role in the 2001 scandal, but he was the only coach sanctioned by the FIS for the Lahti escapades. Just this spring, Kyrö was implicated in a new doping case, when Kaisa Varis, whom he has coached, was banned for a second time. (Her first ban came through the 2001 scandal.)


Colin R said...

Kaisa was banned for life, wasn't she?

Oh those wacky Finns...

Christopher Tassava said...

Yep, her biathlon ban is for life. Which means she's now part of the Lazarus Project, in which she'll be killed and revived to ski again.

Luke S said...

oh dopers...maybe we should just let them pump themselves full of all the EPO and testosterone they want, and when they die of heart attacks or their balls shrivel up and fall off we just shrug and tell them tough luck.

Christopher Tassava said...

And that, Luke, is just the women!