Friday, April 24, 2009

Hetland Exits, that noted outlet for all news related to Nordic skiing, reports that Norwegian sprinter Tor Arne Hetland has retired from competitive skiing. Plagued last year by asthma and a nagging knee injury, Hetland still managed to finish third in the sprint World Cup standings. This finish caps a pretty damn good career: Hetland finished third in the sprint standings in 2001 and 2006, second in 1999 and 2003, and first in 2005. In 2005 and 2006, he finished third in the overall World Cup standings, as well. He amassed 30 World Cup podiums, including 11 wins as well as a good number of top-event medals: a bronze in the the freestyle sprint at the Val di Fiemme World Championships, silvers in the classic team sprint at the Torino Winter Games and the classic sprint at the Oberstdorf Worlds, and golds in the freestyle team sprint at Oberstdorf, the freestyle sprint at the Lahti Worlds, and the freestyle sprint at Salt Lake City, the first time that a sprint event was held at the Olympics.

In other words, he was a stud. I only hope the Norwegians can find some new sprinters to fill the the 6'1"/174 lbs hole he creates in their team.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Even More Dope

I wasn't exactly making a brave, unconventional statement when I said - to some controversy - that Veepalu's gold at Liberec was suspicious. Now the Estonian's name has come up in connection with the growing Humanplasma scandal that's so far involved the circle of cyclists and triathletes around the coaches Stefan Matschiner and Walter Mayer.

While Veerpalu's penchant for altitude training is well known, he may have been enjoyed perks beyond the thin air: "Veerpalu has stayed in Walter Mayer's house in Ramsau am Dachstein, who has been one of the focal points where the blood and drugs have come from Humanplasma in Vienna." What's more, the disgraced King of the Mountains Bernhard Kohl has said that he knows Christian Hoffmann was being treated at Humanplasma - a charge Hoffmann has denied.

The implications here are interesting for U.S. fans, of course. If these charges are borne out and the FIS went all out (or would it be all in?) with sanctions, the fourth-place skier in the men's 15km would move up one notch.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hoffmann: No Dope

The Austrian doping scandal is widening, with cyclists, triathletes, and now cross-country skiers implicated - if only by hearsay. Today, three more as-yet unnamed people were arrested under Austrian anti-doping law, and Christian Hoffmann was asked if he had any kind of affiliation with Stefan Matschiner, the coach at the center of the affair:

... Hoffmann, who is still active, declared: "I was in touch with Matschiner just once. Years ago, I was looking for a sponsor – that’s when I contacted him. That’s it. I have never been supplied with doping substances. I disassociate myself from that." Hoffmann added he regarded the allegations as "absolutely insane."
In this context, "absolutely insane" must be code for "mostly circumstantial, but not exactly exonerating," given the apparent extent of this scandal (1,000 bags of plasma were reportedly seized at the Humanplasma lab in Vienna), his narrow escape from the 2006 Torino scandal which tripped up several of his teammates, and his remarkable out-of-the-blue racing performances.