Thursday, April 14, 2011

Questions about Veerpalu

Given the predictable and widespread eagerness to defend Andrus Veerpalu against the doping charges he's now facing, I have a few questions. I'm trying here not to pose loaded questions, since I'd love to see Veerpalu be clean. But at the same time, I have to wonder...

1. Why, if the positive test for HGH was (and thus still is) erroneous, did Veerpalu retire in February rather than own up to the fact (if not the correctness) of the positive test of the "A" sample and start to fight then and there? Why wait for the "B" sample test? Even if an athlete has to sit out the next races when a positive result comes back (and I don't know about this: do they?), why make up the story about the knee injury and abruptly retire?

2. How widespread is doping in Estonia? Though Veerpalu's case is only in its early stages, Kristina Šmigun-Vähi provides a precedent that might be good or bad, depending on your perspective. After a World Cup race in late 2001, she returned a positive "A" sample for an anabolic steroid. Her "B" sample came back negative, and she was allowed to race in the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. By that time, she'd already won two World Championship medals at Ramsau in 1999 as well as five World Cup races; she went on to win four more WSC medals at Val di Fiemme in 2003, three Olympic medals (two at Torino, one at Vancouver), and eleven more World Cups. Either she was a doper who got away with her offense, or a "false positive" who was correctly allowed to race.

3. Was the 2002 class of Olympic medalists the worst ever? Without impugning Beckie Scott or Frode Estil and Thomas Alsgaard (among others), and forgetting about the convicted dopers Muhlegg, Lazutina, and Danilova, check out these other medalists:
  • Yuliya Tchepalova (bronze in 15k freestyle mass start, silver in the 10k classic, and gold in sprint
  • Christian Hoffmann (gold in 30k freestyle mass start), and
  • Veerpalu (gold in 15k classic and silver in 50k classic).
Beyond that funny bunch, we also find Estonian Jaak Mae (bronze in 15k classic) and Russo-Austrian Mikhail Botvinov (silver in 30k freestyle mass start), whose big-race performances are suspiciously like those of Veerpalu and Hoffmann. And then there's Russian Mikhail Ivanov, who is surely one of the greatest few-hit wonders ever: the inherited gold in the 50k classic (after Muhlegg's DSQ), a bronze in the 30k at the 2001 Lahti Worlds (cough cough), and four podiums on the World Cup, all in 2000 or 2001.