There was a scandal in American baseball many years ago. I have a vague memory of watching something about it on 60 Minutes once. The feeling before the truth came out was that there was no cheating in the true American sport. It is sort of the same attitude most country that send soldiers into battle have. Other people may be corrupted by the evil they fight, but not our boys and girls. So any probe or debriefing is superfluous.
Norwegians seem to feel the same way about what is supposedly their national sport. In my opinion cross country skiing is about as exciting as watching grass grow in winter, but it is still apparently our baseball. The skiers used to have an image pure as white snow, and I am not talking about black city snow, although that seems to be more accurate than many have been willing to admit.
It started a few months ago when the best male cross country skier in the world, the Norwegian Martin Johnsrud Sundby, was caught cheating. He only got a two month suspension, but lost his overall wins in Tour de Ski and World Cup. It didn’t look that serious to begin with, but when media finally started digging they found things they shouldn’t have been able to find. Sundby had used an inhaler with asthma medicine. It was legal, but he had used it too close to the start of the race, which would naturally give him an advantage. It later turned out that the national team encouraged all athletes to use asthma medicine, whether they had asthma or not. When a Norwegian newspaper looked at the 61 Olympic medals Norwegians have won since 1992 they found that 42 of of them had been won by a sick skier. Is this the healthy sport we want to encourage our children to do?
We had another “incident” a few days ago. Another Norwegian skier, this time the best female skier in the world, Therese Johaug, has tested positive. She was on pre-season altitude training in Italy in August when the team bought a cream at the local pharmacy. She used it for a sun-burn on her lips, but it contained stereoids. Several reporters have bought the same tube, but no one has been able to find one without a doping warning. The team still tries to give the impression that there was no way they could have realized what they were doing.
Norway has a good reputation in fighting doping in sports. Athletes don’t have anywhere near the rights accused in a criminal case have. It doesn’t matter how small traces they find in a urine/blood-sample, and it doesn’t matter how it got into the body. They are found guilty anyway. I remember a couple of cases from the Olympics in Sydney. A weightlifter was suspended for the same steroid. He had taken a harmless dietary supplement. The manufacturer also made a product that contained this stereoid and hadn’t cleaned the tanks before they made the supplement. It wasn’t on the label as it wasn’t supposed to be there at all. There was also a young femal gymnast that was sick and she got some pills she apparently shouldn’t have taken.
This is very harsh, but Norwegians have had a very unforgiving attitude towards any form of doping. There are no exceptions. Now we are refusing to accept the rules because this time it was a healthy Norwegian skier that cried her way through a press conference. We don’t cheat. We are Norwegians. The Russians cheat. The Americans cheat. The Chinese cheat. We never cheat. The Americans found out that dishonesty flourishes when everyone is so sure of the contrary that they don’t see the need for testing.
The bad thing about the two cases in cross country skiing is that in the first case they tried to hide it and in both cases they refused to accept responsibility. I don’t know what happened in this case, but if you want to speculate there are ways to hide stereoids. You can use diuretics and masking agents, and a cream used to treat a sunburn could possibly explain why there are small traces of stereoids in your urine. It’s unthinkable. It’s too proposterous for most Norwegians to consider. That’s why it’s a scandal when it happens.