Sun, Oct 01, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Anger from US biathletes, skiers over doping

AP

Before Susan Dunklee became the first US woman to win an individual medal in a world championship biathlon race, she spent years training 18 to 25 hours each week in the summer and racing about 35 times during the winter to fine-tune her athletic abilities.

“We do two workouts a day, a mix of skiing, running, biking, to break down the muscles over and over and let them build back up,” Dunklee said via Skype from a training camp in Germany. “But there’s only a certain level you can push your body before working harder isn’t going to help you. You have to recover.”

That is where doping comes in. Cheaters use steroids, testosterone, erythropoietin — known as EPO — and other performance-enhancing drugs in part to help their bodies recover faster.

“People think about doping and they think they’re taking it during the race so they’ll get an advantage and that’s true, but you also have to think about the summer months. If they’re cheating, it allows them to put a huge, bigger training foundation down,” Dunklee said.

So when it was reported that Russian agents tampered with urine samples to cover up doping by biathletes, cross country skiers and others at Russia’s Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, Dunklee said she was “a little bit angry, but also pretty sad.”

“It’s painful to know it’s not a level playing field,” she said. “And it’s painful to know that there’s people who are stuck in a system that from the top down is forcing athletes into this illicit sort of scenario. It’s unhealthy for everyone involved.”

Russia won 33 medals — a record 13 gold — at the Sochi Olympics, compared with 15 medals — three gold — at the Vancouver Winter Olympic in 2010.

In Sochi, Russia won four medals in biathlon and five in cross-country skiing. Cross-country skiers and biathletes from Norway, Germany and other countries also have tested positive over the years, but no nation has had an organized doping program to compare with what Russia is accused of conducting.

Lowell Bailey, a member of the US Olympic Biathlon team since 2006, said the news was “the most shocking thing that has occurred in my athletic career.”

“When you put your entire life’s work into something under the assumption that you are operating by the same rules as everyone else on that field of play and when you find out, no, that’s not the case, there’s a mix of anger, frustration, sadness,” said Bailey, the first US biathlete to win a gold medal at the world championships.

That is why Bailey and Dunklee, the first athletes named to next year’s US Olympic team, as well as ski coaches and the heads of two winter organizations want Russia barred from the next Winter Games.

“If you chose to cheat at the Olympic level and put banned substances into your blood so you can gain an advantage, I really don’t see any place for that person in the Olympic movement,” Bailey said.

Bailey finished eighth in the individual event in Sochi. Russia won bronze. Dunklee finished 11th in the mass start. Six Russian cross-country skiers and a Russian biathletes were suspended after Sochi, but no decision has been made for the next games.

Richard McLaren, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Association to investigate Russian doping, said his findings “confirmed the existence of widespread cheating through the use of doping substances and methods to ensure, or enhance the likelihood of, victory for athletes and teams.”

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