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SKIING

Norwegian skier Johaug to miss Olympics as CAS extends doping ban

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Tuesday extended Norwegian cross-country skier Therese Johaug's doping suspension to 18 months, preventing the seven-time world champion from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Norwegian skier Johaug to miss Olympics as CAS extends doping ban
Therese Johaug and brother Karstein react to the verdict. Photo: Vidar Ruud / NTB scanpix

In February, Norway's sports arbitration board imposed a 13-month suspension on the 29-year-old, who tested positive for a steroid which she said was in a lip balm.

But the International Ski Federation (FIS) deemed that decision too lenient and lodged an appeal.

“I'm completely broken. I was dreaming about the Olympics and I was told yesterday that it would not happen,” Johaug tearfully told a live-streamed news conference in Italy on Tuesday.

“I cannot understand the punishment I got. I find it unfair.”

Johaug, a relay gold medallist at the 2010 Winter Olympics, tested positive for traces of the anabolic steroid clostebol, banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), during an out-of-competition drug test on September 16th, 2016.

She said the steroid was contained in a lip cream called Trofodermin, which the team doctor had given her to treat burns she received during a training session at high altitude in Italy in late August.

Since the beginning of the case, the judges have believed her explanations and precluded an attempt to cheat as the steroid doses in the lip balm are not enough to boost performance.

Johaug was, however, punished over negligence.

CAS said “Johaug failed to conduct a basic check” of the lip balm's packaging, “which not only listed a prohibited substance as an ingredient but also included clear doping cautionary warning”.

In a statement on Tuesday, it added that “such omissions resulted in an anti-doping rule violation inconsistent with her otherwise clean anti-doping record.”

The court said its panel “was obliged to apply a proportionate sanction, consistent with the level of fault” to guarantee equality in anti-doping rules.

Johaug's suspension is to run until April 18th, 2018, ruling her out of the Olympics which take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea on February 9th-25th.

The only way to overturn the Lausanne-based CAS's decision is to lodge an appeal to the Swiss Supreme Court, but this scenario is deemed unlikely.

The news touched a raw nerve in Norway, where skiing is the national sport.

“I am sad that Therese must pay such a high price in a case where she is believed on all accounts,” Johaug's close friend and fellow skier, Marit Bjørgen, was quoted as saying by public broadcaster NRK.

Norwegian team leader Vidar Lofshus said he was “in shock”.

The FIS, which requested a suspension between 16 and 20 months, said it was “satisfied that an independent body had the opportunity to review all the facts of the case and to render an impartial verdict”.

Despite its accidental nature, the case has harmed the image of Norwegian skiing, which has long claimed to be clean but lately suffered several blows.

In July, Martin Sundby, another national star, was suspended for two months and deprived of his victory in the Tour de Ski 2015 for improper use of asthma medicine.

The Norwegian media was unanimous in finding Johaug's punishment too severe.

“Anti-doping in sports has lost its common sense,” the daily Aftenposten commented. “Johaug verdict is a massive blow to Norwegian naivety,” suggested tabloid Verdens Gang.

Johaug has ruled out retirement but warned: “I do not know how my motivation will be in the future.”

READ ALSO: Norway's Johaug wins 10km cross-country

NORWAY

PROFILE: Norway’s ‘complete competitor’ Aksel Lund Svindal

Norwegian colossus Aksel Lund Svindal will go down in the annals of alpine skiing as one of the very best after claiming world silver in his farewell downhill race on Saturday.

PROFILE: Norway's 'complete competitor' Aksel Lund Svindal
Aksel Lund Svindal celebrates third place in Beaver Creek, Colorado. Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images North America / AFP
Coming in just two-hundredths of a second behind teammate and close friend Kjetil Jansrud was the perfect send-off for the 36-year-old Svindal.
 
Svindal has been one of the stars of the ski circuit with 11 titles (overall-2, downhill-2, superG-5, giant slalom-1, combined-1), 36 victories (14 downhill, 17 super-G, 4 giant slalom, 1 combined) and 80 podiums in 17 
seasons on the World Cup.
   
In addition to being a two-time overall World Cup champion (2007, 2009), he is also a five-time world champion in downhill, giant slalom and super combined, and won Olympic golds in the downhill (2018) and super-G (2010).
   
Standing 1.89m (6'2″) tall, Svindal said he was prepared for the next stage of his life.
   
“I think I'll miss it not in a sad way, in a way that is 'That was awesome',” he said. “But even good things come to an end and you can think back at all the good memories.”
   
The ever-modest and affable Svindal, be it speaking in his native Norwegian or fluent English or German, pinpointed respect as the one thing he wanted to take with him from skiing.
   
“This is an awesome sport, not just the racing part, but the respect between the racers,” he said. “There's a lot of things this sport can be really proud of and I'm part of that sport so that's something I want to try and take with me into other things I do. I hope I contributed on that side in the sport as well.”
 
 'Amazing career'
 
Norwegian teammate and long-time World Cup 'Attacking Viking' confidant Jansrud was full of praise for Svindal.
   
“There are not many people who get to retire with such an amazing career,” he said.
   
Svindal made his World Cup debut in 2002 and went on to become the oldest Olympic alpine ski gold medallist when he swept to victory in the 2018 Olympic downhill in Pyeongchang.
   
In between, many kilometres of downhill skiing were covered by the racer credited as an outstanding role model and driving force behind the Norwegian team's winning philosophy of keeping it simple.
   
Svindal retires as one of the most decorated skiers ever, having being crowned world champion five times, twice picking up the crystal globe for best overall skier, as well as winning a medal of each colour at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
   
He is a complete competitor who has also had to overcome some horrific injuries, none less so than when he crashed in Beaver Creek in 2007. He also sat out the 2015 season and most of 2016 because of injuries.
   
But Svindal is known for his supreme physical conditioning, and each time he bounced back.
 
US ski star Lindsey Vonn, who ironically races her final downhill on Sunday, has forged a deep friendship with Svindal, often training together.
   
“When athletes in the past have retired, I've been the same way, 'No, you can do it, keep going, anything is possible',” she said. “But as an athlete, when you get to that point, you just know in your gut that it's time.
   
“Aksel is in the same position as I am. We are both kind of accepting where we are at the moment and it's just nice to be able to talk to someone who is going through the same thing as I am at the exact same time.”