02:31 GMT +314 November 2019
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    Norwegian cross country skier Martin Johnsrud Sundby attends a press conference on July 20, 2016 in Oslo

    Int'l Commission to Bring Norwegian Skiers With Fake Asthma to Justice

    © AFP 2019 / Audun BRAASTAD
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    Norwegian skiers, who have pretty much dominated both men's and women's cross-country skiing for the last decade, have recently landed in trouble over the unwarranted use of performance-enhancing stimulants. An international commission was established to investigate the illicit use of asthma medication by the Norwegian ski team.

    The scandal flared up in July, when Norwegian skiing icon and World Cup winner Martin Johnsrud Sundby was deprived of his wins in the 2015 Tour de Ski and disqualified for two months for using a banned asthma drug.

    Shortly afterwards, Norwegian TV-channel TV2 revealed that asthma medicine was being prescribed to skiers with a clean bill of health, including three-time Olympic medalist and seven-time World Championship winner Therese Johaug. Subsequently, Timo Seppälä, the head of Finland's sports medical center, called on international anti-doping watchdogs to take a closer look at the illicit use of asthma medicine in the Norwegian cross-country ski team.

    Shortly thereafter, the Norwegian Ski Association appointed an external team of specialists to review the situation. The commission is headed by Norwegian lawyer Katharina Rise and consists of four members representing each of the Nordic nations, Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported.

    ​The Norwegian ski squad, which has won medals in the majority of international events for years, has during the past decade come under fire over allegations of the illicit use of asthma medicine. In the 2000s, Marit Bjørgen, who harvested a total of six Olympic gold medals and 14 World Championship gold medals, was repeatedly accused of doping, notably by fellow skiers such as Poland's Justina Kowalczyk. Back in 2010, Kowalczyk said that Norway's Marit Bjørgen never would have won her three Olympic gold medals in Vancouver without her inhaler. According to Kowalczyk, Bjørgen had no asthma at all and was simply using an inhaler to boost her performance.

    ​Doping issues in the Norwegian team were also raised by Yelena Välbe, president of the Russian Cross-Country Ski Association, who recurrently questioned the dominance of Norwegians in both men's and women's races, since their team consisted "solely of asthmatics."

    Asthma and other respiratory problems are in fact extremely common in elite athletes, who compete in unusual conditions such as extreme cold, dry air or chlorine-filled water. The prevalence of respiratory diseases has even spurred researchers at the UK Heart and Lung Institute to classify airway dysfunction as an "occupational disease."

    ​According to Vidar Løfshus, the chief of the Norwegian ski team, asthma drugs were prescribed to elite skiers "preventively," due to the prevalence of exercise-induces respiratory conditions, which were documented by numerous experts. A Swedish study found that between 20 and 35 percent of current and former elite skiers had been diagnosed with asthma. There are numerous studies that indicate that inhalers do not constitute cheating since they do not have any performance-enhancing effect on healthy people.

    However, public dismay over the Norwegian "asthma team" was shared by none other than Vladimir Putin, who during his annual Q&A session in December of 2015 said that athletes requiring drugs for medical reasons should consider joining a Paralympic team.

    The Norwegian investigation may lead to the biggest exposure since World Championship 2001 in Lahti, Finland, when the whole Finnish team was disqualified for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

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    Tags:
    doping, sports, skiing, Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Therese Johaug, Marit Bjorgen, Scandinavia, Norway
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