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    Norway's Therese Johaug (L) and Norway's Martin Johnsrud Sundby pose with their overall World Cup trophies during the winners presentation at the FIS Cross-Country World Cup on March 16, 2014 in Falun

    Winning Stroke: Norwegian Professor Prescribes Doping in Top-Level Sports

    © AFP 2019 / JONATHAN NACKSTRAND
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    Norwegians, who for decades swept clean Olympic podiums in skiing events, have had their fair play reputation tarnished by a recent string of doping scandals. To make things more equal for the rest of competitors, a Norwegian sports professor suggested allowing supervised doping use in national and international events.

    Hailing from the all-time leading Olympic nation in Nordic combined and cross-country skiing, Norwegian athletes need no introduction and are most often tipped favorites. However, the proven use of performance-enhancing substances by the country's top athletes has left a dark stain on the reputation of the Norwegian skiing squad, which was last season head and shoulders above its rivals.

    To sweeten the pill for Norwegians' fellow competitors and somehow whitewash the national idols caught for using asthma medication and steroids, Jan Ove Tangen, a professor of sports sociology at the University of South-Eastern Norway, advocated controlled doping use in order to eliminate suspicion and provide equal opportunities to contenders.

    "Norwegian cross-country top-level skiing has given itself further and further into the grey area in its hunt for medals. Yes, even gone into the forbidden territory, and some of our most renowned skiers have now been convicted of doping," Tangen wrote in an opinion piece in Norwegian newspaper Forskning, supporting his radical clause, alluding to the recently disclosed use of steroid-containing lip balm by Norway's premier medal hope Therese Johaug, which led to a provisional suspension.

    In the majority of today's top-level sports, performance-boosting substances are one of the foremost problems. Tange believes that the legalization of doping may make competition more equal, while also saving the necessity of running numerous anti-doping agencies (and money). According to Tangen, another problem is that only athletes get punished, whereas coaches, managers and sports federations usually continue unscathed. He also blamed media, sponsors, politicians and the public for setting too high expectations on athletes to win awards.

    According to Tangen, it is rather difficult to draw a clear line between what constitutes permissible performance-enhancing methods and what is doping, which leads to lengthy bans and destroyed careers. Consequently, any athlete who lands in a doping controversy is risking a smear campaign in the media and severe punishment by sports bodies. According to Tangen, doping may be used as a legal solution for the continuous improvement of performance, provided that the intake happens under specialists' control.

    According to Jan Ove Tangen, sports at the top level are already largely unhealthy and imply a tremendous stress for the human body. Furthermore, doping is seen as a means to keep athletes healthy.

    "Is doping really more unjust than the fact that some of the athletes have been blessed with superior genes over their competitors or the fact that a country may have more resources and knowledge to for talent-hunting and performance development?" Tangen asked rhetorically.

    Last week, Johaug, one of Norway's most decorated female cross-country skiers of all times, tested positive for the steroid clostebol. The Norwegian ski federation said the drug came from a cream given to her by team doctor Fredrik Bendiksen to treat sunburn on her lips during high-altitude training in Italy.

    ​​Johaug's case flustered Norway as it came just months after its top male cross-country skier, Martin Johnsrud Sundby, got a two-month suspension and was stripped of his 2015 overall World Cup and Tour de Ski titles for unauthorized use of medication to treat asthma. In the summer, the Norwegian Ski Federatin admitted using asthma medication even on healthy skiers. Johaug herself admitted to using anti-asthma inhalers.

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    Tags:
    doping scandal, doping, skiing, Therese Johaug, Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Scandinavia, Norway
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