Doping cases at the Winter Olympics

While there have been far more doping incidents at the Summer Olympics, the Winter Games have seen its fair share of scandals around performance enhancing drugs. We’ll take you through all of them.

Sapporo 1972

The first doping incident at the Winter Olympics was in 1972. West German ice hockey player Alois Schloder tested positive for ephedrine. The team doctor, Franz Schlickenrieder, first declared having no part of this, and Schloder was suspended. After returning home, it was finally found that one of the medicines he had been given by Schlickenrieder did contain ephedrine. Schloder’s name was finally cleared, and in 1976 he won a bronze medal at the Innsbruck Olympics.

Innsbruck 1976

At these Games, two medallists were caught. The first was Galina Kulakova. A three-time gold medallist in Sapporo, she finished third in the 5 km event, but tested positive for ephedrine. As this was contained in a nasal spray she had used just before the start, the IOC disqualified her for the event, but allowed her to compete in the remaining events, in which she won bronze and gold. Ice hockey player František Pospíšil played on the silver medal winning Czechoslovakian team. After the match against Poland (won 7-1), he was found to have used codeine, as part of a flu medicine. Like with Kulakova, he was allowed to continue to play in other matches, but the result against Poland was annulled.

Sarajevo 1984

The fourth doping case in Winter Olympic history was rather low profile. Mongolian cross country skier Pürevjavyn Batsükh had solidly placed in the bottom part of the field in three events before it was found that he had used methandienone, an anabolic steroid.

 Calgary 1988

The sole doping case reported in 1988 was also of little influence. The blood of Jarosław Morawiecki, a Polish hockey player, showed use of testosterone after the match against France. Morawiecki claimed it had been in the borshch that he had eaten. While still maintaining his innocence, immediately after his return from an 18-month suspension, he was suspended again for high testosterone.

Nagano 1998

After two Winter Olympics without doping cases, one of the most famous ones occurred in Nagano. Snowboarding, a new sport at these Olympics, saw its first Olympic Champion, Ross Rebagliati disqualified for marijuana traces found in his urine. The Canadian claimed it had been from second-hand smoke, and he protested the decision. Because marijuana was not found to be performance enhancing, the protest was upheld, and the gold medal was returned to Rebagliati. In 2013, Rebagliati opened a medical marijuana business.

Salt Lake City 2002

Doping-wise, the Salt Lake City Olympics meant a new low for the Winter Games. After it had become commonplace in professional cycling, the drug EPO now was popular with cross country skiers. Johann Mühlegg, a German skier competing for Spain had already won the 30 km and pursuit events before it was published that traces of EPO had been found in an out-of-competition test, after which he also won the 50 km race. While disqualified from that event immediately, he only lost his first two golds almost two years after the closing ceremony, following a lengthy case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The same fate befell two Russian cross-country stars, Olga Danilova  and Larisa Lazutina. They too had been caught out-of-competition, but it took over a year for their results to be finally cleared. Danilova had been 2nd in the 10 km and 1st in the pursuit, while Lazutina, a 5-time Olympic Champion already, had won silver in the pursuit and gold in the 15 km and 30 km.

Another medallist that fell victim to a doping suspension was Alain Baxter. On the last day of the Games, he had become the first British athlete to win a medal on snow (as opposed to ice), coming third in the slalom event. He had been unlucky enough to buy a nasal decongestant in Utah that contained methamphetamine, while the European version of the same drug was free of the substance. While he only served a short suspension, he did lose his Olympic medal.

Amid this flurry of disqualified medallists, it was hardly noticed that Vasily Pankov, a Belarussian hockey player, was also disqualified. He had been caught using nandrolone in the (lost) bronze medal match against Russia.

Several months after the Games, two Austrian cross-country skiers, Achim Walcher ] and Marc Mayer were also disqualified. While they had not been in medal contention, the IOC disqualified them for the use of blood transfusion equipment. The Austrians claimed this had been for therapeutic use, but the IOC ruled that any form of blood manipulation constitutes blood doping.

Torino 2006

Even more athletes than Salt Lake City were involved in doping irregularities in 2006, in part due to the more extensive program of out-of-competition testing. Shortly before and right after the start of the Games, a total of 12 cross country skiers received five-day starting bans after they had high hematocrit values in their blood. These can be indicative of EPO use, but all were cleared to compete afterwards. Their names:

  • Alen Abramović
  • Sean Crooks
  • Sergey Dolidovich
  • Jean-Marc Gaillard
  • Pavel Korostelev
  • Aleksandr Lazutkin
  • Nataliya Matveyeva
  • Nikolay Pankratov
  • Kikkan Randall
  • Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle
  • Robel Teklemariam
  • Leif Zimmerman (did not compete)

During an incursion in the second week of the game, four Austrian cross country skiers and two biathletes were found to be taking part in an involved blood doping schema. As with Walcher and Mayer it took some time for them to be officially disqualified. The best result of the six had been a fourth place by Wolfgang Perner in the biathlon 10 km. The disqualified athletes further included:

  • Roland Diethart
  • Johannes Eder
  • Jürgen Pinter
  • Wolfgang Rottmann
  • Martin Tauber

The only Torino competitor actually caught after a competition was Russian biathlete Olga Pylyova. After finishing second in the 15 km, she was found to have used carphedon, a stimulant.

Other Olympic hopefuls saw their participation thwarted due to infringements prior to the Olympics. Brazilian bobsledder and ex hammer thrower Armando dos Santos was sent home from the Games after the results from a test in January came in. The Australians, who had missed qualification due to Dos Santos’s team, unsuccessfully sued to be included in the Games instead.

Three more athletes missed the Games because they tried to combat hair loss. Their medicine all contained the forbidden substance finasteride.  US slider Zach Lund, Monegasque bobsledder Sébastien Gattuso and Canadian hockey goalie José Theodore all missed the Games, receiving their suspension in the week before the Games – in Lund’s case even on the day of the opening ceremony.

Vancouver 2010

After the high numbers of doping cases in 2002 and 2006, the IOC and WADA tried to catch as many athletes as possible before the Games. This seemed to have an effect as only two cases were reported. Russian hockey player Svetlana Terentyeva was reprimanded after an out-of-competition test showed presence of tuaminoheptane. As this is only prohibited in competition, she did not receive a suspension.

Kornelia Marek, a Polish cross country skier who had seen top 10 performances in Vancouver became the only athlete to be disqualified, having used rEPO.

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