Court of arbitration set to hear Šmigun-Vähi's doping case
According to reports in Norwegian media earlier this week, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is set to begin the hearing regarding the suspicious findings of a retest of Estonian cross-country skiing champion Kristina Šmigun-Vähi's doping sample from the 2006 Winter Olympics.
At the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy, Šmigun-Vähi won gold medals in the 15 kilometer skiathlon and 10 kilometer classical events. In 2014, it was revealed that her doping sample from the Torino Games contained molecules possibly indicating the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Šmigun-Vähi herself denied doping use and filed an appeal to CAS.
On Monday, Beckie Scott, chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)'s Athlete Committee, told the Norwegian broadcaster TV2 that even though WADA was not a party to the case, they have been informed that the CAS hearing is supposed to begin this week. Scott, herself a former cross-country skier and 2002 Olympic champion for Canada, added that WADA will be notified of the decision, but the proceedings may take a while, depending on the complexity of the case.
There has been no news of Šmigun-Vähi's hearing on the CAS website. Replying to a query by daily Eesti Päevaleht, CAS arbitrator Olli Rauste from Finland explained that only a small portion of upcoming hearings are mentioned on the website and most cases that end with the acquittal of the athlete are not made public. Rauste said that while he does not know anything about Šmigun-Vähi's case, the hearing could still be going on, as arbitrators only receive information about the cases with which they are directly involved.
Czech skier Katerina Neumannova, who finished second behind Šmigun-Vähi in the 15 km skiathlon ten years ago, told TV2 that the Estonian skier's outstanding form at the Olympics had taken her by surprise. "I had trained in Pragelato for four weeks, and other countries arrived in Torino a week before the competitions, but Šmigun-Vähi came one day before," recalled Neumannova. "She surprised me — she was too strong," she added, speculating that Šmigun-Vähi might have prepared for the Olympics somewhere where drug testers could not reach her.
Šmigun-Vähi's husband and manager Kristjan-Thor Vähi denied that possibility in an e-mail to TV2. "Before Torino, Kristina trained in Santa Caterina, Italy, where she had also trained before other major championships," wrote her husband. "It was public information and Neumannova was also aware of that."
Šmigun-Vähi herself said to ETV that she continues to follow the advice of her lawyer and not comment on any rumors. She added that she wants to avoid breaching the rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and influencing the impartiality of the proceedings through media.
In addition to her two gold medals from 2006, Šmigun-Vähi also took home a silver at the Vancouver Games in 2010. She is the most successful Estonian Olympian of all time together with fellow cross-country skier Andrus Veerpalu.
The latter himself was involved in a doping scandal in 2011 wherein the International Ski Federation found him guilty of using human growth hormone. CAS acquitted him in 2013, however.