Doping scandal: Tammjärv comes clean, Veerpalus pull disappearing act

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Coach Anti Saarepuu and skier Karel Tammjärv, 1 March 2019.
Coach Anti Saarepuu and skier Karel Tammjärv, 1 March 2019. Source: Screen still/Facebook live

Estonian Nordic skier Karel Tammjärv, arrested and again released in Seefeld, Austria earlier this week on doping suspicions, said in a press conference on Friday that he has been doping since 2016. He was offered his first introduction to a German doctor by former head coach of the Estonian national Nordic skiing team, Mati Alaver, Tammjärv said, adding that coach and Estonian skiing idol, Andrus Veerpalu, and teammate Andreas Veerpalu have been fully aware of what was going on. Father and son Veerpalu quietly left their hotel earlier today and haven't been seen since.

Coach of Karel Tammjärv and Andreas Veerpalu, Anti Saarepuu, said earlier on Friday that the two athletes had already confirmed to him that the suspicions are true and that they have used doping. At the press conference in Seefeld, Austria this morning, Saarepuu, obviously exhausted by the events that transpired in the last 48 hours, said that their confessions had been a shock.

Andrus and Andreas Veerpalu sneak out of hotel

Once both Saarepuu and Tammjärv had sat down for the press conference, they confirmed that both coach Andrus Veerpalu and his son and the second athlete involved in this most recent doping scandal, Andreas Veerpalu, had left the hotel without telling them.

"I won't compliment them on their behaviour," Saarepuu said. "That's their decision, and one they made behind my back."

Saarepuu added that the authorities hadn't raided the hotel of the remainder of the Estonian national team. Nobody had searched their rooms, asked questions or approached him as the head coach. Tammjärv and Andreas Veerpalu stayed at a different hotel.

"This has been a great shock to everyone, I don't know how to digest all of this," he added. "I've been the national team's coach formally, but training Team Haanja was my actual everyday work. I defend the athletes I work with."

He would continue to work with skiers Raido Ränkel and Marko Kilp, he said, and stressed that he won't take on the responsibility for the current scandal. "If the Ski Association should see it this way, then that's their decision, but I'm not responsible," he added.

Tammjärv: Doctor's visits in Frankfurt, Berlin

Tammjärv described how he had first started to use doping as a means to enhance his athletic performance. "I decided that I wanted help with blood doping," he said. The first time he had his blood taken and reinjected was at the 2016 World Championship in Lahti, Finland. "This didn't work, because I was ill."

He went on to describe how he had gone on applying blood doping, and how the doping had been arranged. He travelled to Frankfurt and Berlin, where he visited the practice of Dr Mark Schmidt, a physician also arrested in Seefeld earlier this week.

Blood was taken and reinjected on those occasions, Tammjärv said. Schmidt travelled to different competitions himself, accompanied by a colleague. Throughout the time he used Schmidt's services, he had also been in touch with Mati Alaver, the former long-time head coach of the Estonian national Nordic skiing team.

Saarepuu added that Tammjärv's development as an athlete had seemed completely normal to him, and that he didn't have any reason to suspect anything. "On a good day he would make it into the top 20. It seemed that a lot of things were simply coming together, and the whole team including the maintenance people was glad that at least one of them was getting somewhere," Saarepuu said.

Tammjärv said that he had noticed that he was being followed in Seefeld, but that Schmidt had called his reaction "paranoia". "But we were in fact followed, and then there was a raid," Tammjärv said.

Andrus Veerpalu fully aware of doping

Though Tammjärv didn't comment on the situation of his teammate, Andreas Veerpalu, he did say that both he and his father, skiing legend Andrus Veerpalu, had been aware of his own doping, while Saarepuu had been unaware of what was going on.

That everything is now out in the open, according to Tammjärv, is a relief, as he hadn't been able to talk to people about it to his coach, his teammates, supporters and also his family. "All those who were hoping that Estonian skiing was on the way up again." One reason that had kept him going was the hope that he could do better and improve the situation for Estonian sports and skiing, Tammjärv said.

He had cooperated with the police right away, Tammjärv said. "I started talking to them, because I wanted to, and I had the impression from the info I was given that nobody will help me," he added. "Later on a lawyer showed up and told me to stop talking, let's discuss this first. After that it became clear that the other side was talking as well, and it didn't made any difference anymore. The stories matched."

Tammjärv then explained that Andreas Veerpalu had joined the doping program later on, and that they didn't talk about it a lot. He had never met another skier implicated, Kazakh Alexey Poltaranin, Tammjärv said.

He had used the money he got from personal sponsors to pay for the doping, he added. That he and also Andreas Veerpalu had to live apart from the other athletes on the Estonian national team had been necessary for the doping. "I had smaller and bigger lies about why I needed to be somewhere else," he said.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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