The Doping Scandal
The Finnish national team had an excellent year at the 2001 world championships, which were held in Lahti, Finland from February 15-25. But almost from the beginning their victories were tainted with suspicion. Rumors that Jari Isometsae, fourth-place finisher in the fifteen kilometer classic (held February 15) and silver medalist in the pursuit (held February 17), had had a positive test for banned drugs were circulating by the evening of the seventeenth. On the eighteenth Isometsae told reporters assembled at a press conference that he had been taking Hemohes (HEH), a newly banned plasma expander.
The men's four-by-ten kilometer relay team, composed of Kirvesniemi, Janne Immonen, Sami Repo, and Mika Myllylae, won the gold medal in that event on February 22. Immonen and Myllylae were already under suspicion: Myllylae had withdrawn from the pursuit race on the seventeenth due to feeling ill and Immonen had (apparently intentionally) broken one of his poles during the same race, and some thought that they had done these things so that they would not have to take any drug tests that day. On February 22, after the relay team's win, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) performed a surprise test on the entire Finnish team. Immonen tested positive, and as a result the entire relay team was stripped of their golds.
The scandal continued to grow. By February 28 it was known that four more skiers, among them Kirvesniemi and Myllylae, had tested positive for HEH. That day the team's coach, Kari-Pekka Kyro, admitted that most members of the team were using banned substances and that this was common knowledge. As Kyro explained, he had thought that the drug tests would only be able to detect HEH for a brief period of time after the athletes used it. After Myllylae's involvement became known he fled the country, while Kirvesniemi begged his fans for their forgiveness while fighting back tears.
Kirvesniemi was banned from competitive skiing for two years after he was proved guilty of using banned substances, and rather than try to return to competition when he would be nearly forty-five, he simply retired. Kirvesniemi then became the head of the racing department at Karhu, a ski manufacturing company that had long been among his sponsors.
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