Say it Ain’t So, Max!

Another ski season, another scandal – and yet another case of national heartbreak, as the Nordic Ski World Cup in Seefeld (Feb 19-Mar 3) saw Austrian athletes, found with syringes in their luggage, charged with illegal blood doping. As police raided their rooms, one of the suspects, Max Hauke was caught in the act – shame-faced, a needle in his arm – in a photo that flooded the media.  

It was a Europe-wide doping scandal “with no end in sight,” wrote the tabloid Österreich, as the Austria’s Ski Association (ÖSV) confirmed the names of Hauke and a second top Austrian cross-country skier Dominik Baldauf (both 26). The Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), Austria’s Federal Police is cooperating with German authorities in pursuing what they describe as a large “criminal organization” led by 40-year-old German physician Mark Schmidt, suspected of offering blood doping services for years. Schmidt was arrested shortly after the Seefeld raids.

Struggling to get a handle on events, ÖSV President Peter Schröcksnadel agreed to an interview with Hajo Seppelt of the German broadcaster ARD, but withdrew it before it aired.  The reporter’s take: “Nerves in Austria seem to have been stretched to the limit.”

The investigation, years in preparation, had been triggered by Austrian cross-country skier Johannes Dürr (31), caught doping during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, leading to his being banned from the sport.  Dürr decided to cooperate with police, and went public in a widely reported interview with ARD. But he couldn’t stay clean; he had blood drawn, and began planning a comeback. Today, Dürr is suspected of being a middleman in the doping network, introducing fellow athletes to Schmidt and possibly also making deliveries. He denies the accusations and was arrested on Tuesday (Mar 5) in Innsbruck. In recent interviews, he seems remorseful but also trapped: “I was convinced that without the doping, nothing was possible.”

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