COMMENTARY: What price sporting success?
By Tero Hakola
Right from the outset it is important to emphasise that the stir around cross-country skier Juha Lallukka is only about a doping suspicion, until such time as the results of the athlete's B-sample have been made public.
Nevertheless, yesterday’s news by the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE of Lallukka’s A-sample having tested positive [apparently for growth hormone] gives reason to reflect on the values and the wretchedness of sports.
Presumably last summer, at the very latest, it became clear to everybody that Finland is not a warm, welcoming bosom for an athlete who has been caught using performance-enhancing substances.
After the Lahti doping scandal in 2001, Olympic and World Champion skier Mika Myllylä - one of the six skiers implicated - never quite managed to get his life back on track, and he died in July at the age of just 41.
A bunch of other skiers and cross-country skiing background personalities have also been in and out of various court instances because of doping entanglements for the past ten years.
If you were to ask them, the success reaped on the track was hardly worth the consequences.
After Myllylä’s death, Matti Sundberg, the chairman of the Finnish Ski Association, described Finnish society as immature and handicapped.
“A man already down is being hit in public and in private. This is a cruel and hard society where there seems to be little space left for humanity”, Sundberg commented in a Helsingin Sanomat interview.
After all this, it is impossible to understand why a Finnish athlete - and a skier of all athletes - would want to risk being exposed as a doping cheat.
Can an athlete’s ambition for success be so overpowering that he is ready to risk making a mess of his life for years to come?
Can the dream of success blind one to all the harsh realities?
Yesterday YLE published secretly-filmed footage of a diffident and shy-looking Lallukka walking into the premises of Yhtyneet Laboratoriot Oy, Finland’s official doping laboratory.
Most people probably hope that Lallukka’s B-sample will come up negative, so that he will be spared from all the humiliation.
Still, doping news always leaves a mark, regardless of the final outcome.
The Finnish Ski Association and the city of Lahti have applied for the 2017 Nordic World Ski Championships, and the doping headlines are hardly good for the campaign.
Equally, the negative headlines are unlikely to delight the voluntary workers who collect money for the country’s numerous ski-clubs or the children and the young adults who love skiing and who are anxiously waiting for this winter’s snow and all the competitions.
And there are still a lot of them out there.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 15.11.2011
Previously in HS International Edition:
More woes for cross-country skiing: Juha Lallukka suspected of doping violation (15.11.2011)
TERO HAKOLA / Helsingin Sanomat