Ski star Johaug banned from 2018 Olympics in doping case

GENEVA: The 2018 Winter Olympics will be without a potential star whose ban has been extended in a doping case involving a steroid in lip balm.

A former Olympic champion, World Cup winner and seven-time world champion in cross-country skiing, Therese Johaug is now barred from racing until mid-April.

The Pyeongchang Games are staged in South Korea in February.

The 29-year-old star of Norway's powerhouse squad tested positive for an anabolic agent listed in the contents of a treatment for sunburn, and a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) panel said on Tuesday an 18-month ban was "appropriate."

"I am heart-broken," a tearful Johaug said at a news conference at her training base in Italy. "I think it is unfair, I feel I was unfairly treated."

The case highlighted a risk of hometown decisions when national bodies judge cases involving local stars, and why the International Olympic Committee wants Switzerland-based CAS to handle all such doping cases and avoid conflicts of interest.

Johaug was banned for just 13 months by a Norwegian sports tribunal which noted the balm was approved by a team doctor.

A potential return to racing in November was challenged by the International Ski Federation (FIS). It a used a right of appeal to sport's highest court for a ban closer to the two-year maximum in cases of "non-significant fault."

Switzerland-based FIS said it was "satisfied that an independent body had the opportunity to review all of the facts of this case and render an impartial verdict."

Johaug will now miss the entire Olympic season after being denied the chance to defend the overall World Cup title she won in 2016. She also won the season-long title in 2014, weeks after winning silver and bronze medals from distance races at the Sochi Olympics.

Norway won five of the 12 golds in cross-country skiing at Sochi, included a medal sweep in the women's 30-kilometer race. Johaug got her silver at the official closing ceremony before teammate Marit Bjoergen's gold made her the most decorated female Winter Olympian in history.

With Bjoergen skipping the 2016 season, Johaug regained her World Cup title and was training to defend it at a high-altitude camp in Italy one year ago. There, she tested positive for clostebol.

"I feel I did everything right," Johaug said on Tuesday. "I went to an expert who gave me this ointment and I asked him if the cream was on a doping list. The answer I got was no."

The three CAS judges did not agree she was blameless.

"The panel noted that Ms. Johaug failed to conduct a basic check of the packaging, which not only listed a prohibited substance as an ingredient but also included (a) clear doping cautionary warning," the court said in a statement, noting her case was "inconsistent with her otherwise clean anti-doping record."

FIS previously cited Johaug's failure "to read the doping warning label printed in red on the package," and using a medication she did not recognize that was bought away from her home country.

Johaug has raced at the top international level since 2007, gaining 42 individual World Cup wins and Olympic gold in the 4x5-kilometer relay at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Her two medals in Sochi helped Norway place second in the overall medals table behind the host nation. Norway could top the standings after the IOC finishes prosecuting cases of suspected systematic doping of the Russian team.