Norwegian cross-country skier Therese Johaug tested positive for the anabolic steroid clostebol. During a press conference on October 13, 2016, Johaug tearfully denied knowingly using the anabolic steroid clostebol. And all evidence suggests that she is telling the truth. Yet, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and WADA Code have a policy of “strict liability” that will penalize her regardless of whether or not she was at fault.
Johaug is a three-time medalist at the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and a multiple world champion in several cross-country ski events. Her numerous accomplishments are at risk of being unfairly tarnished with the latest steroid positive and likely suspension from competition.
Johaug directly blamed Doctor Fredrik Bendiksen, the team physician for the Norwegian National Women’s Cross Country Skiing Team for making the crucial mistake of giving her an over-the-counter medication that contained a banned anabolic steroid.
Johaug reportedly suffered from a severely sunburned lip acquired during altitude training with the Norwegian ski team in Livigno, Italy in August 2016. Dr. Bendiksen purchased the topical cream sold under the trade name Trofodermin from an Italian pharmacy as one of the treatments for Johaug’s sunburned lip.
Dr. Bendiksen with explicitly responsible for ensuring that all medications used by team members were compliant with the WADA Code. However, Bendiksen mistakenly told Johaug that the cream was safe to use and falsely provide her with his assurances that it was permitted.
“I am not guilty. I asked the doctor and he said it was not on the doping list,” Johaug said amidst tears and crying. “And he said no.”
Trofodermin contains a 0.5% Clostebol Acetate and 0.5% Neomycin Sulfate. It most commonly used to treat dermatitis and eczema but apparently is also useful for severe cases of sunburn.
“I am completely devastated and in despair to have ended up in this very demanding and to me unreal situation,” Johaug said. “I see this as unfair and totally undeserved, even though I am obviously aware of the liability that I have as an athlete for the medication that I use.”
The fallout from the Clostebol positive has been swift. The Norwegian Ski Team quickly staged a news conference to support Johaug. The press event include a statement delivered by Dr. Bendiksen in which he tendered his resignation and fully accepted all responsibility for the mistake.
The carelessness of Dr. Bendiksen appeared to be inexcusable especially since medications purchased from Italian pharmacies have clear labeling requirements that identify medications that are prohibited by sports doping rules.
“I have and accept responsibility for the fact that Therese has used the banned substance clostebol through the cream Trofodermin,” admitted Bendiksen. “She is an incredibly honorable person and an athlete who shows thoroughness in everything she does. Right now it is most important for me to do whatever I can to prevent that Therese will be punished for having used a cream that I assured her was safe to use.”
Clostebol is a genuine anabolic steroid considered to be somewhat less effective than the more popular steroid Primobolan (methenolone). Clostebol never really made an impact in the sports doping or bodybuilding world because of the extremely low concentrations and lack of performance-enhancing effects seen from commercially available preparations such as Megagrisevit-Mono and Steranabol.
The amount of clostebol in Trofodermin is trivial. Not only is it insufficient to have any positive effect on performance, it barely contains just enough clostebol to cause a positive steroid test.
Hopefully, WADA will abandon its unfair policy of strict liability in the face of the injustice that a suspension of Johaug would represent.