Norway’s seven-times world cross-country champion Therese Johaug today won her first race back after an 18-month doping ban at the opening International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup event of the season in Kuusamo in Finland.
The 30-year-old athlete, winner of the Olympic gold medal at Vancouver 2010, has always maintained her innocence after testing positive for the steroid Clostebol in autumn 2016 after it was said to have been contained in a lip cream she had used.
Today’s competition was her first in 988 days, but she was able to leave the rest of the field a long way behind in her 10 kilometres classic style race.
"I can’t believe it - to be back here and to start the season with a victory," she told the FIS.
"It has been grim for me the last two years, and I’m still angry, but it has been a goal for me to win the first race back, and now I do it and I’m really happy.
"The people were so nice and they supported me all the way so thanks to all of them."
Johaug won in 28mi 02.5sec on the Ruka resort slopes, with Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla 22.5 seconds adrift, and her compatriot Ebba Andersson 32.8 seconds back.
It was the 43rd World Cup victory of Johaug's career, and her 21st podium finish in a 10km classic event.
Johaug now appears favourite for the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, due o take place from February 16 until March 3.
Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov, winner of the previous day’s men’s sprint on the Ruka course, added gold in the men’s 15km classic.
"I have not got any secrets…I started more slowly than usual on the course and finished a little bit faster, and I am very happy for my result," he said.
Bolshunov won in 36:17.8, finishing 19.5 seconds ahead of Norway’s Emil Iversen, with Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson third.
The Nordic Combined Team Event was won by the German quartet of Eric Frenzel, Fabian Rießle, Johannes Rydzek and Vinzenz Geiger.
They finished ahead of Team Japan by one minute and five seconds – exactly the advantage with which the Japanese had started the concluding Team Gundersen 4 x 5.0 kilometres race, having won the ski jumping element.
Go Yamamoto, Yoshito Watabe, Hideaki Nagai and Akito Watabe celebrated the first Japanese team podium result since Ruka in 2013 but were also able to build on two disqualifications that took Team Norway and Team Austria out of the running for the top results.
Norway minimised the damages with a strong performance on the track.
They salvaged the third place, one minute and 48 seconds behind the Germans.
The competition had shaped up to be a duel between four teams: Austria, Japan, Germany and Norway, who were all jumping on a good level.
The longest jump of the day was set by Jan Schmid for team Norway, with 141 metres.
Unfortunately, both Lukas Greiderer of Austria and Jarl Riiber of Norway were disqualified due to suit infractions.
Meanwhile in today’s World Cup ski jumping at Ruka, Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi repeated his large hill victory of the previous day as he finished with a total of 310.4 points.
Germany’s Andreas Wellinger was second on 288.4 and Poland’s Olympic champion Kamil Stoch, second in yesterday’s competition, took bronze today with 285.4.