Tom English: Lindsey Vonn’s links with doping coach

Skier Lindsey Vonn would be well advised to steer clear of the likes of Bernd Pansold. Picture: AP
Skier Lindsey Vonn would be well advised to steer clear of the likes of Bernd Pansold. Picture: AP
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IN THESE days when there is almost as much talk of doping in sport as there is talk of sport itself, there is a new bone to chew on courtesy of the New York Daily News and its story the other day of Lindsey Vonn, the champion skier and girlfriend of Tiger Woods, and some of the company she has been keeping in training in Austria.

Vonn is a Red Bull athlete. They treat her like they would a newborn babe, protecting her and promoting her, giving her the best training facilities that money can buy and the best coaches, too. Some of this training takes place in Thalgau, a village on the outskirts of Salzburg. In Thalgau, Vonn has come in contact with a 71-year-old coach by the name of Bernd Pansold.

Pansold has history, as they say. He was an instrumental part of the German Democratic Republic’s hideous state-sponsored doping programme, the repulsive targeting of young athletes who were then pumped with steroids like they were rats in a lab. Thousands of examples ensued. Many suffered awfully in the aftermath.

Since the newspaper published its story, Vonn’s people have gone into overdrive to stress that the relationship between herself and Pansold was casual and that they exchanged nothing more than a courtesy “hello”. There is some debate about this, however. Nobody is alleging for one second that Vonn has ever taken any banned substance, but what is odd is why she, and Red Bull, would want to associate with Pansold in any way given his background.

The New York Daily News says they have extensive evidence that shows the extent of Pansold’s involvement in this more pervasive and destructive doping regime in sports history, alleging that he was at the heart of the plan to “ply female swimmers with crude and highly dangerous muscle-building drugs. Working in close collaboration with the Stasi, East Germany’s dreaded secret police, Pansold oversaw plans in the 1970s and 1980s to give teenage girls, including at least one 13-year-old, the highly toxic Oral Turinabol without their knowledge. The victims suffered side effects such as irreversibly deepened voices, liver tumours, disturbed ovulation cycles and an extreme increase in face and body hair growth”.

It is singularly depressing that Pansold and his ilk are still involved in professional sport, regardless of whether they have mended their ways or not. Vonn, and her people, should know better. Ignorance is a defence that, frankly, is wearing very thin.