Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lindsey Vonn tied to infamous steroids doctor

An investigation by The New York Daily News reports that Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn has visited the clinic of a 71-year-old doctor named Bernd Pansold — an East German doping doctor who played an instrumental role in the German Democratic Republic's notorious state-sponsored program to dope unwitting young athletes with hardcore anabolic steroids.

Vonn, the clean-cut face of the U.S. Winter Olympics team and an athlete representing Red Bull — the sugary energy drink that has paid her to promote the popular picker-upper since 2005. Each summer the Austrian company organizes a rigorous conditioning program for Vonn, lodging her at an opulent resort hotel near Innsbruck and letting her work out at the Red Bull pro soccer team’s state-of-the-art training facility near the Salzburg airport.

That is the location of Thalgau, a peaceful village on the eastern outskirts of Salzburg, where Red Bull has sent Vonn to its Diagnostics and Training Center, a secure and nondescript old tin-oxide factory that houses a top sports laboratory overseen by Pansold.

It is here where Vonn visited the clinic of the controversial doctor, said the report.

A Daily News investigation of Red Bull’s Thalgau operation has uncovered no evidence of doping by Vonn, who has never failed a drug test. But the mere fact of Vonn’s and Pansold’s mutual access shows how vulnerable today’s Olympic athletes are when the corporate sponsors supplying their income are accountable only to the bottom line.

Vonn’s publicist initially denied the 28-year-old downhiller worked with Pansold, but later said Vonn has made occasional visits to Thalgau and exchanged “nothing more than a courtesy hello” with Pansold.

At the renovated diagnostic training center facility in March, where Pansold gave an exclusive interview to a Daily News reporter, he said Vonn had visited his facility twice a year in the past.

“A very nice girl,” Pansold said, emphasizing that his primary influence with Vonn’s training program was through her Red Bull trainer, Martin Hager. “She visits here twice a year.”

Pangold claims he and Vonn never discussed performance-enhancing drugs or methods.

What remains unclear, according to The News' report,  is how much Vonn and her advisers have known about Pansold’s past. While always quick to credit Red Bull’s role in her record-smashing success, Vonn hasn’t publicized her visits to Thalgau, and does the majority of her workouts elsewhere, often at five-star hotels like the Hotel Schwartz near Innsbruck.

Vonn’s publicist, Lewis Kay, would not make her available for an interview about Pansold over the past two weeks.

Last week Kay said Vonn has made “a handful of visits” to Thalgau. Other sources close to Vonn said she visited the center for physiological tests, including blood-lactate analysis.

Pansold is often described as a “leistungsdiagnostiker,” a specialist who assesses physical testing data to identify how performance can improve. His specialty is monitoring the buildup of lactic acid to help an athlete avoid overtraining, recover faster and boost endurance. A team of trainers and technicians at his center offer hundreds of Red Bull athletes customized guidance on maximizing their fitness.

Though he never testified at his own trial, Pansold does not deny that he was part of the madness that turned Olympic sports into a referendum on Cold War ideology and began the doping scourge that has permeated all sports since the 1970s.

Girls as young as 13 were given the toxic Oral Turinabol without their knowledge. The victims suffered side effects such as deepened voices, cancer, ruined ovulation cycles and an increase in face and body hair growth.

In 1998, Pansold was convicted of aiding and abetting assault for his part in the program. He has admitted in the past that, "It's very clear I was part of this system. I’m a known guy, but there are 200 or 300 other people you can ask."

That may be true, but the others don’t work with Vonn, who has dominated her sport longer than any American skier.

Call it a red flag or much ado about nothing but, in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, no world-class athlete is above scrutiny anymore.

Red Bull has not commented on the story.

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