An investigation by the New York Daily News has tied Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn to a Red Bull-owned clinic run by a doctor who oversaw a notorious East German doping program.
The report, by writer Nathaniel Vinton, has found that Vonn, 28, made “a handful of visits” to the clinic, in Thalgau, Austria, but that there was no apparent evidence of doping. Vonn has never failed a drug test.
Sources told the News that Vonn has received “physiological tests, including blood-lactate analysis” during her reported twice-yearly visits.
The 2010 Olympic downhill champion and girlfriend of Tiger Woods—and number three on our list of this year’s top outdoor and endurance athletes—is currently recovering from a knee injury sustained during February’s world championships, and is gearing up for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
The doctor at the center of this story is Bernd Pansold, 71, who oversaw a disturbing East German program to inject female swimmers as young as 13 with highly toxic steroids against their will. Pansold was convicted in 1998 by a German court of “aiding and abetting assault,” but in the intervening years had come to work with the Austrian ski team. After his conviction the ski team dropped him and Red Bull snatched him up to run its Diagnostics and Training Center in Thalgau.
Pansold denied having anything more to do with performance enhancing drugs, telling the paper, “For me, it’s finished.” Red Bull didn't comment.
Although the Daily News made sure to cross its t’s and included no language of guilt by association, the implication is clear: there may be more to this story.
Peter Vigneron, who recently profiled Vonn for Outside Magazine, has a smart take on the situation:
Vonn's association with Pansold is unseemly, but Vinton's story, for all its bluster, is pretty light on damming details [sic]… On the other hand, it's not great for Red Bull, because if not for Pansold's pharmaceutical expertise I can't really imagine why they'd need him around—blood-lactate analysis just isn't that complicated. But then Red Bull doesn't only work with athletes like Vonn, who compete in WADA-signatory sports. They might even legitimately want a PED specialist on staff: what if Felix Baumgartner wanted to dope for his Red Bull Stratos jump, for example?
Vigneron concludes—rightly, I’d argue, in light of the Armstrong and BALCO scandals—that “these things have a way of coming to light.”
We may not hear any more about this story—or a lot more.