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Coming off a knee injury from a year ago, German skier Stefan Luitz picked up perhaps the biggest victory of his career on Dec. 2 when he won a giant slalom race at the World Cup in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
However, that may all be for naught, as the International Skiing Federation intends to strip him of his first career win for using an oxygen mask between runs.
FIS anti-doping rules prohibit the use of oxygen masks at racing venues, and Luitz was seen using an oxygen tank between heats by the hospitality team after building a first-run lead.
Luitz, who qualified for the 2014 Winter Olympics but did not medal, has competed in the World Cup since 2011. He previously finished second in the giant slalom in 2012 and ’17 while finishing third in four other races.
If and when Luitz is stripped of the win, the race would go to runner-up Marcel Hirscher of Austria, who had won the five previous giant slalom events. Hirscher has been to the last three Winter Olympics and won three medals, including two golds in 2018.
How common is the use of oxygen masks?
Skiers use oxygen masks to help accelerate their recovery, especially since the air is very thin at 10,340 feet, where this race began. Use of oxygen masks is common and allowed during practice runs outside of competitions by the FIS.
The World Anti-Doping Agency actually allows the inhalation of oxygen during races, however the FIS prohibits it at World Cup races at the World Cup venue.
Luitz’s case is rather odd because he was using the oxygen masks out in the open, in front of cameras and officials. While no official protests were filed at the time, Luitz turned up in several photos clearly breaking the rules. There were reports of other German skiers using oxygen masks, but no other racers were investigated.
According to Marisa Poli of La Gazzetta dello Sport, although the practice remains common, there has never been a case as blatant as this.
What happens to Luitz from here?
On Friday, FIS secretary general Sarah Lewis announced that the German Ski Association was informed the rules call for the win to be stripped since “competition results achieved after the use of the equipment shall be automatically disqualified.”
“It’s part of the anti-doping and medical guide regulation but it’s related to a prohibited method so it’s very different from blood doping or taking of anabolic steroids and different offenses are categorized in different ways,” Lewis said. “This is just a breach of the regulations.”
With the German Ski Association being informed of the FIS ruling, it has two weeks to request a hearing before a decision is made. At that point, it will be able to appeal the ruling to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.
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