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Doctor Pekka Peltokallio is a huge, shambling man whose gray-blond hair gives the impression that someone has dumped a bowl of lentil soup over his head, where it quickly froze. He is good-humored and expansive, alarmingly so, for as soon as the visitor is seated, the great doctor lurches at him, rips off his shoe and sock to demonstrate how he repaired Lasse Viren's ankle injury. "The tendon actually slipped over the point of the ankle bone, here," he says, running a fingernail in among delicate muscles and cords and nerves. "We had to make a little groove in the bone below, here, to ensure it wouldn't pop out again."
Peltokallio gives Viren a thorough examination annually, then sees him once a month briefly. "Socially, we meet more often," Peltokallio says. He and the runner are close friends. The doctor reports his findings to the coach. Haikkola. He says that Viren, like all Finnish distance runners, takes a gram of vitamin E every day and a gram of C three times a day. He takes a multivitamin pill with trace minerals, and bee pollen as well. He does not blood-dope.
"There can be no use in adding red blood cells if one's hemoglobin count is above 15, and Viren's is normally 15.4 to 15.6," says Peltokallio. "That is close to an optimum level. Any less and you carry less oxygen. But any more"—the doctor hunches over his desk and it creaks under the load—"any more and the blood becomes too thick. It can't work as well. There is a disease where the blood gets too thick. People who have it can get congestive heart failure. They can't pump it. So it is crazy for most runners to try blood exchanges."
Peltokallio has not himself experimented with blood doping, but draws his information from Swiss and Swedish studies. "The reason why people connect Finns with blood doping is that there was a Finnish sportsman some years ago— just about the time of the first experiments in Sweden—who had a hemoglobin level of 11. He tried it and improved dramatically." Peltokallio declines to mention this man's name, but other sources say he probably was Jouko Kuha. who came from obscurity to break the world steeplechase record in 1968. "It is sad that these suspicions take away from Lasse's greatness," says the doctor. "He needs no trick. Why do they single him out?"
The visitor muses that it may be a mixture of jealousy and circumstantial evidence: people cannot understand Viren's seeming inability to win non-Olympic races.
"At the beginning of May last year." says Peltokallio, bristling, "there was the 25-kilometer road race here in Helsinki. Cold weather. Wind. Lasse was not well, with an allergy cold. But he was only four seconds off the world record. Is that a bad race?" He sits quietly for a moment, then growls, "The world has no shame. They can't prove that he did it. So they make me try to disprove it."
He returns to Viren's miraculous physical gifts, relating how because of them he was almost told to quit running. "After his cold he had a really bad race, worse than the worst. He felt awful. I thought he might have pneumonia, so we took a chest X ray. His lungs were O.K., but the X ray showed his heart in sharp outline. We compared it to an X ray taken a couple of months before and there was a huge difference. His heart had grown by about a third. There seemed no way that transformation could take place just by training. He had a grave problem. Four heart specialists came in, and all agreed. Then one, who had sport in his background, said, 'Are we sure both these X rays were taken in the same phase of respiration? If he was holding his breath in on one and out on the other it might make a difference.' Now we thought this was grasping at a straw. But we took new X rays, one in, one out and sure enough the difference was there. Normal people don't do that. The best runners show a tiny difference, but nothing like Lasse's. It's an absolutely unique phenomenon."
Lasse, as is his custom, endured this unnerving inquiry with patience and trust. "You know, when we first began working together six years ago, Lasse wasn't really the ideal patient. He was so shy he seemed to brood, walking blocks without saying anything, never taking part in social activities. But he's improved with becoming successful. And now that he's married he's even better. In fact, I think he's nearly perfect."
Lasse Viren walks through slush in his driveway until he reaches the bare road. Then he begins to run. It is a quarter to six in the evening in late April. The sun floats through a roiling cloud, filling the damp air with bursts of misty rose and gold, igniting the greens and browns of the forest. Viren runs a mile on the paved road, then takes a hard left onto a lane of packed granite sand, a luxurious surface for running because the melting snow drains right through it. The moment he treads on this, Viren seems to expand, like his heart when he inhales. He takes off his leather ski gloves. He points out ancient farm buildings. The road rises through the forest, in places covered with packed ice where the sun never reaches. He knows the terrain intimately; knows, for example, that the lake beside his house is 16 meters higher than the one beside the town of Myrskyl�. He notes which farms still keep a cow and which have given in to modern ways. He tells which neighbors have an excess of visitors in the summer. He points out snow-clogged trails he runs in the summer.
The two runners come to a fork. "One way will be nine kilometers, the other 14," he says. He lets his visitor choose, saying it makes no difference to him, although at present he is running only half of his usual 150 miles per week. They take the 14-kilometer route. Among the pines rest huge granite boulders left by the Ice-Age glaciers that scraped away most of Finland's topsoil. Some remains. In hollows the road becomes gritty chocolate mud. Viren runs easily with his rather stooped stride at about a 6�-minute-per-mile pace, pleased that his ankle isn't bothered by the uneven ground.