The aim of the paper is to analyse the collective expression of attitudes elicited by the doping scandal that concerned the esteemed Estonian cross-country skier and Olympic gold medal winner, Andrus Veerpalu. The paper provides an insight into the evolution of an athlete into a national hero on the Internet. The analysis is based on the material collected from Estonian online media during two years (from April 2011 to March 2013), when Andrus Veerpalu’s court case was actively followed by the Estonian sports circles and laymen alike. The data corpus includes the most relevant news texts published in the online news portal Delfi (www.delfi.ee), comments from the same online environment, posts from the Facebook fan sites, e.g., “We believe in Andrus Veerpalu”, etc. The doping accusation called forth a quasi-religious movement, which was built around the belief that the athlete was sacred and it was not allowed to attack or accuse him in any way. The main threads in the comments analysed within this study could be divided into two opposing, although intertwining categories: the serious and the ironic. Both categories included people who believed in Veerpalu’s innocence, and those who did not; in addition, there were those who displayed their superiority towards the entire discussion. The analysis addresses the transformation of an Olympic hero into a national hero, and points out narratives that treat the scandal within the present-day genres of urban legends, conspiracy theories, and Internet humour. The more or less genuine belief of people was reflected in sought-out explanations for the doping test result and counter-arguments (above all, via conspiracy stories, but also through social mobilisation in support of Veerpalu). In the post factum comments, the majority expressed the feeling that their trust had been justified; they renewed their unremitting belief in the acquitted hero. But the rather complicated end to the long case was also a confusing one, and this allowed the ironic discourse to produce parodies, jokes and other critical comments. The questions central to the analysis are the following: (1) How does the audience interpret information provided by the media and which topics do the interpretations initiate in turn? (2) How does the notion of belief emerge in the discussion, which narratives and stereotypes are believed in, and how is the belief rationalised? (3) Which folkloric and other cultural (transmedial) texts have taken inspiration from this doping scandal?
free text keywords: Anthropology, Cultural Studies, belief, conspiracy stories, fan culture, folklore about doping cases, national hero, national identity, sports folklore, stereotypes, National identity, Anthropology, History, lcsh:Ethnology. Social and cultural anthropology, lcsh:GN301-674