Column: Russian ruling only a brief respite in war on doping
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Hold off on the celebration.
A quick high-five is about all this is worth.
Yes, those leading the fight against chemically enhanced athletes could smile just a bit after the exclusion of 45 Russian athletes and two coaches was upheld on Friday, mere hours before the opening ceremony .
But Russia — which is supposed to be a country non grata at the Pyeongchang Olympics because of its outrageous, systematic doping program — is still a very big part of these Winter Games.
Don’t be surprised when several Russian athletes head home with gold medals, or when “Olympic Athletes from Russia” shows up near the top of the medal table.
Look for plenty of Russian flags — which the athletes are banned from using — in the stands.
Expect Vladimir Putin to justifiably declare victory in his tussle with the International Olympic Committee.
Banned from the Olympics?
Even after losing in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the Russians still have 168 athletes competing in South Korea — and a good shot at capturing gold in two of the highest-profile events: men’s hockey and women’s figure skating.
They even have an office in the Main Press Center adorned with a very official-looking sign for “Olympic Athletes From Russia,” the charade of a title that was nothing more than a disgraced nation’s “Get Out of Jail Free” card from the IOC.
The Russian fans are already showing their defiance. Dozens of fans at figure skating Friday dressed in national colors, waved the flag and held signs spelling out “Russia in My Heart.”
Most troubling of all, the IOC has signaled loud and clear that it will allow Russia to march under its own flag at the closing ceremony, issuing a vaguely worded edict that should’ve been served with a hefty helping of Swiss cheese.
Russia simply has to go along with this farce for the first 16 days of the games, which includes accepting a prohibition on the raising of its flag or the playing of its national anthem during official ceremonies, the wearing of neutral-sounding-but-not-really OAR uniforms during the competition, and eschewing any sort of mass protest that might embarrass the IOC.
It’s a very low bar to clear.
Once that is out of the way, Russia will be welcomed back into the Olympic movement with open arms.
That’s why the CAS decision, which upheld the IOC’s right to decide who could compete at its biannual party, was merely a brief respite in the never-ending war on doping.
“People ask me is this a win or lose?” said U.S. cross-country skier Andy Newell, who will be competing in his fourth Olympics. “This isn’t a win or lose situation. It’s just one step closer to a clean sport, and that is something we can all be proud of no matter what country you come from.”
It never should’ve gotten this far.
If ever a country deserved to be kicked out of the Olympics, it was Russia.
Eager to shine on its home soil at the 2014 Sochi Games, the nation embarked on a massive scheme that most infamously involved cutting a hole in the wall of the anti-doping lab, so tainted samples could be swapped out for clean urine. Hundreds of athletes benefited from the program that allegedly extended all the way to the secret police.
The IOC banned Russia from taking part in the Pyeongchang Games, but inexplicably left open the possibility of individuals being allowed to compete if they could prove they were clean. The vetting process cleared those aforementioned 168 athletes. Forty-five others (plus the two coaches) appealed to CAS to let them in, as well.
Thankfully, the right-down-to-the-wire ruling went against the Russians, dealing a blow to their hopes of making an even bigger splash in South Korea.
Among those whose won’t get a chance to compete: Viktor Ahn, a six-time gold medalist in short track speedskating; cross-country skiing gold medalist Alexander Legkov; skeleton gold medalist Alexander Tretiakov; along with potential medal contenders in biathlon, luge and bobsled.
“A small glimmer of hope in an otherwise dark and sordid affair,” U.S. anti-doping chief Travis Tygart said.
Really, it’s nothing more.
With Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova leading the way, the Russians are heavily favored in women’s figure skating . And the men’s hockey team could provide the biggest feather in Putin’s cap by claiming its first gold medal since the Soviet Union went out of business.
The NHL is sitting out these Olympics, allowing the Russians to assemble a relatively formidable squad composed largely of players from the Kontinental Hockey League, led by former NHLers such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Alexei Marchenko.
The Russians haven’t medaled at all in the last three Olympics, which is motivation enough. But they will be especially keen to show up the IOC for making them wear those OAR uniforms. Rest assured, if they take home their first gold since the 1988 Calgary Games, there will be no doubt about what country they represent.
Banned from the Olympics?
AP Sports Writers Eddie Pells and Steve Reed contributed to this report.
For more AP Olympic coverage: https://www.wintergames.ap.org