Still waiting: Uhlaender trying to look ahead, not back
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Katie Uhlaender was scatterbrained Thursday.
She didn’t put her racing bib on for the first run of the World Cup season, so technically she wasn’t compliant with uniform regulations. Uhlaender also forgot to put anything long-sleeved in her bag of postrace clothes, so she stood in 36-degree air after the race with completely bare arms coming out of her vest.
“I forgot my shirt,” she said.
Uhlaender has plenty of reasons to be distracted. She’s still grieving the loss of her close friend Steven Holcomb , the U.S. bobsledding star who died suddenly in May. She’s breaking in new equipment. And she’s still waiting to hear, more than 3 1/2 years since the Sochi Games ended, if she’s an Olympic medalist.
The International Olympic Committee probe of Russia’s state-sponsored doping program at the Sochi Games is ongoing, and plenty of bobsledders and skeleton athletes are waiting to see what happens. Uhlaender was fourth in those Olympics, and if Russia’s Elena Nikitina — one of the athletes who has been under investigation — loses her bronze, then the American may get her first medal.
“I can’t even put my head there,” Uhlaender said. “It’s been a year since the McLaren Report came out. I’m just going to focus on each race and control what I can control.”
So far, six Russian cross-country skiers have been banned from future Olympics as a result of the probe by an IOC disciplinary panel. The cases against the Russians were built on evidence of a state doping conspiracy detailed last year by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren.
“More hearings concerning other athletes will be held over the next few weeks,” the IOC said Thursday. All hearings will be completed by the end of November, the IOC said, and a decision is expected in early December regarding whether Russian athletes will be allowed to enter this winter’s Pyeongchang Olympics.
Uhlaender was ninth on Thursday at Mount Van Hoevenberg, a less-than-ideal result especially considering the Americans hoped to have a home-track edge in Lake Placid. Nikitina is still eligible to compete and was fourth on Thursday.
“This year’s been really tough in general,” Uhlaender said, tears running slowly down her face. “Losing Holcomb, I’ve been having mini-panic attacks since he’s not here. Whenever I have a race freak-out, I would find him or text him and get an extra boost. This was the first race I had to go without that. I know what he’d say — that I can’t lose twice, and I have to represent my country by doing the right thing.”
Canada’s Elisabeth Vathje, Thursday’s silver medalist, said the waiting isn’t easy for anyone in sliding — including the probe’s targets.
“It’s a terrible situation and that it’s state-sponsored makes it even more difficult,” Vathje said. “I don’t know what those girls were told they needed or couldn’t do. We don’t know the whole story and that’s really hard. I’m friends with the Russians. They’re lovely people. And it’s really hard to see them struggling.”
The three principal sliders still under investigation related to what is alleged to have happened in Sochi are double-gold-winning bobsledder Alexander Zubkov, men’s skeleton gold medalist Alexander Tretyakov and Nikitina. Zubkov is retired and is president of the Russia Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation, and Tretyakov is scheduled to race in the men’s skeleton season-opener Friday.
If Zubkov is disqualified, the top U.S. sleds in the two- and four-man events — both driven by Holcomb, with the two-man pushed by Steven Langton and the four-man pushed by Langton, Curt Tomasevicz and Chris Fogt — could move from bronze to silver. If Tretyakov loses his medal, Matt Antoine of the U.S. could go from bronze to silver. And if Nikitina loses her medal, Uhlaender could move to third.
“I definitely think something has to be done,” Uhlaender said. “Is there doping control in Russia? Do they believe that testing in the offseason should be done? Just because they’re not doping in the season, that doesn’t mean it’s OK in the offseason. I’m a clean athlete and I’m going to keep representing clean athletes. I don’t know what else to say.”