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Russian skeleton medalists’ ban lifted after appeal

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A ban of Russia’s top skeleton athletes has been lifted due to a lack of evidence from a recent World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report on widespread Russian doping.

On Dec. 30, Russia’s two Sochi Olympic skeleton medalists, including gold medalist Aleksandr Tretiyakov, were among four Russian sliders provisionally suspended through Jan. 19 in response to the investigation into Russian doping at the Sochi Winter Games.

The four skeleton athletes appealed the ban and had a hearing in front of a panel last Tuesday.

On Sunday, the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation said the panel ruled that the WADA-commissioned Russian doping report “provides sufficient reason to conduct further investigation by both the IOC and the IBSF into the role of the athletes in ‘tampering or attempted tampering of any doping control’ … but at the same time it comes to the conclusion that at this very moment there is not (yet) sufficient evidence against the athletes that would justify the provisional suspension.”

In the five days between the hearing and the bans being lifted, the Russian sliders were forced to miss a World Cup stop in Altenberg, Germany.

They are able to compete at next weekend’s World Cup in Winterberg, Germany, which doubles as the European Championships.

Tretiyakov, Sochi women’s bronze medalist Yelena Nikitina and fellow Sochi Olympians Maria Orlova and Olga Potylitsina were all suspended. They made up two-thirds of the Russian Olympic skeleton team in Sochi but have not received sanctions regarding their 2014 Olympic results.

At least 10 Russian Olympians from Sochi were provisionally suspended since the second part of a WADA-commissioned report into Russian doping violations in Sochi was published Dec. 9.

The other six suspended Sochi Olympians known so far were cross-country skiers, including Russia’s top two skiers from those Winter Games.

Two Russian biathletes were also suspended in connection to the WADA-commissioned report. Though their names haven’t been announced by national or international governing bodies, Russian and Italian media have said they were Sochi Olympians.

The skiers and biathletes, like the skeleton sliders, have not received sanctions regarding their Olympic results.

On Dec. 23, the IOC said it opened disciplinary proceedings against 28 Russian Olympians for whom there was “evidence of manipulation of one or more of their urine samples” from the Sochi Winter Games.

The IOC move was in response to the WADA-commissioned report by Richard McLaren that said more than 1,000 Russian athletes were involved in organized doping. Russians who won 15 medals in Sochi had their samples tampered with, according to the report.

This year’s world skeleton championships are in Koenigssee, Germany, in February, after they were moved from Sochi after the McLaren report was published.

MORE: Katie Uhlaender, fourth in Sochi, contacts Russian skeleton bronze medalist

USOC expects to discuss possible Winter Olympic bid

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PARK CITY, Utah — USOC leaders are expected to discuss a possible Winter Olympic bid as early as next month.

The U.S. could bid for the 2026 or 2030 Winter Olympics. USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said it would be more difficult to bid for 2026 with the 2028 Summer Games set for Los Angeles.

Salt Lake City, Denver, Reno-Tahoe and other cities have expressed interest in bidding, Blackmun said Monday.

The USOC executive board meets Oct. 13. USOC chairman Larry Probst said they “need to talk about” a possible Winter Olympic bid and whether it could be for 2026 or 2030 or later down the line.

The USOC has focused on Summer Olympic bids since 2003. It was officially awarded the 2028 Olympics 12 days ago.

Blackmun added Monday that he hopes multiple U.S. cities could participate in the IOC’s invitational phase for possible bids over the next year. That phase is for cities to receive feedback before formally deciding to put forward a bid.

IOC members are expected to vote in 2019 to determine the 2026 Winter Olympic host.

Sion, Switzerland, is the only city to confirm bid plans.

Probst, an IOC member, also expects Innsbruck, Austria, to bid to become the first city to host the Winter Olympics three times. A public vote for a possible Innsbruck bid to move forward is scheduled for Oct. 15.

Calgary and Stockholm could also bid.

I think [IOC president] Thomas Bach has publicly stated that he would like to see the Winter Games return to a more traditional location,” Probst said. “So, to me, that’s code for Europe or North America. … We’ll have to monitor that, see what the situation looks like and then develop our strategy for whether we’re going to bid for the next Winter Games or longer than that.”

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MORE: Austria looks into multi-country 2026 Winter Olympic bid

USOC supports athletes expressing themselves after anthem protests

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PARK CITY, Utah — The U.S. Olympic Committee supports American athletes expressing themselves at winter sports events leading up to the PyeongChang Olympics.

Some MLB, NFL and WNBA players kneeled and remained in locker rooms during the national anthem at games over the weekend.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun was asked Monday if the USOC would support American athletes peacefully protesting during the national anthem this fall and winter.

“I think the athletes that you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t,” Blackmun said at a pre-Winter Games media summit. “We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves. The Olympic Games themselves, there is a prohibition on all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise. And that applies no matter what side of the issue you’re taking, no matter where you’re from. … But we certainly recognize the importance of athletes being able to express themselves.”

Blackmun mentioned Tommie Smith and John Carlos‘ raised-fist salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. The USOC has honored Smith and Carlos. They visited the White House last year with the Rio Olympic team.

“That was a seminal moment not only for the Olympic Movement, but for the U.S. Olympic team,” Blackmun said of the 1968 podium gesture. “Our stance on this has been fairly clear. We certainly recognize the rights of the athletes to express themselves.”

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