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Vladimir Putin argues against tampered Sochi samples in latest doping denial

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In his latest denial of state-run doping, Vladimir Putin dismissed reports that tampering of Russian urine samples at the Sochi Olympics marked evidence of an organized doping program.

“Of course, and naturally enough, there is this issue of claims regarding scratches of some kind on some of the test samples,” the Russian president said Wednesday. “We do not understand what kind of evidence can we talk about because when we provided the test samples [to authorities] there were no complaints. If there was a problem with scratches of whatever kind, this should have been noted in the relevant reports, but there was nothing of this sort.

“In other words, these samples were stored somewhere, and we cannot be held responsible for the storage conditions.”

During the Sochi Olympics, doping samples of Russian athletes were opened and replaced with clean urine, according to a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned independent report headed by Dr. Richard McLaren last year.

McLaren’s reports said that scratches and marks were found on the sample bottles upon further examination two years after the Winter Games, but the marks were not visible until microscopic examination. The samples were taken from a laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland, where they were stored after the Sochi Winter Games.

McLaren’s reports said the conspiracy involved the Russian Sports Ministry, national anti-doping agency and the FSB intelligence service, the current version of the Soviet Union’s KGB.

Putin has denied a state-run doping system in Russia in the months since the McLaren reports. On Dec. 23, he said such a program was “absolutely impossible,” while also saying the nation has a doping problem “like any other country.”

“Let me say again, and we said it repeatedly, that Russia has never had, and I hope never will have, a state system supporting doping,” Putin said Wednesday. “On the contrary, Russia will only combat doping.”

While denying, Putin added that Russia needed to heed the McLaren reports’ findings, “despite the shortcomings in its work.”

“We must pay heed to its work and its results, and to WADA’s demands, because we need to acknowledge that there are established and identified cases of doping here, and this is a totally unacceptable situation,” Putin said. “What this means is that our existing anti-doping monitoring system has not worked effectively, and this is our fault, and is something we need to admit and address directly.”

WADA said later Wednesday it was encouraged by Putin admitting that Russia’s anti-doping system failed, calling it a sign of progress.

Putin noted that Russia is putting a new anti-doping system into place.

“I hope that we will no longer have any swindlers, who organize doping programs themselves and then flee abroad,” Putin said, intimating whistleblower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, whose evidence of Sochi sample tampering was supported by the McLaren reports. “I hope that our independent specialists and foreign specialists will help us to develop a strict and effective anti-doping system.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Russian Olympic skeleton champion suspended after Sochi doping report

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Russia’s two Sochi Olympic skeleton medalists, including gold medalist Aleksandr Tretiyakov, were provisionally suspended through Jan. 19 in response to the investigation into Russian doping at the Sochi Winter Games, according to Russian media citing the Russian bobsled and skeleton federation.

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

Last Friday, the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation announced that four Russian skeleton athletes were provisionally suspended but did not name names.

At least 10 Russian Olympians from Sochi are currently provisionally suspended since the second part of a World Anti-Doping Agency-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 have also been 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.

The suspended Russian skeleton athletes are in line to miss the next two World Cup stops.

Tretiyakov leads the men’s World Cup standings after two of eight scheduled stops. In second place is South Korean Yun Sung-bin, one of the 2018 Olympic host country’s top athletes across all sports. Yun’s hopes of becoming the first South Korean to win a World Cup skeleton season title increase with Tretiyakov’s absence.

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

Russia’s most decorated Sochi Olympic skiers suspended

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Russia’s two best skiers from the Sochi Olympics were among six Russians provisionally suspended by the International Ski Federation after their names appeared in the McLaren report on Russian doping in Sochi.

Cross-country skiers Alexander Legkov and Maxim Vylegzhanin went one-two in the 50km freestyle in Sochi and heard their national anthem on the podium at the Closing Ceremony, as is custom for that event, the Winter Olympic equivalent of the marathon.

Legkov and Vylegzhanin were the only Russian skiers to earn multiple medals in Sochi. Both were also part of the 4x10km relay that took silver.

Vylegzhanin added another silver in the team sprint and also owns five world championships medals. Legkov owns two world championships medals.

Aleksey Petukhov, a 2010 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time world medalist, was also suspended.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) also suspended Sochi Olympians Yevgeny BelovYuliya Ivanova and Yevgenia Shapovalova, who did not earn medals.

All athletes appealed their bans, but the provisional suspensions were upheld by the FIS doping panel.

Legkov, Vylegzhanin, Petukhov, Belov, Ivanova and Shapovalova make up six of the 20 cross-country skiers who competed for Russia at the Sochi Olympics.

The skiers are now slated to miss the annual Tour de Ski from Saturday through Jan. 8.

On Dec. 23, FIS announced that six Russian skiers were suspended but did not name names. FIS said the skiers were suspended after the IOC “opened investigations into alleged anti-doping rule violations in connection with” the Sochi Olympics.

The IOC said 28 Russians in all from the Sochi Olympics faced doping cases.

MORE: Over 1,000 Russian athletes involved in organized doping, report says