Russian gold medalist disqualified for Sochi Olympics doping

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GENEVA (AP) — In a landmark verdict that indicates Russia conspired to run a doping program at the Sochi Olympics, a cross-country skier who won a gold medal was disqualified by the IOC on Wednesday.

All results for Alexander Legkov in Sochi were wiped from the record. He was banned for life from attending another Olympics.

A second Russian cross-country skier was also disqualified and banned by the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday, while cases implicating 26 more Russian athletes in a Sochi doping conspiracy are pending.

With calls to ban Russia’s team from the PyeongChang Olympics likely to increase, the IOC’s executive board will meet next month to discuss the matter.

The IOC disciplinary panel did not have a positive doping test from Legkov but used evidence of cover-ups and tampering of sample bottles that was first gathered last year by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren.

“The IOC showed its determination to protect clean athletes from the very beginning of the case,” said the Olympic body, whose board meets Dec. 5-7 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The IOC panel did not give details of the evidence Wednesday. McLaren has said that glass sample bottles were scratched when broken into, and in some cases clean urine used to cover up doping was tampered with, revealing unnatural levels of salt and even DNA from the wrong gender.

Legkov’s gold medal was a marquee Russian success at the Sochi Olympics, which was a national priority for President Vladimir Putin and cost $51 billion to prepare for and host.

The cross-country skier won the 50km freestyle in a Russian podium sweep on the last day of competition. The Russian trio received their medals in the main Olympic Stadium during the Closing Ceremony. Legkov had earlier taken silver in the 4x10km relay.

Legkov said last year he had never failed a doping test, claiming he was tested so often that he couldn’t have doped without being caught.

“You’d have to be a complete kamikaze to do that in Russia if you’re an athlete representing our nation,” Legkov said then.

However, McLaren’s investigation said the Russian doping program was enabled by the country’s government, anti-doping agency and testing labs, plus sports governing bodies.

The second cross-country skier who was disqualified and banned, Evgeniy Belov, did not win a medal.

Lawyers for the two skiers disputed the IOC panel’s ruling while accepting a doping program was in place.

“So there is neither Prof. McLaren’s assertion nor proof that individual athletes have really participated in the system that has undoubtedly existed,” German law firm Wieschemann said in a statement.

The two are the first Sochi cases to be judged by the IOC panel created to verify McLaren’s work. The Canadian law professor had himself been appointed by WADA to examine claims by Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s WADA-authorized drug-testing laboratories.

Rodchenkov, who is now in a witness protection program in the United States, said he switched tainted urine samples for clean ones at the Sochi lab with help from what he believed was the Russian security service.

The verdicts announced Wednesday were the first from six cross-country skiers scheduled to have hearings at IOC headquarters this week. They include Maxim Vylegzhanin, who won one of his three silver medals in the Russian 50km sweep.

“Additional decisions from these first hearings will be communicated in the coming days,” the IOC said.

Other cases involving Russian athletes in different Winter Olympic sports have also been handed over to the IOC panel, chaired by Swiss lawyer Denis Oswald.

“The Oswald Commission has announced that all hearings for active athletes who could qualify for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 will be completed by the end of November,” the IOC said.

The Russian cross-country ski federation said in a statement it “has already begun to prepare documents for an appeal at CAS (the Court of Arbitration for Sport).”

The 34-year-old Legkov also has two medals from the world championships — a silver and a bronze in relay races — plus nine individual victories on the World Cup circuit. He now faces a ban by the International Ski Federation.

Legkov also threatened to file a libel lawsuit against Rodchenkov, the former lab director who is the key witness to the Sochi conspiracy claims.

At his news conference last year, Legkov spoke alongside then-Deputy Sports Minister Yuri Nagornykh, who stepped down after he was accused by McLaren of helping to cover up doping.

The Russian government says it has never supported drug use by athletes.

MORE: 100 storylines with 100 days until PyeongChang

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Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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