MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian Olympic Committee said it wants to send 15 of the 28 athletes who won their appeals against doping bans to the PyeongChang Games.
ROC senior vice president Stanislav Pozdnyakov said “the ROC is now asking the (International Olympic Committee) to send invitations to the Games to 15 athletes no later than Feb. 2,” according to Russian news agency TASS.
The IOC has already invited 169 Russians to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” under a neutral flag.
Pozdnyakov said the 15 he wants to send to PyeongChang include Sochi skeleton gold medalist Alexander Tretiyakov and bronze medalist Elena Nikitina and cross-country skiing gold medalist Alexander Legkov.
Some others, particularly Russia’s top bobsledders from the Sochi Olympics, have already retired from competitive sports.
“This does not mean that these 28 athletes are declared innocent, but in their case, due to insufficient evidence, the appeals are upheld, the sanctions annulled and their individual results achieved in Sochi are reinstated,” CAS secretary general Matthieu Reeb said in PyeongChang.
The IOC said it had taken note of the CAS decision “with satisfaction on the one hand and disappointment on the other,” adding the decision “may have a serious impact on the future fight against doping.”
The 28 who had their bans lifted could now seek late entry into the PyeongChang Olympics, but the IOC said “not being sanctioned does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation.”
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko said the government would back further legal action to allow the athletes in Thursday’s decisions to compete in PyeongChang.
“If the IOC does not accept them, then we will support them in cases which could be filed at CAS and other legal instances,” Mutko said in televised comments.
Eleven more Russians were ruled to have been guilty of doping but had lifetime bans imposed by an IOC disciplinary panel two months ago cut to a ban only from the PyeongChang Games, which open next week.
“Vigorous actions in defending rights in court are justified and can be effective and should continue,” said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin. “We’re glad for our athletes.”
In the urgent verdicts announced Thursday, the two CAS judging panels who heard 39 appeal cases last week in Geneva — and took testimony from Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov — did not give detailed reasons.
“In 28 cases, the evidence collected was found to be insufficient to establish that an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) was committed by the athletes concerned,” the sports court said in a statement.
CAS said it “unanimously found that the evidence put forward by the IOC in relation to this matter did not have the same weight in each individual case.”
The 11 whose appeals were rejected came from men’s bobsled, women’s cross-country skiing and women’s hockey.
They included two-time Sochi bobsled gold medalist Alexander Zubkov. His re-tested samples had abnormal levels of salt, suggesting his tainted urine was swapped in the Sochi testing laboratory with previously stored clean urine, as Rodchenkov said.
Still, the CAS rulings will be seen as a victory for Russia, which has long denied it ran a state-backed doping program.
“It’s a big victory for them and I’m relieved that justice has finally been done,” Philippe Baertsch, a lawyer for the athletes, told The Associated Press. “This confirms what they’ve been saying since Day 1, namely that they are and they’ve always been clean athletes, and that they were wrongly sanctioned without any evidence.”
The IOC has already invited 169 Russians to the PyeongChang Olympics to compete under a neutral flag, but may now be forced to allow in athletes it deems dopers, eight days before the games begin.
“We do hope that the IOC will grant them the right to participate in PyeongChang,” Baertsch said in a telephone interview. “I think that the least the IOC could do is allow them to participate, so we will request that they are allowed to participate, and depending on the answer of the IOC, we will take the measures that are necessary.”
It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the 28 Russians would now seek to compete. Some have already retired from competitive sports.
Rodchenkov’s lawyer, Jim Walden, said the CAS decision would allow doped athletes to escape without punishment.
“(Rodchenkov’s) truth has been verified by forensic evidence, other whistleblowers, and, more recently, recovery of the Moscow lab’s secret database, showing thousands of dirty tests that were covered up,” Walden said in a statement.
“This panel’s unfortunate decision provides a very small measure of punishment for some athletes but a complete ‘get out of jail free card’ for most. Thus, the CAS decision only emboldens cheaters, makes it harder for clean athletes to win, and provides yet another ill-gotten gain for the corrupt Russian doping system generally, and Putin specifically.”
Baertsch said there had been “numerous inconsistencies” in Rodchenkov’s evidence presented to CAS.
Those reinstated from the Sochi Olympics include skeleton gold medalist Alexander Tretiyakov and cross-country ski gold medalist Alexander Legkov.
Russia won’t win back some medals, such as in the men’s four-man bobsled, where two crew members were disqualified and two reinstated. Both of the gold medal-winning two-man bobsled crew remain banned.
“We were hoping for justice, and it has prevailed,” said Elena Nikitina, who won a bronze medal in skeleton in Sochi ahead of American Katie Uhlaender. “It’s a matter of my life, what I do, and when you’re accused like that it’s very unpleasant and everything falls apart for you.
“We’re going to hope that we still make it to these Olympic Games.”
Uhlaender, who was in line to be upgraded to Sochi bronze, said she was “heartbroken” by Thursday’s news.
“The integrity of sport is on the line, and I’m looking to the leaders of a movement to do something to save it,” Uhlaender said.
The IOC last year banned 43 Russians for doping offenses at the Sochi Olympics, ruling they had been part of a scheme to dope.
Rodchenkov, the director of the laboratory which handled samples for the Sochi Games, said he gave cocktails of banned steroids to athletes and swapped tainted samples for clean urine on orders from Russian state sports officials.
The Russian government vehemently denies ever supporting doping.
Three more appeals, all involving retired biathlon competitors, will be heard later.
Steven Holcomb remains a winner of three Olympic medals. He will have held only one of them.
Another round of International Olympic Committee sanctions against Russian athletes who were found to have participated in doping at the 2014 Sochi Games came down Friday, headlined by bobsledder Aleksandr Zubkovbeing stripped of the gold medals he won in two- and four-man events.
Holcomb, who died in May, will posthumously move up one spot from bronze to silver in each of those races, once the medals are formally reallocated.
“It’s going to be weird for his family and it’s going to be weird for us,” U.S. veteran push athlete Chris Fogt, who was part of Holcomb’s four-man team in Sochi, said after the IOC decision Friday. “I’d like to think that we would be all together when it happens. And when we get those medals, we’re not going to have him there.”
A half-dozen U.S. bobsled and skeleton athletes are going to benefit from the Russian medalist disqualifications.
Skeleton racer Matt Antoine and bobsledders Holcomb, Fogt, Steven Langton and Curt Tomasevicz all left Sochi with bronzes and will be getting silvers. Skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender will be getting her first medal, with her finish upgraded from fourth to bronze. And combined, they’ll be collecting a total of $45,000 in additional bonus money from the U.S. Olympic Committee, which rewards medal performances.
Now comes a delicate matter, with Holcomb’s family likely having to surrender his bronzes and await the exchange for the silvers. Holcomb’s father and one of his sisters wore the bronze medals at his memorial service in May in Lake Placid, New York.
“It’s definitely a little bittersweet that Holcomb isn’t here to see this happening,” said Langton, who was with Holcomb for the two-man medal-winning ride in Sochi and was also in the four-man sled with Holcomb, Fogt and Tomasevicz. “He worked hard and he earned those medals. It would have been very nice if he had the chance to enjoy them.”
Zubkov has been at World Cup races this season as president of the Russian bobsled federation. Unless the ruling is overturned on appeal, he won’t be at the Pyeongchang Olympics this winter, or any other Olympics. The IOC says sanctions against him – and other athletes found to have doped – include lifetime banishment from the games.
The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation provisionally suspended Russian skeleton athletes Aleksandr Tretiakov and Elena Nikitina from World Cup events – both won medals in Sochi that were stripped this week. It’s likely that a similar ban could be issued to the bobsledders involved in Friday’s IOC ruling, including Zubkov.
“It’s important to be able to move forward,” said USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele, also an executive with the IBSF. “No doubt about it.”
Pending the IBSF changing results as the IOC has asked, the two-man gold medal will now almost certainly go to Beat Hefti and Alex Baumann of Switzerland. The four-man gold medal would go to the Latvian sled driven by Oskars Melbardis and pushed by Arvis Vilkaste, Daumants Dreiskens and Janis Strenga.
Holcomb’s sleds would get the silver in both races. Russia would get the bronze in both, with driver Alexander Kasjanov – who had a pair of fourth-place showings in Sochi – set for the upgrade. Neither Kasjanov nor any member of his team has been sanctioned by the IOC in relation to the doping scandal.
Langton said he’s pleased that the process, which sliding athletes from countless countries have been monitoring in anticipation of the disqualifications, is finally nearing an end.
“I had faith that the people handling it would handle it appropriately,” Langton said.