A special edition of your midday sports snack.
Russian athletes’ road to Pyeongchang
Russian President Vladimir Putin made two big announcements today. One: He’s running for re-election next year. And two: His country will not boycott the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Putin seems to have acquiesced to the IOC’s ban on Russian uniforms and symbols because the punishment his country received isn’t as severe as it could have been. Any Russian athlete who goes to Pyeongchang will do so under a neutral flag, but they will at least be identified as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” a symbolic concession the IOC hasn’t made in the past. (Take the case of Kuwait, which sent “Independent Olympic Athletes” to Rio 2016 after the IOC barred that country for government interference in its national Olympic committee.)
Still, Russia hardly got off easy for its state-orchestrated doping efforts at Sochi 2014. Clean Russians have to meet a rigorous set of conditions to be allowed to compete in South Korea. And no matter how well those athletes perform there, we already know the number of medals Russia will be able to officially claim for itself: zero.
How will Russian athletes get approved for Pyeongchang?
• Russian athletes will be invited to join the OAR team based on a process overseen by a four-person group created by the IOC. It will be chaired by Valerie Fourneyron, France’s former minister of sports and the head of the International Testing Authority, a group created by the World Anti-Doping Agency earlier this year. Fourneyron, 58, is a doctor by trade.
• The other members of the panel are IOC medical and scientific director Richard Budgett, who will represent the IOC, and members yet to be appointed by WADA and by SportAccord’s Drug-Free Sport Unit. Budgett, 58, also a doctor by trade, was a gold medal-winning rower for Great Britain at the 1984 Olympics (the Games, coincidentally, that were boycotted by the Soviet Union and other aligned nations).
• The panel will only consider Russian athletes who have met the qualifying competition standards for their sport.
• Qualified athletes must pass a three-pronged test of their compliance with international doping standards: they can’t have been previously penalized or banned for doping; they must have taken part in and passed all tests recommended by the IOC’s Pre-Games Testing Task Force; and they must submit to and pass any additional tests required by the new panel.
• The Pre-Games Testing Task Force was created to pay special attention to certain athletes ahead of Pyeongchang in addition to normal drug testing carried out by countries and sport federations. This task force was particularly interested in Russian athletes because of the McLaren Report findings and the IOC’s own investigations. Targeted athletes also came from other nations and sports with questionable doping histories, athletes in the top 20 in the world in their sports, and athletes who had seen recent performance spikes.
• The IOC will also compile an invitation list for support staff for the OAR team. No one in a leadership position from Russia’s team in Sochi and no coach or doctor previously sanctioned for an anti-doping offence will be invited. The IOC, though, has pledged to provide the same level of technical support the athletes would have received from their own national Olympic committee.
What happens if an “Olympic Athlete from Russia” wins a medal?
Let’s approach this from the perspective of 18-year-old Evgenia Medvedeva, the reigning two-time world champion in women’s figure skating.
Russia’s Olympic committee sent Medvedeva to lobby the IOC’s executive board for lenience on Tuesday in large part because she was only 14 during the Sochi Games, and therefore didn’t know a whole lot about dirty urine samples being spirited away from a testing laboratory in the dark of night. Even though Pyeongchang might represent her best shot at Olympic stardom, Medvedeva told the board she wasn’t sure she’d accept the chance to compete as a neutral athlete.
If Medvedeva is approved to compete and chooses to do so, she will enter the women’s singles competition as the favourite to win gold. But she wouldn’t be allowed to wear a Russian uniform at the opening ceremony, in the kiss-and-cry area at the arena, or atop the podium. Nor would she and her teammates march under the Russian flag in the opening ceremony.
Russia is a figure skating powerhouse: over the six Winter Olympics it has entered as an independent nation, its skaters have won 14 gold medals and 26 medals in total. Medvedeva, though, won’t be able to add to that tally; whichever result she achieves in February will be credited to the Olympic movement. This will be emphasized if she finishes first, then accepts her gold medal to the sound of the Olympic anthem and the sight of the Olympic flag ascending into the rafters.
What has yet to be decided?
There’s still a chance the KHL could wreak havoc with the men’s hockey tournament by refusing to send its players to Pyeongchang. If league president Dmitry Chernyshenko follows through on that threat, which he initially bandied last month, he would singlehandedly remove the bulk of Canada’s likely roster from consideration. If not, an Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk-led OAR team would have an excellent chance to win gold.
There’s also the matter of the closing ceremony. Much like an inmate eligible for parole if they behave well enough, the IOC has said it may lift Russia’s ban in time for the Feb. 25 celebration if the country’s Olympic committee complies with each condition of its banishment. (If you’re wondering which demand the IOC may care about more than others, it has fined the Russian national committee US$15 million.) That would allow the Russian flag to appear in Pyeongchang once before the end of the games.
Photo of the day
Here’s a shot from our archives: These biathletes will be the last Olympians to win a gold medal for Russia for another four years.
• In case you missed it in the hubbub of Russia news yesterday, Michael Traikos has a sound piece on the NHL’s likely expansion to Seattle — and why it could quell the threat of future lockouts once and for all. You don’t have to frequent Starbucks or listen to Nirvana to appreciate such a possibility, Traikos writes, even if you’d rather the league award its hypothetical 32nd franchise to Quebec City.
• Along with Seattle, the NHL considers China to be a fruitful next frontier. In September, the Canucks and Kings played pre-season games in Shanghai and Beijing, the host city of the 2022 Winter Olympics. But as Mike Ives reports in this New York Times feature, another circuit has already one-upped Gary Bettman and company: the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, whose two new China-based teams are winning on the ice and in the stands.
All times Eastern
2 p.m. Curling: Roar of the Rings, draw 13 TSN1,3,4
2:30 p.m. UEFA Champions League
— Maribor vs. Sevilla TSN2
— Liverpool vs. Spartak TSN4
— Shakhtar vs. Manchester City TSN5
7 p.m. Curling: Roar of the Rings, draw 14 TSN1,3,4
7:30 p.m. NHL: Calgary at Toronto Sportsnet, TVAS
8 p.m. NBA
— Golden State at Charlotte TSN2
— Denver at New Orleans NBATV
9:30 p.m. NHL: Philadelphia at Edmonton SN One
10 p.m. NHL: Ottawa at Anaheim TSN5, RDS
10:30 p.m. NBA: Minnesota at LA Clippers TSN2
3:30 a.m. Golf: European Tour Coburg Open, first round Golf Channel
4:15 a.m. Figure Skating: Grand Prix Final, pairs short program CBC.ca streaming
— Men’s short program, 5:30 a.m.
— Ice dance short program, 6:40 a.m.
9 a.m. Curling: Roar of the Rings, draw 15 TSN
1 p.m. UEFA Europa League
— Austria Wien vs. AEK TSN2
— Slavia Praha vs. Astana TSN5
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