The Associated Press PARIS (AP) — Athletes who lost medals because of Russia’s doping program at the Sochi Olympics gave a broad thumbs-up to the International Olympic Committee’s decision Tuesday to let Russians compete at the upcoming Pyeongchang Games — but not under their own flag.
The consensus among athletes was that the IOC struck a good balance between punishing the nation but not Russian athletes who may not have been part of the vast doping scheme.
“It sounds like a really good compromise to me,” said Stuart Benson, who raced on the British four-man bobsled team that placed fifth in Sochi, but which now hopes for the bronze medal after two Russian sleds were disqualified.
When those DQs were announced in November, Benson celebrated with a macaroni cheese dinner.
“It’s a punishment for the state, the country, and they are obviously trying not to punish the athletes who haven’t done anything wrong,” he said in a phone interview moments after the IOC announced that Russian athletes who pass a series of drug tests can apply to compete as neutral athletes. If Russians win, the Russian flag won’t fly and the anthem won’t be played.
He said he expects the screening process will weed out any cheats.
“I’d be confident enough that the IOC, with all the vast knowledge they’ve got, wouldn’t put into place a system that didn’t tick all the boxes,” he said.
Many athletes said they wouldn’t have felt comfortable had the IOC banned all Russians from the Pyeongchang Games.
“Very tough collective sanctions can lead to a huge injustice, and that’s not at all the IOC’s role to do that,” said French cross-country skier Robin Duvillard.
He and other members of the French team that got bronze in the men’s 4x10-kilometer relay in Sochi are now in line for the silver medal that was stripped in November from the Russian team.
He said overly harsh sanctions risked alienating Russians who already “feel that everyone is against them. And that is good for no one.”
U.S. skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender, who was fourth in Sochi and will go to bronze with a Russian disqualified, said she feels a culture change is needed.
“The only way to ensure that is to hold a strong line,” she said. “Russia will deny to the end, and if a line was not drawn, I feel behind closed doors they would have made a mockery of the Olympic movement.”
Now retired Dutch speed skater Margot Boer, in line for the silver medal in the women’s 500 meters in Sochi that was stripped from Russia’s Olga Fatkulina, said the decision could help restore credibility to the IOC after it was broadly criticized for letting Russia compete under its own flag at the 2016 Rio Olympics.