Final IOC decision allows 169 Russians to compete in PyeongChang days before Olympics

The International Olympic Committee has said 169 Russian athletes have satisfied its criteria and will be allowed to compete in the upcoming Winter Games in PyeongChang under a neutral flag.

The IOC didn’t mention the athletes by name, but the number matches the final application for the Olympics, which was submitted by Russia on Thursday. There were 169 athletes on the Russian roster, including speed skater Olga Graf, lugers Semen Pavlichenko and Roman Repilov, figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva, ice dancers Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviev, short track speed skater Semyon Elistratov, as well as snowboarders Vic Wild and Alena Zavarzina.

“The IOC officially registered the lists of athletes and [the] Russian delegation in their system. Henceforth, they are de facto in it and can get accredited,” Stanislav Pozdnyakov, ROC vice-president, told Tass on Saturday.

The Russian athletes were evaluated by the IOC’s Invitation Review Panel in accordance with 17 characteristics based on the findings of the investigations into alleged Russian doping violations by Denis Oswald and Richard McLaren, their history of previous use of forbidden substances, and other test results and data.

On December 5, the IOC disqualified the entire Russian team from the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, taking place February 9-25, as a result of a probe into alleged widespread doping violations by the country’s athletes and sporting officials. The Olympic governing body ruled that “clean” Russian athletes will be able to compete in PyeongChang under a neutral flag as ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’ if their status is confirmed by the IOC-appointed panel.

Initially, the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) included 500 athletes on its Olympic application, which was sent to the IOC last week. However, the review panel immediately excluded 111 names from the list for failing to meet the requirements, but provided no explanation for its decision.

According to Russian officials, some of the country’s greatest medal hopefuls, including Olympic biathlon champion Anton Shipulin, world-title holder in cross country skiing Sergey Ustiugov, and six-time Olympic gold medalist in short track skating Viktor Ahn, were among those barred from the Games just two weeks before the opening ceremony, despite previously not being involved in any doping cases and passing numerous tests in the run-up to the Olympics.

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© Vladimir Trefilov

“I don’t understand why they have made such a decision,” Ahn told RT. He also wrote an open letter addressed to IOC president, Thomas Bach, demanding an explanation for the ban. “It is outrageous that there is no concrete reason which explains my exclusion from the Olympics, and furthermore people now view me as an athlete who used doping,” the letter read.

Renowned German coach Markus Cramer, who is in charge of the Russian skiing team, told RT: “When they cut Shipulin, when they cut Ahn, when they cut all the best athletes – to me it looks like ‘we just do not want the Russians to perform well at the Olympics.’”
Former National Hockey League scout Scott MacPherson told RT the IOC decision indicates that “politics seems to be slipping into athletics and that’s really not good.”

Meanwhile, the Russian athletes, who avoided being blacklisted, promised to give everything they’ve got while performing under a neutral flag in PyeongChang. Short-track Olympic gold medalist Semyon Elistratov told RT’s Ruptly video agency that the “the fighting spirit and morale” are high in the team. “[We need] to go and fight to the end, to defend our honor and the honor of our fellow athletes, who were so nastily, meanly and inexplicably suspended.” Bobsledder Maksim Andrianov said “the medals’ value is rising” due to the absence of the top Russian competitors “because the fight will be more intense.” As for his banned teammates, “we’ll stand for them,” the athlete said.

READ MORE: IOC says Russian fan flag-waving ‘cannot be prohibited’ at PyeongChang

On Friday, the International Olympic Committee also issued special “Conduct Guidelines for ‘Olympic Athlete from Russia’ Delegation,” which every athlete is obliged to sign in order to be accredited for the Games. Among other things, the regulations forbid the sportsmen from even mentioning their Russian origin and instruct them to only refer to themselves as “‘OAR,’ ‘Olympic Athlete from Russia’ or ‘OCP’ (in Cyrillic) publicly and via social media.”

The Russians were also barred from “any public form of publicity, activity and communication associated with the national flag, anthem, emblem and symbols” at any Olympic facilities in PyeongChang and on social media, including making reposts and retweets. The Olympic bosses only made one exception, allowing the athletes to hang the Russian flag inside their bedrooms, but in a way that will not be visible from the outside.

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