'Integrity of sport' on the line after court overturns Olympic ban of Russian athletes
Veteran U.S. skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender says clean athletes must be protected
Katie Uhlaender had been waiting for an Olympic medal that seems most unlikely to come her way.
So now she's seeking something more.
After the Court of Arbitration for Sport decided Thursday to overturn the Olympic bans of 28 Russian athletes who were accused of doping at the Sochi Games four years ago, Uhlaender — a veteran U.S. women's skeleton racer who was in line to be awarded a medal as a result of those bans — reiterated her plea that clean athletes must be protected.
"I can say without a doubt, the integrity of sport is on the line," Uhlaender said from South Korea shortly after the CAS decision was posted. "And I'm looking to the leaders of a movement to do something to save it."
I gained a lot of enemies even in our own country. ... There are plenty of fools everywhere. But we managed to deal with it.— Olympic bronze medallist Elena Nikitina after doping bans of 28 Russian athletes were lifted
Skeleton, the sliding sport where competitors go headfirst down an icy track at speeds often exceeding 129 kilometres per hour (80 mph), has been highly affected by the Sochi doping scandal. Olympic men's gold medallist Alexander Tretiakov and women's bronze medallist Elena Nikitina were among the 28 Russians whose results from the Sochi Games were reinstated by the CAS decision.
It's still unclear if Tretiakov, Nikitina or any of the other now-unbanned Russians will be allowed to compete at the Pyeongchang Games, which open next week. The International Olympic Committee said the CAS decision does not automatically mean any of the Russians on the list will be invited to South Korea, but Nikitina said she is training with plans of going to the games.
"I gained a lot of enemies even in our own country, who were writing on social media `you had it coming,' `you shouldn't have doped,"' Nikitina said. "There are plenty of fools everywhere. But we managed to deal with it."
Tretiakov, who would likely be a gold-medal contender again if he is permitted to compete in Pyeongchang, sounded less certain about his Olympic future.
"I don't know what chances there are to go the Olympic Games," he told Russian state television.
Some of the bans handed down by the IOC after a long probe of what was described as a state-sponsored doping program remain largely in effect.
The U.S. still seems likely to move up from the bronze-medal spot to silver positions in two- and four-man bobsledding since CAS said there was enough evidence to say that Russian bobsled pilot Alexander Zubkov did commit a doping violation in Sochi. That affirmed the IOC decision to disqualify Zubkov from his two gold-medal wins, so the two sleds driven by Steven Holcomb to bronzes in 2014 for the United States now seem certain to be elevated to silvers in the standings.
U.S. men's skeleton veteran Matt Antoine won bronze in Sochi, and now presumably won't move up to silver with Tretiakov's result reinstated. USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele said he encouraged both Uhlaender and Antoine to not let the CAS decision adversely affect them, especially with the games so close to opening.
"We can't let this take away what is right about the sport," Steele said.
Sam Edney, a longtime luge athlete for Canada, tweeted his dismay — saying he questions if clean sport still exists.
"Above anything else, this is a very very very dark day for the Olympics," Edney wrote.
Nikitina, who wore her Russian national team jacket to a training session just outside of Moscow on Thursday after the CAS decision came out, is now in position to keep her bronze medal, although the IOC said it may take the highly unusual step of appealing CAS' decision to the Swiss supreme court. That won't happen until CAS releases more details on why it ruled the way it did Thursday, and it's unknown how long that process will take.
"I have believed in and worked hard to exemplify the Olympic movement with integrity, honour and respect to my competitors," Uhlaender said. "I believe in sport helping the world, and allowing a nation to keep medals when they destroyed samples with that goal in mind ... feels like we are letting them get away with it. It's bigger than a medal, it's the spirit and integrity of sport."