4 more Russian athletes found guilty of doping at Sochi Olympics
Cross-country skiers banned from participation in all future Games
Four more Russian cross-country skiers were found guilty of doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics on Thursday, including three-time silver medalist Maxim Vylegzhanin.
The International Olympic Committee said all four had their results disqualified and have been banned from all future Olympics.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin disputed the bans, saying that United States interests were trying to use doping scandals to discredit his government and influence the country's presidential election in March.
"In response to our supposed interference in their elections, they want to cause problems in the Russian presidential election," Putin said, according to comments reported by Russian news agencies.
The cases against the Russians were built on evidence of a state doping conspiracy detailed by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren. Without positive doping tests, the IOC disciplinary panel used evidence of cover-ups and tampering of sample bottles first gathered last year by McLaren's team.
In a notable Russian victory on Thursday, the IOC dropped a case against another athlete but declined to confirm the person's identity "in order to protect the rights of the athlete." Russian news agencies reported that it was figure skating gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova.
"To be honest, we expected this result from the investigation into Sotnikova because we were sure that everything would be cleared up," Russian Figure Skating Federation president Alexander Gorshkov told the R-Sport agency.
Six Russian cross-country skiers have now been found guilty of doping at the Sochi Olympics by the IOC panel, which has at least 20 more cases to judge. The panel has not yet published detailed reasons for its verdicts after last week's hearings in Lausanne.
Russia also stripped of relay silver
Alexander Legkov, who won gold in the 50-kilometre race ahead of Vylegzhanin in a Russian sweep, and Evgeny Belov were disqualified and banned last week.
Vylegzhanin also finished second in the team sprint and the 4x10 km relay. Russia's relay silver was already stripped last week when Legkov was banned.
The other three skiers found guilty were Alexei Petukhov, Yulia Ivanova and Evgenia Shapovalova. None of them won medals.
The IOC bans leave Russia with only one medal in cross-country skiing, the bronze won by Ilya Chernousov in the 50K. The IOC will decide if he should be upgraded to gold.
Russia remains at the top of the Sochi medals table, but more verdicts are expected which could affect other Olympic titles. That would potentially push the Russians below Norway, and below the United States in total medals. Both the Americans and Norwegians are in line to be awarded some of the vacated medals by the IOC.
The Russian ski federation said it is preparing an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport on the four cases announced Thursday. Legkov and Belov have also said they will appeal.
Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov promised legal support for the banned athletes and said they could be cleared in time to compete at the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Games.
"There's still time to manage to file an appeal before the Olympic Games and prove the opposite," Kolobkov told Tass. "Our athletes will get all necessary legal help."
Putin did not mention the skiers by name Thursday but said his government had never supported or covered up doping. He is widely expected to run for re-election next March but has yet to confirm that.
The International Ski Federation will now send the six cases to its doping panel, which is likely to impose bans. Those verdicts are expected to come before the cross-country World Cup season starts on Nov. 24.