In what appears to be a blow to anti-doping enforcement, the sanctions against 28 of the 42 Russians punished for cheating during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics were overturned.
“This may have a serious impact on the future fight against doping,” the IOC said in a statement read by Communications director Mark Adams. “Therefore, the IOC will analyze the recent decisions once they’re available and consider their consequences, including an appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal.”
The decisions mean those 28 athletes will have their results during the 2014 Games restored, impacting a number of U.S. athletes. Among those overturned were skeleton athletes Elena Nikitina, who won bronze, edging American Katie Uhlaender by .04 of a second, and gold medalist Aleksandr Tretyakov, impacting Matthew Antoine, who won bronze but would have been upgraded to silver if the IOC decision had been upheld.
Instead, CAS not only sided with 28 of those 42 athletes, the panel also voted unanimously to remove the lifetime ban imposed by the IOC’s December decision. But while the CAS decision seemed to make those athletes eligible for competition in the 2018 Olympics, which begin next week on Feb. 9, the IOC said they remain barred from competition this winter.
“With regard to the participation of athletes from Russia at the Olympic Winter Games, PyeongChang 2018, the decision of the IOC executive board of the fifth of December, 2017, remains in place,” Adams said in the statement. “It makes it clear that since the Russian Olympic Committee is suspended, Russian athletes can participate in PyeongChang only on invitation by the IOC. The Result of the CAS decision does not mean that athletes from the group of 28 will be invited to the games. Not being sanctioned does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation.
In this context, it is also important to note that in his press conference, the CAS secretary general, that the CAS decision does not mean that these 28 athletes are declared innocent.”
In 11 cases, CAS sided with the IOC, finding evidence of doping and vacating the 2014 Olympic results, but changing the lifetime bans to barring them from competition in the 2018 Games. Among those athletes is Russian bobsled icon Aleksandr Zubkov, who won gold in both two-man and four-man competitions. That means U.S. bobsledders, including the late Steve Holcomb, who won bronze in both events, and Alpine native Chris Fogt, who won bronze with Holcomb in four-man, would have their bronze medals changed from bronze to silver.
Most of the U.S. bobsled and skeleton team athletes were traveling when the decision came down and were unavailable for comment.
Hearings for each of the punished athletes began on Jan. 22, with the panel considering each case individually. Three of the 42 athletes had their hearings postponed. CAS unanimously found that the evidence put forward by the IOC didn’t have the same weight in each individual case.
“In 28 cases, the evidence collected was found to be insufficient to establish that an anti-doping violation (ADRV) was committed by the athletes concerned,” the decision said. “The mandate of the CAS panels was not to determine generally whether there was an organized scheme allowing the manipulation of doping control samples in the Sochi Laboratory but was strictly limited to dealing with 39 individual cases and assess the evidence applicable to each athlete on an individual basis.”
The IOC banned Russia from the 2018 Games and took action against the athletes after an independent investigation, aided by the man who ran the anti-doping program for the 2014 Games, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, found there was a wide-spread, state-supported doping program for Russian athletes. It included a hidden laboratory where the urine samples offered by athletes were swapped with clean samples to hide any doping evidence.
The IOC statement maintains that’s what the Olympics’ governing body feels happened in 2014, and they will consider whether or not to appeal the CAS decisions.
“The IOC has taken note of the CAS decision with satisfaction on the one hand, and disappointment on the other,” Adams said. “On the one hand, the confirmation of the anti-doping rule violations for 11 athletes because of the manipulation of their samples, clearly demonstrates once more the existence of the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. On the other hand, the IOC regrets very much that according to the CAS press release, did not take this proven existence of systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system into consideration for the other 28 cases. The CAS required an even higher threshold on the necessary level of evidence than the Oswald Commission and former CAS decisions.”
Early Thursday morning PyeongChang Olympic officials confirmed that 169 Russian athletes have been invited to compete as “neutrals” at the Games, meaning they will wear neutral uniforms and participate under the Olympic Flag. They will be referred to as “Olympic athlete from Russia.”