It’s been called an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport, prompting the most wide-ranging punishment ever meted out to a participating nation.
Now leading US skiers Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin have joined the chorus of those backing the International Olympic Committee’s IOC decision to ban the country from next year’s Winter Olympics.
“Doping and what the Russians did is just not acceptable,” Vonn, the most decorated American skier in history, told CNN’s Alpine Edge. “We have to make that clear and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
“I don’t question the integrity of the Olympic Games as much as the specific nations that host the Games,” said Shiffrin, referring to Russia, which staged the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.
“If you’re working with a nation who’s willing to go to those ends to have a successful Olympics, that’s really sad for me,” added the 22-year-old Shiffrin, who is the Olympic slalom champion and winner of the last three slalom World Championships.
Having consistently denied the allegations of a state-backed doping campaign, Russia was banned from PyeongChang 2018 on Tuesday over the country’s “systemic manipulation” of the rules, following a 17-month investigation carried out by the former president of Switzerland, Samuel Schmid.
Russian athletes who can incontrovertibly prove that they are untainted by doping will be “invited” to compete at February’s Winter Games but won’t be allowed to display any national symbols — something President Vladimir Putin has previously said would be an humiliation.
They’ll instead compete under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia” (OAR), and the Olympic anthem will be played at any medal ceremonies for Russian athletes.
“I mean, if even a small percentage of that is true, I would think the IOC did the right thing,” said Vonn, telling CNN she was “not surprised” to learn of the lengths Russia went to in pursuit of victory,
“Obviously there are potential athletes that are clean but they have the option now to compete under a neutral flag, which I think is a good solution.”
‘Not about the medals’
As the scandal rumbles on, the Oswald Commission — headed by another Swiss, the IOC member Denis Oswald — is dealing with the specific cases and determining sanctions against individual athletes.
It has so far handed out lifetime bans to 25 Russian competitors since the start of November and stripped 11 medals, which means Russia has dropped from first in the Sochi medal table, to fourth behind Norway, Canada and the US.
Richard McLaren, whose reports into Russian doping provided much of the basis for Tuesday’s decision, told CNN that the scandal was a “sad commentary on sport,” but added that he was pleased his work had been confirmed by the IOC.
Putin spoke out against the ruling, telling reporters “it all looks like an absolutely staged and politically motivated decision.”
But for Vonn and Shiffrin, sport has always been about more than just winning and losing.
“When you’re dealing with corruption like that, you don’t expect it but at the same time it’s not surprising,” said Vonn. “Some people would do anything to win medals and bring home gold for their country. There are rules for a reason and some people just don’t want to follow them.”
“The premise of the Olympics is clean, friendly competition but intense and inspiring competition,” said Shiffrin. “I mean I know it’s about the medals but it’s not about the medals in a way.”
Vonn, who has had to overcome a number of serious injuries throughout her career, missed the Games at Sochi when she failed to recover from a knee problem.
Well on her way to beating Ingemar Stenmark’s World Cup record of 86 victories, she’ll now aim to add to the downhill Olympic title she claimed in Vancouver back in 2010.
The PyeongChang Winter Olympics take place from 9-25 February 2018.