The Russian Olympic Committee announced Tuesday that three of that country’s top medal hopes at next month’s Winter Olympics — six-time speedskating gold medalist Viktor Ahn, cross-country skier Sergei Ustyugov and biathlete Anton Shipulin — have been left off the International Olympic Committee’s pool of eligible athletes from Russia, meaning they will not be allowed to compete in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Nonetheless, the country isn’t thinking about skipping the Games in protest. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said Wednesday that “right now it is important to avoid words like ‘boycott,’ ” according to the Associated Press.
Figure skaters Ksenia Stolbova (a two-time medalist at the 2014 Sochi Olympics) and Ivan Bukin also were excluded from the list of eligible athletes by the IOC, drawing a stern condemnation from the Russian Figure Skating Federation, which said in a statement that it was “deeply disappointed in this baseless IOC decision which is reminiscent of a provocation with the aim of forcing Russian athletes by any means possible to decline to participate in the games.”
After determining that Russia employed a state-sponsored doping operation for many years, the IOC banned the Russian delegation from this year’s Olympics and said only carefully vetted athletes could compete under the Olympic flag as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” Stanislav Pozdnyakov, a senior vice president of the Russian Olympic Committee, said Ahn, Ustyugov and Shipulin should have been allowed to compete.
Ahn, Ustyugov and Shipulin “have never been involved in any doping cases and all of the many samples they have given during their careers testify that they are clean athletes,” Pozdnyakov said in a statement, per the Associated Press. “Regardless, their names are currently missing from the list of potential participants in the games.”
Former NHL players Sergei Plotnikov, Valeri Nichushkin and Anton Belov also were barred from competing for the Russian hockey team.
The IOC told the AP that it would not comment on individual cases.
Mikhail Degtyarev, chairman of the Russian parliament’s sports committee, told the AP that he wasn’t in favor of a boycott but that the country needed to “defend our honor.”
“There was an attempt to take the Russian athletes’ flag, anthem, to push Russia toward a boycott . . . And now this is the second attempt, tyranny, an attempt to drive a wedge between athletes who had managed to keep their good name,” Degtyarev said. “I’m not personally a supporter of a boycott. I consider it counterproductive, but we need to defend our honor.”
Then competing for South Korea, Ahn won three gold medals and a bronze at the 2006 Turin Olympics. But after expressing dissatisfaction with the support provided by the South Korean speedskating association, he achieved Russian citizenship in 2011 despite having no familial ties to the country. Ahn then won three more gold medals and another bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games to tie Apolo Ohno as the most-decorated Olympic short-track speedskater of all time with eight medals. He also holds the record for most short-track Olympic gold medals with six. In March 2016, Ahn announced that he would retire after the PyeongChang Olympics at the age of 32.
Shipulin won bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and gold at the 2014 Sochi Games in the biathlon men’s relay event.
Ustyugov won two gold medals at last year’s biathlon world championships.
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