The World Anti-Doping Agency voted Monday to ban Russia from major international sporting events for the next four years. Athletes determined to be clean can compete, but not under their country’s flag or anthem. Similar restrictions were imposed in 2018 in PyeongChang, where 168 Russian athletes competed as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”
Ovechkin, one of Russia’s most prominent athletes, was not able to compete in the 2018 Winter Games after the NHL decided against allowing players under contract to participate. He released a statement just before training camp in 2017, accepting that he would not be able to go.
On Monday, Ovechkin said he watched the 2018 Games but didn’t pay much attention to the restrictions that were imposed involving Russian athletes competing under a neutral flag. The OAR team won gold in PyeongChang without Ovechkin and the other NHLers.
“To be honest with you, I just looked at the scores and cheered for our guys,” Ovechkin said. “I didn’t pay too much attention [to] it. I was just happy for our guys scoring goals.”
When asked whether he would compete under a neutral flag in the 2022 Beijing Olympics — if NHL players were allowed — Ovechkin said he will “see what happens.” In August, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL is “nowhere near a resolution” on whether players will compete in the 2022 Games. Ovechkin visited China over the offseason as an NHL ambassador to promote the sport. The league has made a concerted effort to tap into the Chinese market over the past few years.
Ovechkin represented Russia in the Olympics in 2006, 2010 and 2014. He also has represented Russia at 11 world championships, winning three. Russia did not medal in the 2006 Olympics, losing in the quarterfinals to Canada in 2010. Hosting the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia again lost in the quarterfinals, this time to Finland.
After winning the Stanley Cup in 2018, Ovechkin is missing only an Olympic medal on his résumé. Over 15 NHL seasons, he has played in more than 1,100 games and is nearing 700 career goals, breaking franchise and leaguewide milestones along the way.
“Obviously, it’s sad news, but I think [we are] going to have more information later,” Ovechkin said of the four-year ban. “It’s bad. I feel bad for people working so hard for this moment and they can’t be there. I just hear it right before practice, so I don’t have much information on it.”