As Winter Olympics Wind Down, It's Clear the Russian PED Punishment Was Bogus

Greg CouchNational ColumnistFebruary 24, 2018

Russia's Alina Zagitova competes in the women's single skating short program of the figure skating event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on February 21, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV        (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/Getty Images

The message was strong, clear and unambiguous: Russia was banned from the Pyeongchang Olympics because of a state-run doping program. That was Dec. 5, when International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach strongly declared, "This decision should draw a line under this damaging episode."

What a powerful moment in the fight against steroids and cheating. Someone was finally taking it seriously. Someone was finally doing something about it. As USA Today's Christine Brennan wrote at the time, "The bad guys just lost, big time," and the punishment was "an embarrassment for Russia."

Except for one thing: Just 11-and-a-half weeks later, the top two women's figure skaters at the Olympics, in the Games' premier event, are...

Russians.

Exactly what strong, clear and unambiguous statement does that send? Because if Russia isn't at the Olympics, then why does it have the best hockey team? If Russia isn't there, why are its figure skaters dominating? Russian Alina Zagitova won the women's figure skating gold Thursday night and Evgenia Medvedeva won the silver.

Let's just face facts. It's time to call B.S. on members of the IOC for this ban. They didn't really mean it. They just wanted to sound as if they meant it. How preposterous is it that they allowed some Russians to compete, but not under a Russian flag, wearing nondescript gray uniforms.

John Locher/Associated Press

OAR. Olympic Athletes from Russia. That's the name of the team that the Russians were able to compete under. What a joke. In the past, when the IOC banned countries from competing but allowed certain individuals from those countries to participate, they were called independent athletes.

Now, they still get to represent their homeland with Russia a part of their team name. They are Olympic Athletes from Russia, which is not exactly "an embarrassment." After all, that's what they are: Olympic athletes from Russia.

The only difference is it's capitalized.

When the Olympic Athletes from Russia win gold medals, they don't play the Russian national anthem. Instead, it's the Olympic anthem. And they can't fly the Russian flag, but instead a generic Olympic flag. In the grand scheme of things, these are minor details.

And the IOC can't even seem to stand firm on these half-measures, as it is now considering allowing the Russian flag to fly during the closing ceremony. 

Every country uses Olympic medals for public relations purposes. They build nationalism. The U.S. does it. China. And certainly Russia, too. Women's figure skating and men's hockey are events that have long held significant prestige, and success in them makes a massive statement about grace, artistry and power. Russia is going to end up outside of the Top 5 in the medal count, but with a hockey team in the medal round and dominant women's figure skaters, Russia is not "losing, big time."

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Yes, there is probably some minor embarrassment when the Russian flag isn't flying. But everyone knows who is really winning those medals, and it's not something called OAR.

Newspaper headlines don't say "Olympic Athletes from Russia Figure Skater Wins Gold." Just "Russian Skaters." Russian fans are in the stands in South Korea waving Russian flags.

"We felt like at home," Russian ice dancer Dmitri Soloviev told the New York Times. "We felt that every person sitting in each corner of the stadium was yelling the name of Russia."

The newspaper also reported that when Russian speedskater Semen Elistratov won a bronze medal, he dedicated his performance to "all guys that have been excluded from these Games in such a hard and unfair way."

Specific Russian athletes were given a chance to take part in the Games despite the ban if they had a history of passing drug tests and were never busted for doping. In the end, 169 Russians were approved. Or maybe they are russians.

What was the point of that? Well, the idea was not to punish innocent athletes for their country's cheating. It just doesn't work that way. You can't pick and choose whom to punish when you've deemed an entire Olympic program to be in violation.

As former World Anti-Doping Agency president and IOC vice president Dick Pound said to the CBC, "It simply looks as if, when you're dealing with the IOC, if you deny, deny, deny and you happen to be a big country, just keep denying because they'll find a way to let the athletes from your country participate." 

The IOC came down hard on the Russians largely for covering up failed tests, anyway. So how can anyone be so sure 169 Russians really did pass those tests? Even in South Korea, two Russian athletes failed doping tests.

Photo dated on February 8, 2018 shows Russia's Aleksandr Krushelnitckii brushes the ice surface during the curling mixed doubles round robin session between the US and the Olympic Athletes from Russia during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at th
WANG ZHAO/Getty Images

But more importantly, the point was to deter future cheats. The entire Russian Olympic movement, its system and core, was found to be part of a doping ring. The Games had to be rid of the whole operation, as the IOC pretended to do in December.

The truth is, most people don't really care about doping. If it means faster skiers, quintuple aerials or quadruple axels, that's what people want. But if doping is a serious problem that the IOC really wants to stop, the only way that's ever going to happen is when athletes decide it's the wrong thing to do.

Athletes are going to have to solve this problem themselves. That means athletes need a reason to convince them it must be solved. A bogus ban is no disincentive.

It must have been too hard for the IOC to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin after he poured so much money into the Sochi Games. So what if some Russian medals from past Olympics were revoked after they had already served their purpose.

And now, a flag can't fly and a song can't play. But a men's hockey team from a country that supposedly isn't at the Games is likely to win gold. And Russian figure skaters got the same medals, the same glory they would have gotten without the ban.

They will just have to suffer the indignity of doing it with capital letters.

      

Greg Couch covers the Olympics for Bleacher Report. 

Related

    Cavs Still Finding Identity Before It's Too Late

    Featured logo
    Featured

    Cavs Still Finding Identity Before It's Too Late

    Ken Berger
    via Bleacher Report

    MLB Power Rankings After 1st Month

    Featured logo
    Featured

    MLB Power Rankings After 1st Month

    Joel Reuter
    via Bleacher Report

    Realistic Kawhi Trades That Would Create Superstar Duos

    Featured logo
    Featured

    Realistic Kawhi Trades That Would Create Superstar Duos

    Zach Buckley
    via Bleacher Report

    Final 1st-Round NFL Mock Draft

    Featured logo
    Featured

    Final 1st-Round NFL Mock Draft

    Doug Farrar
    via Bleacher Report