Stopped Cold: Russia Banned From 2018 Winter Olympics

Riley Preiss and Frank Vereline

Russia Banned From 2018 Winter Olympics

by Riley Preiss

This week the world looks forward to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, taking place from February 9-25, in PyeongChang, South Korea. These games have already made many headlines, with a lot of controversy surrounding them.

It came as a shock to the world when in early January, Russia was banned from participating in the games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This is a historic act of punishment, coming as the result of Russia’s widespread “doping,” believed to have been supported by Russia’s government. Doping is the use of athletic-enhancing drugs, a process that is illegal in professional sports and stressed as a violation in the Olympic rules. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has said, “This decision should draw a line under this damaging episode and serve as a catalyst for a more effective and a more robust anti-doping system.”

Extensive investigation has come to reveal that there was widespread sabotage of drug testing in Russia prior to the Winter 2014 Games in Sochi. Former Moscow anti-doping lab director Grigory Rodchenkov has come forward and said he oversaw a state-run doping system that provided hundreds of top athletes with banned performance-enhancing substances for years.  When the Olympics came to Russia in 2014, he has claimed that he, with the assistance of government agents, replaced tainted urine samples taken from cheating Russian athletes during the Sochi Games with clean urine samples collected months before. His testimony is supported by a series of investigations lead by the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2015, concluding that over 1,000 Russian athletes, involved in both summer and winter events, have partaken in the banned activity, starting as far back as 2011. Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, announced, “Over the past three years, a high-stakes game of chicken has been played between those willing to sacrifice the Olympic ideals by employing a state-directed doping program to cheat to win and, on the other side, athletes unwilling to stand silent while their hopes and dreams were stolen and the Olympic Games hijacked.” Both Russia’s anthem and flag will be missing from the Olympic ceremonies in February. However, former Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko, whom the IOC banned for life from Olympic Games, has denied any government involvement in the cheating.

Although the team is banned from participating, the IOC will allow Russian athletes who can prove that they were innocent of doping to take part in the games in PyeongChang under the title “Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR).” However, their national anthem will be replaced by the Olympic anthem in any ceremony for medals won by OARs and Russia’s official medal count will stay at zero throughout the games. To determine the Russian athletes allowed to compete, the IOC is going to set up an independent testing authority, including officials from the World Anti-Doping Agency. The IOC has fined Russia’s Olympic Committee $1 million and plans to use this money to establish the new testing procedures and investigation into past Russian doping. The absence of many Russian athletes will for sure open up top spots in many competitive events. Russia has a history of being one of the most successful competitors in the Olympics, in Winter games especially. During the games in Sochi they led the medal count with 33 overall and 13 golds.  This is the first time in history that a country is being banned from the Olympics due to a competitive violation such as doping. In the past, banning has been caused by political turmoil such as banning Germany and Japan during World War II, and South Africa during Apartheid.

The United States participation in the PyeongChang Olympics has also been a subject for debate. With the South Korean Olympic stadium built only 50 miles from the demilitarized zone separating it from nuclear-weapon-holding North Korea. When South Korea won the contest to host the 2018 Winter Olympics seven years ago, North Korea seemed more like an inconvenient neighbor than an actual threat. However, now in 2018, North Korea is an enormous worry for global leaders; in recent months they have tested missiles and conducted a huge underground nuclear bomb test despite international condemnation. These circumstances have led many nations, including the US, to worry about the safety of their athletes. A British official told the BBC that the country had an evacuation plan for the games and that “welfare” officers would be traveling with the athletes to “make sure that they feel entirely content.” Similarly, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, originally said it’s “an open question” if the United States athletes will be competing come February. She said, “I think those are conversations we are going to have to have, but what have we always said? We don’t ever fear anything, we live our lives,” Haley said in the interview. “And certainly that is a perfect opportunity for all of them to go and do something they have worked so hard for.”What we will do is make sure that we are taking every precaution possible, to make sure that they are safe.”

The US has only ever boycotted the Olympic Games once, in 1980, as a protest against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Haley’s statement that US attendance was an “open question” was met with a lot of hostility. Many Americans disagreed and didn’t want South Korea to be punished for North Korea’s wrongdoings. Eventually, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that “The U.S. looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea.” She tweeted,”The protection of Americans is our top priority and we are engaged with the South Koreans and other partner nations to secure the venue.” In an official statement, the United States Olympic Committee has clarified that “We have not had any discussions, either internally or with our government partners, about the possibility of not taking teams to the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. We plan on supporting two full delegations in Pyeongchang.” This Winter-Olympics is sure to be an interesting show. However, for a while, it seemed as though the question for 2018 was not “who will take the most medals?” but instead, “who will be attending?”    


Stopped Cold

by Frank Vereline

Let me start by saying this, I love the Olympics. Although I know i’ll never compete in them, I still watch and enjoy them when they come every two years. If you were to ask me why, I wouldn’t really give you the most intriguing answer. I guess it’s just the whole atmosphere of people coming from all over to compete that piques my interest so much, but this year one of the event’s largest teams will be absent, Russia. Countries not attending the Olympics is not a new thing; the USA skipped out when it was held in Russia during the Cold War, but whole countries getting banned is more of a rare occurrence. Most countries who had received a ban in the past were either involved in a World War, such as Germany, Japan, etc. or, in the case of South Africa, under regime control, but no Country has ever been banned for illegal drug use, which is a disgrace to the not just the world, but the sporting event itself.

The Russian team has been under harsh scrutiny for its alleged drug use ever the 2014 Winter Olympics, held coincidentally in Sochi, Russia. Back in 2014 when the news came to light, it was already too late to cut out the cheaters, since the Olympics were already under way; however, this time, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has stepped up and outright banned Russia months before it even began. This comes as a surprise to both the Russian leaders and the athletes who never thought their master plan would be uncovered.

Back in 2014, when this all began, the IOC noticed something that is now known as the “Russian Hole,” which was a small hole in the wall, just large enough to fit a hand through it, that was located next to the urine samples of Russian athletes. The Russians would reach into the hole and extract the bottles, covering their tracks with a cap to cover the hole. The storage room next door was then converted into a secret lab in which the contaminated samples were exchanged with clean samples that were taken and frozen months earlier. They ended the heist by placing the clean bottles back into the lab for testing. In order to make this swap, the disguised Russian’s needed to figure out a way to get into the “unopenable” Swiss-made BEREG bottles.

Before the 2014 Olympics began, BEREG bottles were thought to be “tamper-proof,” safe from anybody on the outside, unless the special, one-time, seal was broken. Once the bottle was filled and sealed, by turning a crank, the only way for someone to access its contents is to break the top seal off. This safety measure was a sure way to know if somebody else had tampered with the bottle, but the bottles found in the Russian lab still had their lids. After spending hours working, a group of scientists finally found on alternate way to open the BEREGs. By using an extremely small metal rod, one could pry the bottle open from the inside, which would pop the lid off without breaking it. After authorities inspected the bottles, they noticed microscopic scratch marks on the inside of the bottles’ lids, which were extremely similar to the marks made by the scientists in their experiment.

`It’s been four years since the doping scandal, and this time, the IOC has the jump on the Russians. With evidence from the last two Olympics at their side, the IOC has already decided the fate of Russia for this year’s games, and can now use it for the future. Hopefully the IOC takes a stand against illegal doping, and Russia can act as an example of what not to do for future teams who are planning to cheat.


* photo via Google Images under the Creative Commons license