Don’t call them Russians. They’re “Olympic athletes from Russia.” Or OAR. At least until the closing ceremonies, then they can be Russians again.
That’s part of the awkward compromise devised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as they allow some Russian athletes to compete while trying to enforce a supposed outright ban on Russia’s participation for state-sponsored doping at the Sochi Winter Olympics four years ago.
Russia denies any systemic doping of its athletes. But an investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) after Sochi found widespread evidence of Russia tampering with urine samples meant to determine whether athletes were using illegal, performance-enhancing substances. Hundreds of Russian athletes were banned from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio as a result. As the PyeongChang Games neared, the IOC decided it should not keep out individual athletes who passed doping tests.
So what does this mean for this month’s Olympics?
A big delegation of (shhh!) Russians
At least 169 Russians are expected to compete as “neutral” athletes in PyeongChang. They are competitors who were individually deemed “clean” of performance-enhancing drugs, and may include many athletes reinstated on appeal. The number was predicted to change up to the last minute. On Friday, just hours before the opening ceremony, more than 40 Russian athletes had their appeals denied and were told they could not compete.
No national colors
The IOC declared that participating Russians must not wear the colors of the Russian flag or “national identification design elements” on their uniforms while at Olympic venues. Instead they will wear permitted hues of red and gray. Some commentators have pointed out that that uniforms hurriedly designed in Russia using these colors are reminiscent of old Soviet sports attire.
Flag and anthem nixed
The athletes from Russia paraded in Friday’s opening ceremony under the Olympic flag, and the Olympic hymn was used instead of the Russian national anthem. Athletes are allowed to display the Russian tricolor only in the privacy of their bedrooms in the Olympic Village, and only then if not visible from the outside. No posting national symbols in social media either, says the IOC.
Some top Russian athletes are in, others are out
Big names in women’s figure skating — two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva and defending European champion Alina Zagitova — are cleared to compete and tipped for silver and gold medals, respectively. Luge medal contenders Roman Repilov and Semen Pavlichenko are among those who will also participate.
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Absentees include speed skaters Denis Yuskov and Pavel Kulzihnikov, who were considered strong medal contenders, along with cross-country skier Sergey Ustiugov. Speed skater Olga Graf was boycotting PyeongChang after decrying the IOC not inviting some of her fellow skaters.
Russia was also banned from the 2018 Winter Paralympics, although up to 35 Russian athletes may be allowed to compete as neutrals in the Games that take place in March.
Four years ago, Russia won the overall Winter Olympics medal count with 13 gold and 33 total medals on home soil at Sochi. But that number is in flux as doping investigations continue.
Some are predicting that Russian athletes will win as few as two gold medals and 11 medals overall at the 2018 Winter Olympics, which could place them roughly 13th in a hypothetical overall medal count. It’s hypothetical, because Russia will not be able to claim the medals in official tallies, according to the IOC.
But unofficially, everyone will be counting.