Russia’s depleted Games team heads for Rio
MOSCOW — A depleted Russian team departed for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, missing dozens of athletes who were excluded amid the country’s doping scandal.
Team members left on a charter flight from Moscow’s Sheremetevo airport to Brazil, a day after a farewell ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.
More than 100 athletes from what was originally a 387-strong team have been barred from competing in Rio de Janeiro by international sports federations under sanctions most Russian athletes consider unfair.
“We’re after medals, that’s it,” handball player Anna Sen said. “We need to fight for those athletes who were disqualified.”
Volleyball player Sergei Tetyukhin, a four-time Olympic medallist, will be Russia’s flag-bearer for the opening ceremony in Rio, according to an Instagram post by pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva.
Isinbayeva has become a de facto spokesperson for Russian athletes excluded from the Olympics and gave a tearful address to the team in the Kremlin on Wednesday.
“Today, as never before, we need to stay united and become a family,” the 40-year-old Tetyukhin said, ignoring what he called “provocations addressed at our team and our mighty country.”
No track and field athletes were among the contingent heading for Rio, since the entire track team is banned from competing, except for a single U.S.-based long jumper, following revelations of widespread doping.
The track team did, however, attend the ceremonial farewell with
Putin on Wednesday, when the Russian president branded restrictions on Russia as “pure discrimination.”
While Russia avoided a blanket ban from the Games at a meeting of the International Olympic Committee board on Sunday, the IOC imposed new restrictions on Russia. International sports federations must now remove any athlete previously banned for doping or who was implicated in last week’s McLaren report alleging a mass cover up of failed drug tests.
Some federations have taken a tough line, with exclusions of much of Russia’s team from events such as rowing, canoeing and swimming. Other sports, such as judo and tennis, have allowed the entire Russian team to compete in their sport. These rulings must still be ratified by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Russia’s weightlifting team has been dogged by doping cases and faced further embarrassment Wednesday when retests of samples from the 2012 Olympics saw four Russians, including three medallists, test positive.