Rus­sia pays big price, but no win­ners in saga

Crimes have al­ready oc­curred, and cheated ath­letes won’t get medals.

The Palm Beach Post - - SPORTS - By Ed­die Pells

If you’re look­ing for win­ners af­ter the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion to boot Rus­sia from the up­com­ing Win­ter Games, keep on look­ing. There are none.

Yes, it’s easy to view the IOC’s de­ci­sion as a vic­tory for clean ath­letes who have been des­per­ately wait­ing for a day like Tues­day — when the IOC fi­nally de­liv­ered a sanc­tion that was, at least on some level, in line with the crimes.

It’s easy to see it as vin­di­ca­tion for Grig­ory Rod­chenkov, the Rus­sian lab di­rec­tor who helped ex­e­cute the cheat­ing, then got sick of it all and be­came a whistle­blower who is now liv­ing in hid­ing in the United States.

And it’s easy to see it as a long-awaited come­up­pance for the Rus­sians, who have been thumb­ing their noses at long-ac­cepted rules and norms of fair com­pe­ti­tion, vir­tu­ally dar­ing the pow­ers that be to do some­thing about it.

But the crimes — they have al­ready been com­mit­ted, and those who were cheated at the Sochi Olympics will never get that mo­ment back, even if the IOC gives them a cer­e­mony at the Pyeongchang Games in Fe­bru­ary.

Rod­chenkov’s life will never be the same.

“It’s go­ing to be chal­leng­ing in ways hard to imag­ine,” his at­tor­ney, Jim Walden, said. “It’s un­likely he’ll ever be re­united with his fam­ily, un­likely he’ll ever leave the United States, and he’s go­ing to be look­ing over his shoul­der ev­ery day.”

And while it might seem like a good deal to ban Rus­sia from the Olympics — or at least the Rus­sian flag, an­them and uni­forms, though not all its ath­letes — it’s a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion for the IOC. One po­ten­tial endgame is that Rus­sia just throws up its hands and leaves the move­ment al­to­gether.

Imag­ine the World Cup with­out Brazil and you get a sense of what the Olympics might be like in the fu­ture with­out its sec­ond big­gest team.

As the IOC left it, there fig­ure to be a num­ber of Rus­sians com­pet­ing in Ko­rea. They will be in­di­vid­u­ally re­ferred to as “Olympic Ath­lete from Rus­sia,” or “OAR.”

The fact that Rus­sian Olympic Com­mit­tee Pres­i­dent Alexan­der Zhukov called the name a “very im­por­tant” con­ces­sion gives a win­dow into the con­tor­tions the IOC has been go­ing through to make sure it doesn’t com­pletely alien­ate the coun­try that spent $51 bil­lion to stage the Sochi Games where it cheated all its guests.

That $51 bil­lion wasn’t sim­ply to put on a good show. It was part of Rus­sia’s at­tempt to use sports to show it could still be a ma­jor player on the world stage, more than two decades af­ter the breakup of the Soviet Union. Af­ter fin­ish­ing 11th at the 2010 Olympics in Van­cou­ver, some­thing had to change.

“They view (the Olympics) as a ve­hi­cle for pro­mot­ing Rus­sian val­ues,” said Steve Roush, the for­mer chief of sport per­for­mance at the U.S. Olympic Com­mit­tee who now does in­ter­na­tional con­sult­ing. “Van­cou­ver was em­bar­rass­ing for them. That led to, ‘We are go­ing to change the way we do things for 2014.’ ” Boy did they.

As the IOC in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­firmed, Rod­chenkov helped build the cheat­ing pro­gram at the be­hest of higher-ups in the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment. And now that the IOC has climbed on board with all the other in­ves­ti­ga­tors and whistle­blow­ers and ath­letes in ac­knowl­edg­ing that Rus­sia’s gov­ern­ment mas­ter­minded the plan, there are no ma­jor forces out­side of that coun­try who ar­gue about the lengths Rus­sia would go to use sports as a sym­bol of na­tional strength.

So, even Rus­sia’s small vic­tory — that it can send ath­letes to com­pete un­der the Olympic flag — may feel like some­thing less, given that no­body will see the Rus­sian flag un­furled, the uni­form worn or the an­them sung, and that name “Rus­sia” will never ap­pear on the of­fi­cial medal tally.

That is, af­ter all, what the Olympics are all about.

But the IOC’s small vic­tory feels like some­thing less, as well, given all the time it wasted, all the ath­letes who got hurt along the way, not to men­tion the con­ces­sions it made in an at­tempt to ap­pease Rus­sia one more time.

‘Jus­tice for a hor­ren­dous act on sport … and par­tial vin­di­ca­tion for so many who were hurt by Rus­sia’s ac­tions.’

Steve Mesler, Amer­i­can gold-medal bob­sled­der and cur­rent U.S. Olympic Com­mit­tee board mem­ber

QUINN ROONEY /GETTY IM­AGES

The Rus­sian flag won’t be hang­ing over any medal cer­e­mony — nor will the na­tional an­them be played — at the 2018 Win­ter Olympics in Fe­bru­ary in South Ko­rea.

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