Russian speedskater rejects Pyeongchang invite

Reuters
Graf, one of three female speed skaters on the list of 169 Russians cleared to compete in Pyeongchang, is the first eligible Russian athlete to openly say she would not compete.
Reuters

Russian speedskater Olga Graf said on Tuesday she had turned down an International Olympic Committee invitation to compete at next month's Pyeongchang Winter Games.

Graf, one of three female speedskaters on the list of 169 Russians cleared to compete in Pyeongchang, is the first eligible Russian athlete to publicly announce she would not compete at the Games.

Russia was banned last month from the February 9-25 Winter Olympics in South Korea over what the IOC called the "systematic manipulation" of the anti-doping testing system at the Sochi Games four years ago.

But the IOC left the door open for athletes without a history of doping to compete at its invitation without the Russian tricolor, national emblems or anthem.

Graf said the exclusion of several teammates would prevent "Olympic Athletes from Russia," the term used by the IOC to designate Russian competitors at the Games, from contending for a medal in the team pursuit event.

"I'm glad that the IOC has recognized me as a clean athlete, which is what I am," Graf said in a Facebook post.

"I regret that more than half the national speedskating team did not receive invitations to the Olympics, including my partners in the team pursuit, who I don't doubt are clean.

"Having been deprived of the chance to compete for the Olympic podium in the team pursuit, I do not accept the IOC invitation for the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang."

Graf won bronze medals in the 3,000 meters and team pursuit events at the 2014 Sochi Games.

Alexei Kravtsov, president of Russia's speedskating federation, told RIA Novosti news agency it respected Graf's decision.

"Two of her partners in the team pursuit did not receive an invitation to the Olympics," RIA quoted Kravtsov as saying on Tuesday. "This is the event she was preparing for and she won't be able to take part in it."

Russian athletes will miss out on other relays, too. The men's speedskating team pursuit is no longer an option with only one skater eligible, and there are only three skaters for the four-man short-track 5,000-meter relay.

In biathlon, Russia has two men and two women eligible. That rules out the men's and women's relays, which need four competitors of each gender, though the mixed relay could still be an option.

Russian authorities last month said they would support the athletes who chose to compete in Pyeongchang as neutrals following a ban of the Russian team, as well as those who decided to snub the Games.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport is expected to issue its decision this week in the cases of 39 Russian athletes who have been banned from the Olympic Games after being found guilty of doping at Sochi.

AFP

Olga Graf reacts after finishing the women's 5,000-meter race at the ISU European Speedskating Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia, in this January 11, 2015, photo. The Russian speedskater announced on January 30, 2018, that she is refusing to compete in the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics, because a ban on her country meant there wouldn't be enough athletes to form a team for the pursuit race.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin on Tuesday dismissed claims by Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov that President Vladimir Putin ordered a state-sponsored doping program, calling them baseless "slander".

"This is yet more slander which doesn't have a single piece of evidence to support it," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists following allegations made by Rodchenkov to German public broadcaster ARD.

The ARD report on Monday quoted Rodchenkov, the source of revelations on Moscow's state-sponsored doping, as saying that orders came from the Russian leader who was kept informed through former sports minister Vitaly Mutko.

"Of course it came all the way from the top, from the president," Rodchenkov claimed. "Because only the president can deploy the domestic secret service FSB for such a special task."

Rodchenkov is the former head of Moscow's anti-doping laboratory who fled to the United States in 2016 following the sudden death of two senior officials from Russia's anti-doping agency. He is now wanted in Russia and Peskov painted him as an "odious" criminal.

"Mr Rodchenkov is a wanted man, he is under investigation," Peskov said. "He is an odious individual who has problems with the law... he clearly cannot be treated as a source with any credibility."

"There is lack of readiness and willingness to use any other sources to confirm this information," Peskov said of the German report.

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