Russian athletes hope to compete at Olympics despite ban

Though they will not be able to compete under the Russian flag, a majority of Russian athletes still want to compete at the upcoming Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.

Pavel Golovkin/AP
The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) logo is seen at the ROC headquarters in Moscow on Dec. 6. The ROC says despite the ban, no Russian athletes plan to boycott the Olympic Games this winter.

Russian athletes are overwhelmingly in favor of competing at the upcoming Pyeongchang Games despite a ban on the national team, the country's Olympic committee said Monday.

Sofia Velikaya said the Russian Olympic Committee's athletes' commission, which she chairs, has heard from "all the athletes in all sports" on the Olympic program, with a majority in favor of competing.

Ms. Velikaya said no athletes have told the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) they would rather boycott.

"At the current moment, everyone's training and everyone's hoping to take part in the Olympics," Velikaya said.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last week barred the Russian team from Pyeongchang because of doping offenses at the 2014 Sochi Games, but is allowing Russians to compete under a neutral flag as "Olympic Athletes from Russia."

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the government won't stand in their way.

ROC spokesman Konstantin Vybornov said teams from biathlon and snowboard had recorded videos affirming their desire to compete, while the men's hockey team has written "a collective letter."

Some Russian hardliners believe it is shameful for athletes to compete at the Olympics without their national flag. But Velikaya defended the athletes, saying everyone watching will know who is from Russia.

"The choice of competing at the Olympics is strictly individual," Velikaya said. "I call on Russian society to treat athletes' decisions with understanding and respect."

With the IOC due to send out invitations to individual Russians over the next two months, Velikaya said Russian sports officials would put together lists of their preferred teams. Those rosters, she said, would stop the IOC from inviting "numbers five and six" in the Russian team while leaving out genuine medal contenders.

Russia is pushing back against some IOC conditions, however, backing appeals by Russian athletes banned for doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Velikaya also said her commission will ask the IOC to remove a condition stopping athletes from being invited to Pyeongchang if they have been suspended for doping in the past. That affects a few athletes with earlier offenses unconnected to the Sochi Olympics, including biathletes banned for using the blood-booster EPO and speedskating world champion Denis Yuskov, who was suspended in 2008 after testing positive for marijuana.

Forcing the Russians to compete as neutral athletes puts the IOC in the uncomfortable position of regulating how they celebrate.

The Russian flag won't be flown at medal ceremonies, but what happens if a Russian winner accepts a flag or a gift from a spectator for a victory lap? Can Russian athletes fly the flag from their windows in the athletes village? Those are on a list of questions Mr. Vybornov said Russia will ask of the IOC.

"A figure skater wins, let's say, and they throw her a teddy bear in Russian uniform onto the ice," Vybornov said. "She picks it up. Can she do that? Or is that an offense?"

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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