IOC creates pool of Russians eligible for Winter Olympics

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The International Olympic Committee said Friday it has created a pool of 389 Russians who are eligible to compete under a neutral flag at next month’s Winter Olympics amid the country’s doping scandal.

An IOC panel whittled down an initial list of 500 to create what the IOC calls “a pool of clean athletes.” That could potentially make it possible for Russia to meet its target of fielding around 200 athletes in Pyeongchang — slightly fewer than in Sochi in 2014, but more than in Vancouver in 2010.

It wasn’t immediately clear why 111 other Russians were rejected by the IOC. The IOC didn’t list the athletes who were accepted or rejected, but said it hadn’t included any of the 46 the IOC previously banned for doping at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

The IOC’s decision not to release the names of the athletes or any specific testing data did not sit well with members of the National Anti-Doping Organizations, who have called for more transparency in the IOC process.

“We all want to trust, but history has shown we must verify,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “Publish the testing history of each athlete by name, type of test, and we can know for sure if what the IOC says is accurate.”

Valerie Fourneyron, the former French Sports Minister leading the invitation process, said the pool also left out any Russians who had been suspended in the past for doping offences.

“This means that a number of Russian athletes will not be on the list,” she said. “Our work was not about numbers, but to ensure that only clean athletes would be on the list.”

That would appear to rule out potential Russian medal contenders like former NHL hockey player Anton Belov and world champion speedskater Pavel Kulizhnikov, both of whom served bans in the past but have since resumed competing.

“More than 80 per cent of the athletes in this pool did not compete at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014,” the IOC said in a statement. “This shows that this is a new generation of Russian athletes.”

The IOC will use the pool list to issue invitations to Russian athletes to compete in Pyeongchang, after checking their record of drug testing and retesting some samples they gave previously. The IOC also said it recommended barring 51 coaches and 10 medical staff “associated with athletes who have been sanctioned” for Sochi doping.

The IOC has allowed Russian Olympic Committee to select its preferred athletes despite being suspended by the IOC last month over drug use and an elaborate coverup at the 2014 Olympics, including swapping dirty samples for clean urine. Russian sports officials say they simply want to give the IOC recommendations to ensure that top athletes aren’t accidentally left out in favour of reserves.

The Russians will officially be known as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” and they will wear grey and red uniforms that don’t feature any Russian logos. If they win gold medals, the Olympic flag will be flown and the Olympic anthem played.

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