USA Team opened the 2018 Winter Olympics by defeating Russia 9-3 in mixed-doubles curling on Thursday morning.
Actually, it wasn’t officially “Russia” that fell to the American brother-sister team of Matt and Becca Hamilton of McFarland, Wisconsin.
Russia was banned from these Olympics because it first systematically doped its athletes – even its Paralympic athletes – at the 2014 Sochi Games and then created an elaborate system to hide it. It was the largest and most sophisticated program ever uncovered by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
As such, the IOC threw the Russians out.
There are 168 (and potentially 47 more) “Olympic Athletes from Russia” competing, which is to say even Russia’s Olympians are undercover agents.
The IOC’s premise is that while it absolutely must punish Russia, it shouldn’t punish Russian athletes who can’t be proven to have cheated. To anyone who didn’t receive a share of a Ural Mountains nickel mine as a kickback, this is understood to mean the IOC isn’t really punishing Russia.
Just to recap, the Russians didn’t just supply performance-enhancing drugs to scores of athletes. We’ve seen that act before. This time it constructed an actual building in Sochi next to the laboratory that tested athlete samples. It then drilled a small hole in the shared wall. Each night after the lab closed, it had workers on either side pass clean samples in and dirty samples out.
A few predictable things happened. Russia won the most medals. No Russians tested positive for PEDs. The man who orchestrated it, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who much later acknowledged the scheme, was awarded a prestigious honor by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Once the scam was uncovered, Rodchenkov fled to America fearing for his safety, which seems reasonable after two of his cohorts turned up dead. Just a coincidence, of course.
Regardless, individual athletes can take their case to the Court of Arbitration in Sport and win an appeal. Many have. Many of those victories are based on a lack of direct evidence. WADA acknowledges it sometimes lacks direct evidence but notes that’s because the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (an all-timer of an oxymoron) destroyed most of the direct evidence when it took the dirty samples and replaced them with the clean samples.
“It is no surprise you don’t have all the evidence you want,” WADA director general Olivier Niggli said here Thursday.
It’s quite a deal, really. Russia cheated so thoroughly that it got banned. But by cheating so thoroughly it can’t be banned.
And so here come the Olympic Athletes from Russia.
Basically, the IOC just caved to the Russians, allowing Putin to influence the decision-making process and achieve his preferred result.
Not for nothing, but the two Olympic Athletes from Russia who competed in mixed curling, Anastasia Bryzgalova and Aleksandr Krushelnitckii, look casting-call ready. Bryzgalova is straight out of a James Bond movie; Krushelnitckii from “The Fast and the Furious.” The Russians are basically trolling the world by sending mixed-doubles curling teams that look like double agents.