MOSCOW (AP) – Several of Russia’s top medal hopes for the PyeongChang Olympics, including six-time short track speed skating gold medalist Viktor Ahn, have been barred from the Games amid the country’s ongoing doping scandal, sparking renewed talk of a boycott.
Already depleted by doping bans and forced to compete under a neutral flag, Russia now faces an Olympics without some of its top skiers, figure skaters and sliders after they failed to pass International Olympic Committee vetting.
The exclusions have stirred renewed talk of a boycott, something athletes and officials ruled out last month when the IOC formally banned the Russian team, instead allowing “Olympic Athletes from Russia” under the Olympic flag.
“There was an attempt to take the Russian athletes’ flag, anthem, to push Russia toward a boycott … And now this is the second attempt, tyranny, an attempt to drive a wedge between athletes who had managed to keep their good name,” Mikhail Degtyarev, chairman of the Russian parliament’s sports committee, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
“I’m not personally a supporter of a boycott. I consider it counterproductive, but we need to defend our honor.”
The Russian Figure Skating Federation also said the IOC was trying to provoke Russia into a boycott.
The federation said it was “deeply disappointed in this baseless IOC decision which is reminiscent of a provocation with the aim of forcing Russian athletes by any means possible to decline to participate in the games.”
However, officials from Russia’s luge and curling federations spoke out against a possible boycott.
Besides Ahn, the Russian Olympic Committee said Tuesday that cross-country skier Sergei Ustyugov and biathlete Anton Shipulin had been left out of an IOC pool of eligible athletes.
Other officials said that two-time figure skating medalist Ksenia Stolbova and several other speedskaters were excluded.
ROC senior vice president Stanislav Pozdnyakov said in a statement that he discovered the absences during negotiations with IOC officials on Monday and has asked the Olympic body to explain why they were not included.
Pozdnyakov said Ahn, Ustyugov and Shipulin “have never been involved in any doping cases and all of the many samples they have given during their careers testify that they are clean athletes. Regardless, their names are currently missing from the list of potential participants in the games.”
The IOC said it would not comment on individual cases, and has not spelled out the criteria used to refuse invitations to the athletes named Tuesday in Russia.
Ahn, a short-track speedskater, won three gold medals for South Korea at the 2006 Olympics as Ahn Hyun-soo before switching allegiance to Russia in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, where he won three more.
The Russian Figure Skating Federation said in a statement that Stolbova, who won team gold and pairs silver in 2014, was excluded, as well as ice dancer Ivan Bukin, the son of 1988 Olympic gold medalist Andrei Bukin.
The head of the Russian Skating Union, Alexei Kravtsov, told the RIA Novosti state news agency that numerous other speedskaters had been barred.
They include world champions Pavel Kulizhnikov and Denis Yuskov, both of whom have previously served bans for failed doping tests, as well as Ruslan Zakharov, who won an Olympic short track relay gold medal in Sochi.
Five hockey players have also been barred, including former NHL players Sergei Plotnikov, Valeri Nichushkin and Anton Belov.
The Russian Hockey Federation submitted a list of more than 40 players it wished to choose from for its 25-man Olympic team. The federation named most of its superstars in the KHL – like Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Slava Voynov – but left off three-time Olympian defenseman Andrei Markov.
Russian news agencies reported that the IOC still considers all members of the Russian Alpine skiing, freestyle skiing and curling teams to be eligible.
As punishment for what it termed a sophisticated doping program at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the IOC has forced all Russians competing in PyeongChang to do so as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” under the Olympic flag, rather than as an official Russian team.
Russian athletes must be vetted by an IOC commission, which will examine their history of drug testing and links to past doping, before they are invited to the games.
On Friday, the IOC said it had cut an initial list of 500 Russian athletes down to a pool of 389, but didn’t give any names. Russian officials have expressed hope they could field a team of 200 athletes. That’s below the number that competed for Russia in 2014, but above its total from the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow is waiting for the IOC to clarify the situation.
“We have seen those deplorable reports in the media,” Peskov said. “We deeply regret if such decisions have indeed been taken. But we hope the situation will clear up because we do have contacts with the IOC. We hope those contacts will help clarify the situation around the aforementioned prominent athletes.”