MOSCOW (AP) – Tiffani Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro aren’t typical Russian Olympians, but it won’t be a typical Olympics for Russia.
The British-born Zagorski and Australian-born Guerreiro are Russia’s third-choice ice dance pair and first alternates for the Winter Olympics. But with Russian sport mired in doping scandals, they’re ready for a surprise invitation to compete in Pyeongchang if other skaters are barred.
“We’re reserves for the Olympics and there is obviously a chance that we could actually go because of the whole situation with doping,” Zagorski said after finishing sixth at the European Championships on Saturday. “So of course in our heads we’re completely getting ourselves ready that there is the possibility.”
It would be another surprise chapter in the career of Zagorski, who started skating in Britain before competing for France. When she split up with partner Alexis Miart in 2014, her career stalled before matching up with the Russian-Australian Guerreiro two years later and starting to skate for Russia.
The switch even brought a change of name on official skating documents, from Tiffany Zahorski – still the spelling she uses on social media – to the more Russian-sounding Tiffani Zagorski.
“When (Miart) quit, I thought that was it. I never could have imagined I’d be back at the Europeans again,” she said. “When (Guerreiro and Zagorski) first started skating together, of course we planned to make it to the top in Russia as much as we can. Now we’re finally here and it’s great.”
The Russian team is officially banned after the International Olympic Committee ruled Russia operated a sophisticated doping system and cover-up when it hosted the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
Instead of Team Russia, there will be “Olympic Athletes from Russia” competing under the Olympic flag and invited by the IOC. There could be as many as 200 Russians competing in Pyeongchang under these conditions.
Never tried on this scale before, the IOC invite process is sure to be controversial. The IOC hasn’t revealed the exact criteria, saying Friday only that an initial pool of 500 has been reduced to 389, and excluding athletes previously banned for doping – but without giving any names.
Some athletes are in a gray area.
Ekaterina Bobrova, the European ice dance silver medalist with Dmitri Soloviev, tested positive in March 2016 for the banned substance meldonium – which had been banned less than three months before – and missed the world championships. However, she and many others were cleared when the World Anti-Doping Agency admitted the drug could have remained in their bodies from before it was banned.
Waiting for an invitation is “a bit worrying because we’re sure that the case wasn’t a doping case as such. I wasn’t guilty of anything and I was completely cleared,” Bobrova said. “The situation around Russia isn’t simple, but in any case we’re expecting an invitation and really hoping for it.”
If Bobrova and Soloviev miss out, Zagorski and Guerreiro are next in line to take their place.
With just over a week remaining until the IOC is expected to announce its invited Russians, Zagorski is waiting and making plans for alternative competitions to attend if she and Guerreiro don’t go to the Olympics.
“We’re not going to stop training,” she said. “It’s just a week to kind of distract ourselves by relaxing, feeling the ice again, and then we’ll know.”