PARK CITY, Utah — While a growing number of American athletes and Olympic leaders are calling for Russia’s ouster from the upcoming games, executives at the U.S. Olympic Committee insist they must wait for the results of doping investigations that will determine the country’s status.
“This has taken a long time to get sorted out, and we’re very anxious to see the outcome,” USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said Monday. “Until they come out with their findings, it’s premature to prejudge the outcome. But obviously, if things are as they appear … there have to be consequences.”
The USOC’s wait-and-see attitude contrasts with those of American CEOs including Tiger Shaw (U.S. Ski and Snowboard), Max Cobb (U.S. Biathlon) and Travis Tygart (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency), along with athletes Susan Dunklee, Lowell Bailey (biathlon) and Andy Newell (cross-country skiing). All want to see Russia banned from the Olympics, with exceptions made for athletes who can prove they’ve been subject to a robust anti-doping program, and would then compete under a neutral flag.
Shaw, whose organization will make up more than one-third of the U.S. team at the Pyeongchang Games, said “we’re tired of waiting for the apparatus to do nothing.”
“I just have this pit in my stomach that people in power are going to sweep some things under the rug and not have athletes or institutions face the music,” Shaw said. “It’s sad we have a system in place and they’re using it inadequately.”
Last year, an independent investigation led by Richard McLaren documented evidence of a state-sponsored doping system in Russia that touched 1,000 athletes in 30 sports. McLaren found that urine samples had been tampered with among Russians who won 15 medals at the Sochi Games. The International Olympic Committee has been reviewing McLaren’s report via two investigations — one to determine whether state-sponsored manipulation of the doping system existed and the other to sort through the individual cases to determine penalties.
IOC President Thomas Bach has said he is confident the probes will be completed in time to determine Russia’s status before next year’s Olympics. But some Americans have grown impatient with the wait, and are worried about a repeat of the Rio Games , when Bach refused to ban the Russians and instead directed individual sports federations to sort out who would be eligible.
“They knew in July 2016” about tampering with bottles that held urine samples, Cobb said. “They’ve been bumbling along at three samples a day when there are more than 200 to check. How is that at all professional and serious?”
Newell, a three-time Olympian, said it has been frustrating to see athletes who are under investigation still racing since the depths of the scandal were uncovered more than two years ago.
“That kind of ripple effect is unbelievable,” he said. “You might have an athlete fighting for a top 30 or top 20, but because there are three doping athletes in front of that athlete, he or she doesn’t make it and might not get a chance to race in the Olympics or a world championships.”
Dunklee, who will compete in her second Olympics next year, said she would like to see the USOC fight a little harder for its athletes, and believes it gets bogged down in politics — including the tightrope walk it had to play to get the IOC to award the 2028 Olympics to Los Angeles.
“I’ve been discouraged,” she said. “One thing I’ve realized over the past year is that if we want to see change as athletes, we have to speak up as athletes. It’s kind of scary to speak out, because you invite more questions, and you invite more attention on it. But if we don’t do it, who the hell will?”
Dunklee and Bailey were two of seven U.S. biathletes who signed a petition to the International Biathlon Union earlier this year calling for increased doping bans for athletes, increased fines for federations who have convicted dopers on their teams and a reduction in the number of starting spots at major competitions for countries with multiple doping offenders.
The petition included 154 signatures from 25 countries, though none from Russia.
“The penalties need to act as a deterrent to any future incidences,” Bailey said.
Tygart has long been critical of the IOC’s response to the Russian scandal, and was among a group of 17 anti-doping leaders who called for barring the Russian Olympic Committee from next year’s games.
“We hear from the athletes, we hear from the anti-doping agencies, and then we hear crickets from those who actually have the power to do something about it,” he said.
Shaw said he was encouraged to hear Blackmun say that if the IOC evidence mirrored the McLaren Report, then decisive action should be taken.
“Separately, I’m still very concerned about what the IOC and WADA collectively might do, or might not do,” Shaw said.