Alaskan athletes react as Olympic committee bans Russia

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - As the rest of the world inches closer to the 2018 Winter Olympics, one country is moving further away as the International Olympic Committee instills a suspension on the Russian Olympic team.

"The Russian Olympic Committee is suspended with immediate effect," said IOC President Thomas Bach. "Individual will be able to participate under strict conditions at the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018."

The IOC announced Tuesday that Russian athletes will not be allowed to represent the country over the course of the upcoming Winter Games, but instead will participate - if qualified - as ‘Olympic Athletes of Russia,’ and will do so under a neutral flag.

"As an athlete myself, I'm feeling very sorry for all the clean athletes," Bach said.

The country has been in the spotlight for said allegations since a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency commissioned in 2015 found evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia, and accused it of systematically violating anti-doping regulations, an NBC News report stated. Another report found that more than 1,000 Russian competitors across 30 sports have been involved in a conspiracy to conceal positive drug tests over a five-year period.

While the nation has been under scrutiny for ages, amidst those extensive and expansive doping allegations, multiple anti-doping agencies have said that to this day, Russia technically remains non-compliant.

As of Tuesday, any of those Russian athletes who meet specific competition standards and drug testing requirements will be able to compete but will be barred from wearing their Russian uniforms and will trade their home country’s flag for that of the Olympics. Athletes from around the world, including a few from Alaska, made their opinions known following the ban announcement.

"They've been working and training to be able to represent their country," said Jess Schultz, an Olympic curler from Anchorage. "But here, their country kind of went beyond what they needed to do to help their athletes improve their game."

Two-time Olympic skier Holly Brooks told Channel 2 via email that, "(Tuesday's) decision is a win for clean athletes and clean sport... It will be interesting to see what happens next."

The United States Olympic Committee released a statement calling the action "strong and principled."

Russian athletes have also responded, but focused more on what should happen with coming events than their peers who have committed the doping acts: Svetlana Zhurova, a Russian ice skating Olympic champion, said clean athletes should be allowed to compete as well as be allowed to do so under the Russian flag; Alexei Voevoda, a Russian bobsledder and Olympic champion, said athletes in the past were banned for a few years already, and that banning athletes for life is not in the spirit of sports.

According to an NBC News report, a Kremlin spokesman said shortly before the announcement Tuesday that Russia would maintain ties with the IOC and that the country would defend its athletes against doping allegations, whatever the decision may be. Dmitry Peskon, a Kremlin spokesman himself, said Monday that Russia was not planning to boycott the Olympics if the IOC imposed restrictions.

In the meantime, the IOC will conduct tens of thousands of pre-Games doping tests ahead of competition in South Korea. By the time athletes arrive in PyeongChang, representatives for the IOC said they anticipate that some 20,000 tests will have been done, many of them given to Russian athletes after widespread drug use scandals at previous Games.

"I strongly suspect the total number of tests will be 20,000 by the time we get to the Games themselves," said Richard Budgett, IOC Medical and Scientific Director. "Then you have to add all the Games-time testing on top of that.

"Requirements for Russian athletes are being particularly emphasized by the pre-Games testing task force, because of the situation and work of the commissions," he said.

Schultz said she was shocked at the news at first, but not totally surprised.

"It's just truly disheartening to know that a government and their officials would go to the extreme of putting this much pressure on their athletes to perform, and to get results, and to get medals at the Olympics," she said. "It's heartbreaking."

Russian athletes have said they will appeal the IOC's decision to the Court of Arbitration in Sports, but for now, the IOC has said a panel of officials will decide which athletes will be accepted into the Games.

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