PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — There’s a breathlessly hilarious, perfectly nonsensical symmetry to Russia’s first hiccup after one of the biggest doping scandals in Olympic history occurring in a sport in which lifting weights and being physically fit only recently became in vogue.
For Russia, having a curler disqualified from a medal would be akin to SMU football coming back from the death penalty in the 1980s, only to get put on probation again for cheating in field hockey. While Aleksandr Krushelnitckii’s positive test for the banned substance meldonium is brazen and outrageous given the controversial nature of Russia’s mere presence at these Games, let’s also concede it’s worthy of a good chuckle.
But here’s what isn’t funny at all: The International Olympic Committee possibly reinstating Russia by the end of the Winter Games and letting its athletes walk under their flag at the closing ceremony.
It shouldn’t happen. It can’t happen. Not if the IOC wants to maintain any shred of credibility, not if it wants the rest of the world to believe it considers doping to be a serious breach of its ethical standards for fair competition.
That notion already was on thin ice this time, given that some Russian athletes were allowed to compete under the Olympic flag as the “Olympic Athletes From Russia,” a clunky designation that fools no one but ensures that a country of 145 million people still has reason to watch on TV.
As usual, the IOC needed some twisted logic to justify that decision, but at least you can sort of understand it. If there were clean Russians, the IOC said, let them compete, never mind the whole thing about the country that hosted the last Winter Olympics systematically manipulating the tests. Whatever.
The point is, that kind of gift should come with a zero-tolerance policy attached. It doesn’t matter whether you think meldonium helps a curler. It doesn’t matter if every other Russian athlete is clean. It doesn’t matter if there are athletes from other countries who are not. And it certainly doesn’t matter whether someone spiked Krushelnitckii’s drink at a training camp in Japan, which is the excuse reportedly bubbling out of the Russian delegation.
Maybe Krushelnitckii, a curler with a hulking physique who made a striking pair with his wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova, during their bronze-medal run in mixed doubles, really is the victim of a sabotage campaign. Maybe he’s just using the same excuse hundreds of cheaters have attempted to use when they’ve been caught. Can anyone know for sure?
But for the purposes of reinstating Russia at the closing ceremony — an event that would be tantamount to a big, ceremonial wet kiss from the IOC — any positive test should be a non-starter.
You want to reinstate Russia? Fine. It will happen eventually anyway. But do it in a low-key manner in the middle of August, not in a way that celebrates its delegation and makes the rest of the countries here watch its athletes literally wave their flag at the send-off for the Pyeongchang Games.
Russia already has sucked up enough of the oxygen from these Olympics just by being here as a semi-rogue sideshow. At this point, returning it to equal status would be nothing more than the IOC attempting to erase reality.
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