Moscow (AP) — Russia announced a 169-strong team for the Winter Olympics on Thursday, without many of the country’s top athletes.
The team has been depleted by 46 bans for doping at the 2014 Games in Sochi, as well as the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to issue invitations for dozens more athletes, citing new evidence of alleged drug use.
With the Russian team technically banned by the IOC for what it ruled was a doping scheme, the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” will compete in uniforms without national insignia. If they win an event, the Olympic anthem will play and the IOC’s flag will fly.
“Each invitation will be sent individually to each of the 169 athletes. We haven’t heard from any of them that they’ll decline to participate,” Russian Olympic Committee vice-president Stanislav Pozdnyakov told Russian media, addressing rumors some athletes could boycott the Games.
Though it’s been sharply reduced, and some previously little-known reserves stand to compete, the team would still be one of the biggest in Pyeongchang. In Sochi, 214 Russians competed, and 175 took part in Vancouver in 2010, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon.
The list of 169 published by the Russian Olympic Committee includes star names like hockey players Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, along with the world figure skating champion Evgenia Medvedeva. Well-known Russians who miss out include six-time gold medalist short-track speedskater Viktor Ahn and world cross-country ski champion Sergei Ustyugov, who Russian officials said were refused by the IOC.
The list has not been confirmed by the IOC and could still be cut further in the final days of an IOC vetting process aimed at weeding out dopers, using newly recovered data from the Moscow laboratory at the center of the scandal.
In some sports, the IOC barred so many Russians that too few are left to enter the relays. Just one men’s long-track speedskater is left, along with one women’s luge athlete.
In biathlon, Russia’s most-watched winter sport, just two men and two women make the team. Without IOC sanctions, Russia could have entered six men and five women for biathlon.
Earlier Thursday, the IOC said the Moscow lab database it’s using to vet athletes shows evidence of attempts to “hide and modify” biological data pointing to steroid use. The Olympic body said it will pass on the data to international sports federations, who could take further action.
An IOC panel led by former French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron has been vetting Russian athletes before issuing invitations to compete.
“The (database) was reconstructed by a WADA forensic expert and then subjected to a rigorous authentication process to confirm its accuracy,” the IOC said in a statement. “This additional intelligence has been provided to the respective International Federations.”
The IOC panel has faced criticism in Russia over a lack of explanation for why some athletes, like short-track speedskating champion Ahn, were not invited to Pyeongchang despite not having previously faced doping charges.
The statement released Thursday sheds light on the evidence the panel has used, but it still hasn’t confirmed who is in and who is out, or given any individual decisions.
The IOC said that, as well as earlier IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency investigations into Russian doping, it used tipoffs from whistleblowers and sports federations, as well as records of athletes’ whereabouts.
The list of evidence “is comprehensive but by no means exhaustive; and I would like to stress that we also looked at a wide range of intelligence and other sources,” Fourneyron said in the statement.
Also Thursday, the IOC said Russian fans will be allowed to fly their flag in Pyeongchang, but organized protests could bring further sanctions.
The IOC said its ban on athletes wearing the Russian tricolor doesn’t apply to fans, saying this “cannot be prohibited.”
However, it added that “should this appear to be an organized political demonstration the IOC will take this into consideration in its monitoring system.”
That could mean Russia won’t get to march with its flag at the closing ceremony, which the IOC has offered as an incentive for the country to comply with its rulings.
Separately, 18 Russians were cleared to compete this year in track and field, including high jump world champion Mariya Lasitskene.