GeneralNewsOlympicsRussians Appeal Protest Decision; Vylegzhanin Ambiguous

Avatar Alex KochonFebruary 9, 20144

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SOCHI, Russia — It didn’t take long to get the men’s cross-country skiathlon medalists down to the adjacent biathlon venue for their press conferences on Sunday, before busing them down to Sochi’s Olympic Park for their medal ceremonies that night.

Switzerland’s Dario Cologna looks over at Sweden’s Marcus Hellner (not shown) before capturing his second Olympic gold in his first race of the 2014 Olympics — the 30 k skiathlon — on Sunday in Sochi, Russia. Hellner placed second while Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby (l) and Russia’s Maxim Vylegzhanin (7) sprinted for third. Sundby won it but received a written warning for obstruction.
Switzerland’s Dario Cologna looks over at Sweden’s Marcus Hellner (not shown) before capturing his second Olympic gold in his first race of the 2014 Olympics — the 30 k skiathlon — on Sunday in Sochi, Russia. Hellner placed second while Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby (l) and Russia’s Maxim Vylegzhanin (7) sprinted for third. Sundby won it but received a written warning for obstruction.

But there was plenty to tend to in between, especially for jury officials, the Russian team and initially Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who received a written warning for obstructing Maxim Vylegzhanin in the final meters of the 30 k skiathlon. Technically, that meant he deviated from the optimal racing line. According to RIA Novoski, the International Ski Competition Rules No. 343.9 states that: “In all competitions obstruction is not allowed. This behavior is defined as deliberately impeding, blocking (by not following best line), charging or pushing any competitor with any part of the body or ski equipment.”

Sundby, 29, nearly crossed skis with Vylegzhanin as he staggered to the left while sprinting to the finish. The Norwegian took third by one-tenth of a second for his first medal at his second Olympics, and Vylegzhanin, 31, left empty handed in fourth.

Yet it’s never over ’til it’s over, and the Russian Cross-Country Ski Association President Yelena Välbe made sure that their case was heard — twice if necessary.

After Russia filed a protest, Sundby left the jury’s office with a warning for cutting off Vylegzhanin before the finish. The Norwegian claimed it was unintentional: “The fight was close,” Sundby said. “I can’t remember so much about the last 100 meters. When I see the pictures, I think the last 10 meters there was not fair play. I changed lines when there was 4 or 5 meters to go. This was never ever my intention. Luckily, it didn’t influence the result. I was in front of Maxim and I would have been in front even if I stayed in my line.”

Sundby said he spoke with Vylezhanin afterward, who told him he didn’t feel he was obstructed. “He didn’t notice when he came to the finish line,” Sundby added.

“I don’t think I obstructed or touched the skis of Maxim so hopefully he doesn’t feel like I destroyed his finish,” he said. “For sure, from me, it was not the purpose.”

According to RIA, Vylegzhanin was ambiguous.

“Was I cut up? Everyone who watched the race saw that we fought to the end,” he said. “What happened, happened.”

They jury made its decision and the results stayed the same, but Välbe told RIA she was taking the case to another round of International Ski Federation (FIS) appeals.

“Nothing is finished. Everything will continue,” she said on Sunday afternoon. “We will submit an appeal to the FIS and we have 24 hours to do that.”

Her next step was to present the protest to the federation, not the on-site officials. Otherwise, “it would be considered by the same people,” Välbe said, the ones that overruled the assertion that Sundby impeded Vyleghanzin in the first place.

On Sunday night, the Russians followed through with a second appeal.

“Maxim Vylegzhanin told me that he noticed that I came into his tracks,” Sundby said after the medal ceremony.

Later Sunday night, NRK reported that Vegard Ulvang, chairman of the FIS cross-country committee, confirmed that the Russian national team submitted the appeal, which called for stripping Sundby of his bronze.

“The case will now be considered in FIS ‘Appeals Committee,” Ulvang said, which could take 72 hours, or three days, to hear. However, a decision was expected sooner.

“I think Martin will retain the bronze medal,” Norwegian International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Gerhard Heiberg told NRK. “I do not think there is any danger that he will lose it. The Russians may take the case to CAS [Court of Arbitration for Sport], but it will take a long time.”

Norway’s Petter Northug spoke to the greater context of the issue, likening it to war.

“This is typical … they will have more to protest in the future,” he told NRK, according to a translation. “There are certainly wars with them both sprint and relay.”

Anastasiya Kuzmina, a Russian-born, Slovakian passport holder and national-team biathlete who won the women’s 7.5 k sprint, said in a Sunday night conference that she dedicated her win to Vylegzhanin.

“I felt for him, I was rooting for him,” she said. “Unfortunately it was not his day. Today when I approached the starting line I said to myself, ‘If this is my day I will dedicate it to him.’ I hope he has heard my message and I help his feelings.”

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Alex Kochon

Alex Kochon (alex@fasterskier.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.

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4 comments

  • Avatar
    davord

    February 9, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    It was clear as daylight. He clearly moved in Vylegzhanin’s lane and impeded the Russian. On top of that, he pulled the same stunt numerous time as they climbed the monster hill AND again right before the final curve on the back stretch that brought them into the finishing straight. When someone is trying to overtake you, you don’t just step into his tracks and cut him off repeatedly. Kowalczyk did the same to Randall in the skate sprint in the Davos skate sprint 4 years ago and was relegated to last in the heat. Had it been Vylegzhanin instead of Sundby moving into someone else’s lane and repeatedly cutting off the opposition on the hill and the final corner, he would have been DQ’d immediately. Double standards. And Ulvang, this is the same Ulvang that two years ago said that Torin Koos was unjustly DQ’d in Rumford and that he agreed with the appeal. Nothing happened with the appeal. While I admire Sundby’s work in the pack and dragging everyone along for significant portions of the race, those maneuvers within the last K of the race were unprofessional.

  • Avatar
    John Forrest Tomlinson

    February 9, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    The “deliberately” in the rule makes it a tough call. Sundby definitely impeded Vylegzhanin but whether it was deliberate or not is not clear to me.

  • Avatar
    T.Eastman

    February 10, 2014 at 1:54 am

    Oh, the drama…

  • Avatar
    formerskier

    February 10, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    I agree with Davord. I have to say, after looking at the video several times, that what happened was against the rules. And the fact that Sundby was immediately handed a written sanction validates it. I would like to see more consideration by the Jury, FIS, and perhaps the CAS. Really, just a written warning? Vylegzhanin was clearly affected so much that he couldn’t use his right ski and leg in the final 10-20 meters. Who can say the result would have been the same? Sundby was obviously losing composure and speed and the 0.1 second finish difference shows that Sundby did not have enough lead to change lanes.

    Nice of Vyleghanin for granting Sundby some grace. If he had continued to ski normally–in his own lane–one or both of them would have gone down. And afterwards, he did not say anything condemning as he shouldn’t need to. I’ll be cheering for him in the future and hope that he gets a medal in future Olympic races.

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