((Update: In accordance with the CAS decision outlined below, the International Ski Federation (FIS) lifted the provisional suspensions for the same eight Russian athletes on Thursday.))
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has overturned doping bans assigned to eight cross-country skiers based on investigations into manipulation of the anti-doping process at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“In 28 cases, the evidence collected was found to be insufficient to establish that an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) was committed by the athletes concerned,” CAS wrote in a press release. “With respect to these 28 athletes, the appeals are upheld, the sanctions annulled and their individual results achieved in Sochi 2014 are reinstated.”
The athletes whose results will be reinstated are:
- 50 k gold medalist and relay silver medalist Alexander Legkov
- 50 k silver medalist, team sprint and relay silver medalist Maxim Vylegzhanin, also fourth in the 30 k skiathlon
- relay silver medalist Alexander Bessmertnykh, also seventh in the 15 k classic
- Evgeny Belov, 19th in the 30 k skiathlon and 25th in the 15 k classic
- team sprint silver medalist Nikita Kriukov, also 13th in the men’s sprint
- Alexei Petukhov, eighth in the men’s sprint
- Evgenia Shapovalova, 28th in the women’s sprint
- Natalia Matveeva, 20th in the women’s sprint
The disqualifications of skiers Julia Ivanova, Yulia Tchekaleva, and Anastasia Dotsenko were upheld, although CAS held that instead of being banned from the Olympics for life, the three women were merely banned from the 2018 Games.
The cases of biathletes Olga Zaitseva, Olga Vilukhina, and Yana Romanova have not yet been handled.
The eight athletes whose disqualifications were overturned had not been invited to the 2018 Olympics, and many other Russian athletes who had not been convicted of doping offenses also did not meet the IOC’s requirements of proof of being clean either. Thus, it is doubtful whether the CAS appeals will affect the Olympic rosters.
CAS did not release any information about how the arbitration panel came to its decision.
“Although the operative part of the decision is issued, the principle of confidentiality of the procedure still applies,” Legkov’s lawyer, Christof Wieschemann, wrote in a statement emailed to the media. “I assume that all parties involved will respect this. The panel has to decide in its judgment what details of the proceedings becomes subject of the reasoning of the decision and therefore will also become public. We will wait for the reasoned decisions.”
In previous cases, CAS had indicated that evidence obtained as part of the McLaren Report, an investigation into Russian doping commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, was valid at least at the level of provisional suspensions of some of the same athletes that were cleared in today’s decision.
The evidence in the McLaren report showed, for instance, that anti-doping sample bottles belonging to Legkov, Vylegzhanin, Shapovalova, and Petukhov, among others, showed marks consistent with having been tampered with. A sample belonging to Vylegzhanin also showed discrepancies in the reported specific gravity.
There was no explanation offered as to why this evidence is not valid in proving an anti-doping rule violation.
The IOC panel which had disqualified Legkov also heard testimony from Grigory Rodchenkov, the former Russian anti-doping administrator turned whistleblower, stating that he had personally swapped out Legkov’s anti-doping sample for a previously-collected “clean” sample after the 50 k race.
Likewise, CAS offered no explanation as to why this testimony was not sufficient to prove an anti-doping rule violation.
“Dr. Rodchenkov testified fully and credibly at CAS,” Rodchenkov’s lawyer, Jim Walden, wrote in a statement. “His truth has been verified by forensic evidence, other whistleblowers, and, more recently, recovery of the Moscow lab’s secret database, showing thousands of dirty tests that were covered up. The panel’s unfortunate decision provides a very small measure of punishment for some athletes but a complete ‘get out of jail free’ card for most. Thus, the CAS decision only emboldens cheaters, makes it harder for clean athletes to win, and provides yet another ill-gotten gain for the corrupt Russian doping system generally, and Putin specifically.”
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.