When she heard Russia was being banned from the Pyeongchang Olympics as punishment for a widespread, state-sponsored doping program, Erin Hamlin’s first reaction was, simply, “Wow.”
Not at the details of the scheme, which have been public for months. But that the Olympic ideal of fair play really does mean something.
“They actually stuck to their guns of making a decision to punish people for cheating,” Hamlin, the bronze medalist in luge in Sochi, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s pretty refreshing to have that Olympic ideal upheld, to have them be protecting all the other athletes.
“I was an athlete that competed at Sochi and to see all of the stuff that went on, it definitely hit home,” Hamlin added. “Setting the example that you can’t do that and get away with it is nice. It’s reassuring.”
The IOC’s decision, which suspends the Russian Olympic Committee and prohibits its athletes from competing under their own flag at the Winter Games, was met with approval by athletes from all winter sports. Sample tampering in Sochi has resulted in the disqualification of 25 athletes from a half-dozen sports so far, and at least 11 medals will be reallocated.
A report by the World Anti-Doping Agency shows that the cheating went much further, involving hundreds of athletes in both Winter and Summer Olympic sports. Results at the Olympics and world championships were tainted for at least a decade.
“The #IOC decision to ban Russia is not about politics, medal count or nationalism. It is not speculative,” U.S. biathlete Lowell Bailey said on Twitter. “It is based on fact. It is simply about protecting the Olympic spirit, the integrity of sport, and the right to fair play. Period.”
Matt Antoine, whose bronze medal in skeleton likely will be upgraded to a silver because of Russian doping, has been a vocal critic of how the IOC has handled this whole mess. Ultimately, though, the IOC got it right, Antoine said in a Twitter post.
“I, and athletes around the world, thank you for preserving the integrity of Olympic competition,” he said.
The IOC also said it plans to organize medal ceremonies in Pyeongchang for the athletes who now will be getting medals or having them upgraded. Bobsledder Steven Langton, who won bronzes in the two- and four-man races in Sochi, called that “bittersweet” because teammate Steven Holcomb won’t be there to receive his new medals.
Holcomb, the most successful driver in American bobsled history, died unexpectedly in May. He drove both of the U.S. medal-winning sleds in Sochi.
“I am glad that my teammates and I will be receiving the medals in the hue that we rightfully earned in February of 2014,” Langton wrote in an email to USA TODAY Sports. “That being said, it will be bittersweet as Steven Holcomb is not around to receive what is rightfully his. He was a major part of what we accomplished four years ago and what we are trying to accomplish this season.
“We will continue to honor him as best we can moving forward.”
Despite support for the ban and the message they hope it sends, some athletes said they felt sorry for the Russian athletes who didn’t cheat. The IOC said it will allow Russians who can prove they’ve been subject to a rigorous testing program to compete in Pyeongchang as a neutral team, but it is likely to be a fraction of the size Russia normally sends.
The IOC also will have to race to vet those athletes, since the Pyeongchang Olympics begin Feb. 9.
“I think the IOC did the best thing for pretty much everyone involved,” Hamlin said. “It would be a shame to see (clean) athletes getting this moment taken away. Hopefully athletes that are clean and who can prove it, will get the chance to compete.”
For those who aren’t, there was little sympathy at seeing their life’s dreams being dashed.
“Finally. Karma is back on time,” former Canadian figure skater Amélie Lacoste said, adding the Russian flag to the end of her Tweet.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.