The International Olympic Committee has issued the most severe penalties in history to the Russian Olympic team. Russia’s Olympic team has been barred from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Not even Russian government officials will be allowed to attend; the Russian flag will not be displayed.

There is an old saying in Special Forces: if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying. If you get caught, you weren’t trying hard enough. The Russians have set a new standard for trying. Russia’s state-run doping program involving doctors and secret agents touched almost every athlete and exceeded even the IOC’s (International Olympic Committee’s) most paranoid concerns. The scheme was reminiscent of East Germany’s systematic doping the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s which led to the modern testing regimen.

According to a former Russian anti-doping official, Russian intelligence built a secret port into the doping lab and provided technical expertise to open the Swiss-made tamper-proof bottles used by the IOC to hold the athletes’ urine samples. The bottles were clandestinely taken out of the lab at night and opened.  Tainted samples were replaced with clean urine taken months ahead of time. The bottles were then filled to the same level as the original, resealed and returned to the lab.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, toasts a glass of champagne with the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach during the official reception of IOC for Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics organizing committee in Sochi, Russia. | RIA Novosti Kremlin, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service

Individual Russian athletes not involved in doping may receive special dispensation to compete, but they will do so as individuals under the Olympic flag. Official Olympic records will deny Russia any medals for their efforts.

Russian President Putin has dismissed the doping scandal and implied that it was unjustified. Sport has always been an important propaganda tool for the Russians and the Olympics have been manipulated to show Russian strength and superiority over the West. This became even more important after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Caught red-handed, Russian medals will be called back, but the stolen valor of Russian athletes receiving the medals on stage will be remembered. The true victors were denied their moment of glory but will eventually get their medals. Expecting the worst, Russian officials had threatened to boycott if the IOC delivered such a severe punishment. Unembarrassed by their blatant cheating, we can only expect more of the same when they return to the games in 2022.


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