This season’s world championships for bobsled and skeleton are being pulled out of Russia after a number of sliders said they would not compete in a nation so enveloped in a doping scandal.
The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation voted to make its final decision on Tuesday. The move comes less than a week after the a href=’https://www.apnews.com/541592080f77456986c31d2410bc0ac8/Russia’s-lab-wizard-created-drug-cocktails-but-caught-cheats’latest scathing report/a from World Anti-Doping Association investigator Richard McLaren showed the depth of doping and test-tampering by Russia during the 2012 and 2014 Olympic cycles.
These world championships were scheduled to happen over the last two weeks of February in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, on the track used for the 2014 Sochi Games. A new site is expected to be announced in the coming days.
“That’s a monumental decision by the IBSF and the right move to protect clean athletes and to tell the world that state-sponsored doping is unacceptable,” U.S. women’s bobsled pilot Elana Meyers Taylor said. “I am ecstatic about the decision.”
The IBSF did not rebuke Russian sliding officials any rebuke over what was detailed in report. Instead, the federation said it came to realize that moving worlds was the only way “to allow athletes and coaches from all nations to participate in a competition that focuses on sport rather than accusations and discussions — whether justified or not.”
Some of the world’s best sliders — including reigning Olympic medalists Steven Holcomb, Matt Antoine and Meyers Taylor of the U.S., Martins Dukurs of Latvia and Lizzy Yarnold of Britain — urged the IBSF for weeks to take the extraordinary action. Latvia’s national skeleton team said Sunday that it would boycott if worlds were held in Russia, and Austria and South Korea were also considering such actions.
Put simply, the primary athlete concern about going to Russia for world championships was the integrity of the doping process — with some even voicing worry that the hosts could tamper with food and drink supplies and create a situation where athletes would unknowingly ingest a banned substance. If caught in such a scenario, the athlete would have received a ban long enough to keep him or her from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“It’s a huge risk to take,” Holcomb said late last week.
It won’t be an issue now.
“This was a serious decision and one the IBSF did not take lightly,” USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele said. “It might not have come as quickly as many would have liked, but it received the careful attention it deserved. At the end of the day it was the right thing to do for the sport. From the point of the USABS, it allows the athletes to focus on sliding and move forward. That’s what the sport should be about and I support the decision.”
McLaren’s report showed that some Russian gold medalists from the Sochi Games were tainted by the state-sponsored doping program. Russia won gold medals in two-man bobsled, four-man bobsled and men’s skeleton at those Olympics, though none of the athletes who got those victories has been implicated by any known positive or tampered-with tests.
One of those gold medalists was Alexander Zubkov, who drove to wins in two- and four-man and is now president of the Russian Bobsled Federation. He told The Associated Press that he had no immediate comment, saying he had not gotten any official word regarding why the event was moved — even though the IBSF statement had been released publicly.
Antoine said he was ready to announce that he was not going to worlds. He got word about the venue change while he and other athletes were driving Tuesday from the track at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid, New York — site of this weekend’s World Cup stop — after a training session.
“It’s the right decision and I’m happy to see they took the proper steps,” Antoine said. “I’m sure there’s some people who are happy and some people who aren’t too happy about it. But it’s the reality of the situation. It’s an unfortunate dark cloud that’s over our sport right now. The process probably isn’t going to be clean or pretty, but this needs to be fixed.”
Associated Press Writer James Ellingsworth in Moscow contributed to this report.
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