GANGNEUNG, South Korea – During Russia’s hockey game Friday against Slovenia, some fans inside the Gangneung Hockey Centre unfurled a banner emblazoned with the face of Russian president Vladimir Putin. It included a statement translated by the Associated Press to read: “No one is stronger than Russia in winter sports.”
Russia isn’t technically here at these Olympics. The International Olympic Committee banned the country after it was caught operating a complex doping and sample-tampering operation during the 2014 Games it hosted in Sochi. Officially, the hockey team and everyone else from Russia are competing as “Olympic Athletes From Russia.” No one is fooled, even if the banner was quickly taken down.
These are Russians. This is Russia.
No one is stronger than Russia in winter sports. Or so Vlad Putin wants you to believe, even if present reality tells a quite different story.
Four years ago, this was true … at least for a little while. Russia won the most medals of any nation, 29 overall. Its 11 golds tied Russia for the most golds with Norway. Russia still bombed out in men’s hockey, but other than that it was an unquestioned success, gold after gold after gold. The home nation “won” the Olympics. Even more impressive, no Russian athlete tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
It was all so incredible it caused no shortage of praise and preening from Putin.
Then reality hit.
That massive, state-sponsored performance-enhancing drug regime was uncovered. Key figures acknowledge it happened, although two said to be involved turned up dead. Russia got banned. Putin, as is his way, basically declared the scandal fake news and said it was just a conspiracy from people jealous of the Russians. Many Russians bought that line of thinking.
“State-sponsored system?” Roman Bykovm, a native of Moscow, said earlier this week at the figure skating venue. “We don’t believe.”
OK, well, let’s do a little math then.
If the Russians never doped in the first place and the Russians then never drilled a wall into the testing lab and traded dirty samples for clean samples, then how are those innocent Russians, or the “Olympic Athletes From Russia” doing here in PyeongChang?
First in the medal standings like in Sochi? Ah, no.
Racking up golds? Not even close.
Try zero gold medals. Try tied for fifth, with eight total medals. Switzerland, with 6 percent of the population of Russia, has a gold medal. South Korea has two.
One week into the Winter Olympics, the Russians, who still claim they didn’t cheat four years ago and still claim that no one is stronger in winter sports, don’t look anywhere near the strongest team here.
Must be a coincidence.
Norway is somehow just as good as last time however … 19 total medals and six golds.
The Russians have three counterarguments in this debate, although having anybody say them on the record is impossible. That’s because they are trying not to run afoul with the IOC, which has hinted that if they play nice, their ban will be lifted at the end of the Games and the Russian flag will fly at the Closing Ceremony.
1. Russia isn’t cheating but the rest of the world is. That’s why they aren’t winning any gold medals.
This, based on the history of PED abuse in international competition, and in the United States specifically. It is a pretty good argument, but whatever, prove it.
2. While some Russians were able to win appeals and come here as “Olympic Athletes From Russia” many of their best could not, meaning these are hardly the best Russian athletes that could be here. Also, the stress of competing as an unaffiliated country is taking its toll.
This is probably true but this is the punishment. Go cry in the Moskva River.
3. Have you seen our women’s curling team?
Stop distracting us.
The numbers don’t lie. Russian propaganda does lie but if there is one thing Americans have proven of late, it is that we are intelligent, analytic and reasonable. As such, we are not susceptible to Russian misinformation campaigns designed to confuse opinions and achieve Russian political objectives. Never.
The equation here is simple.
Four years ago, Russia won the most gold medals. They were ruled to have cheated. Now they haven’t won any.
Wonder what Vlad has to say about that?
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