The women’s ice hockey squad is the latest Russian team to be disqualified from the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi for doping, the International Olympic Committee has announced.
Six of the 21-woman squad – Inna Dyubanok, Ekaterina Lebedeva, Ekaterina Pashkevich, Anna Shibanova, Galina Skiba and Ekaterina Smolentseva – have been sanctioned for taking part in an elaborate sample-swapping conspiracy, with a case against a seventh, undisclosed athlete closed because of insufficient evidence.
These decisions have been reached by one of the two disciplinary commissions set up by the IOC last year to investigate claims Russia conducted a state-sponsored doping programme between 2011 and 2015.
Led by IOC member Denis Oswald, this commission is focusing on individual athletes and has now disqualified and banned for life 31 Sochi Olympians from Russia, with two cleared.
In a statement, the IOC said there are also 13 cases still ongoing and “it cannot be excluded that there might be new elements that would justify opening further new cases”.
So far, Russian athletes have lost 11 Sochi medals, including four golds.
The Russian women’s ice hockey team won its first three games in Sochi, but was then handed a shock defeat by Switzerland in the quarter-finals before losing the fifth-place play-off to Finland.
Russian whistle-blower Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, the ex-director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, has told investigators that the women’s ice hockey team was a late addition to his state-sponsored doping programme, forcing him to combine stored samples of ‘clean’ urine when he was replacing the contents of opened sample bottles in Sochi.
This is why the re-analysed samples of two female Russian ice hockey players were found to contain urine from more than one athlete in an earlier investigation on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Ranked fourth in the world, Russia have qualified for February’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang and have today confirmed their intention to compete as neutral athletes.
This follows the IOC decision last week to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee and allow only invited athletes to compete in South Korea as ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’, in uniforms bearing the OAR acronym.
There will also be no Russian anthems or flags during the opening or medal ceremonies but Russia’s suspension is likely to be lifted to allow the team to take part in the closing ceremony as normal – a compromise that has led some anti-doping experts to claim Russia has got away lightly for its flagrant cheating.