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US Olympic athletes fear Russian dope cheats could get off scot-free

Biathlete Lowell Bailey addresses the media during the Team USA Media Summit ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games on September 25, 2017 in Park City, Utah
AFP

Park City (United States) (AFP) – American athletes preparing for next year’s Winter Olympics called for tough sanctions against Russia on Monday, voicing fears cheats could escape punishment over the doping scandal from the 2014 Games.

Lowell Bailey, the first US world biathlon champion with a 20km crown earlier this year, and Susan Dunklee, the first US woman on a world podium with a 12.5km mass start runner-up effort, were outspoken as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) began a visit to evaluate Russian anti-doping efforts.

“Maintaining integrity is the path we have to stand on,” Dunklee said. “Russia has taken part in state-sponsored doping. They’ve destroyed all the evidence and because they destroyed all the evidence they’re getting away with everything they did.”

Bailey said he was “discouraged” by the slow pace of WADA and International Olympic Committe probes and said “meaningful outcomes” are needed if the 2015 McLaren report’s detailing of state-sponsored doping in Russia at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics is true.

“I don’t think you can let that go without a penalty. To do so would be to embolden those actors that think doping is a means to achieve success on the Olympic stage,” Bailey said.

“It needs to be a harsh enough penalty to let the world know doping is not acceptable.”

Athletics world governing body IAAF banned Russian track and field competitors from the Rio Olympics and Bailey said, “The IAAF outcome is about as elegant a solution as you could come to.”

That would include allowing clean athletes to compete under a neutral flag.

“Allowing clean athletes to prove they’re clean and compete under a neutral flag is an elegant solution,” he said.

Dunklee wants a stiff punishment for Russia as well.

“If we don’t it sets the precedent that anything is valid,” she said. “And that kills the spirit of sport.”

Bailey, who plans to have his wife and daughter join him in South Korea, said he was confident in safety measures even with harsh insults between US and North Korean leaders and the February 9-25 event only 80km (50 miles) from North Korea.

“I’m encouraged by what the security briefings have been by the (US) Olympic Committee. They have done a good job of letting the athletes know what’s going on,” he said.

“The proximity is close but the Olympics is one of the safest places you can be in terms of heightened security. There are a lot of people working behind the scenes to make sure the Olympics are safe. I’m very confident.

“I trust the Olympic Committee and State Department are very diligent and wouldn’t put athletes in harm’s way.”

– ‘Anything possible’ in doping –

Dunklee’s focus was on Russian doping, saying she wants a total split in IOC and WADA officials.

“I’m not convinced WADA and the IOC have our best interests at heart,” she said.

She wants tougher punishments for greater numbers of people and said fines are paltry compared to the funding that some programs have available.

“I don’t think there’s enough punishments to team doctors or coaches or governments,” she said, backing a proposal for life bans on Olympics for dope cheats.

Regarding Sochi cheating, including an infamous “hole in the wall” where certain samples were dropped, Dunklee pondered possible doping cheats in Pyeongchang.

“I used to think biathlon was clean until hearing about the hole in the wall in Sochi. It seems like anything is possible out there right now,” she said.

“It’s not always in the back of my mind but it certainly pops into my head sometimes.

“There are more important things in the world than winning and one of those is the way of winning.”

A prime example was doping-disgraced US cyclist Lance armstrong, stripped of seven Tour De France titles.

“All those things are going on,” Dunklee said. “I was a fan of the Tour de France. I loved watching Lance. It was such a let down when all those things came out.”

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