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Russia To Respond To Olympics Ban


The country that hosted the Winter Olympics in 2014 will not be sending any athletes under its flag to the Olympics in 2018. It's a steep fall for Russia, which won medal after medal at the Olympics in Sochi. Anti-doping officials say Russia's spectacular performance in 2014 was thanks in part to state-sponsored use of performance-enhancing drugs, which is why the International Olympic Committee has now banned Russia from the upcoming games in South Korea. NPR's Lucian Kim is in Moscow, and he's going to begin here with a story of the man who helped to trigger the ban. Who is he, Lucian?

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. Well, his name is Grigory Rodchenkov, and he used to head the Moscow anti-doping lab. And the reason that he's interesting is he actually fled Russia a couple of years ago, and he's now in hiding in the United States under a witness protection plan. And the things he described are really quite amazing. He's described, you know, second clean urine samples, a hole in the wall in the Sochi lab where those samples were switched late at night by security agents. And just recently, portions of his diary were made public that seemed to implicate even the highest officials in the Russian state sports bureaucracy. So the main argument against Russia right now is that this is not just a case of a few athletes using these kind of drugs but really a state-sponsored system with top government officials deeply involved.

INSKEEP: And one that seems to have been uncovered by a Russian, not by some foreign influence.

KIM: Exactly. Of course, he's being portrayed in Russian media as a crook, as a madman, and he's actually a wanted man in Russia and Russians would - the Russian government would like to have him back in Russia.

INSKEEP: OK. So the International Olympic Committee has gone with his evidence, in effect, and they've said Russia cannot send athletes under its flag to the games in South Korea. Although I guess they could send individual athletes under some kind of neutral flag. Is that right?

KIM: Yes, exactly, under the Olympic flag. And what we've heard now is that Russia's Olympic athletes are going to get together on Tuesday and decide on their participation. Really, I've seen all sorts of reaction from athletes. Some say yes, you know, we've worked so hard. We should definitely participate, even under a neutral flag. And others say under no circumstances. It's, you know, humiliating for our country, and we can only compete under a Russian flag.

INSKEEP: Has the Russian government admitted to any wrongdoing whatsoever?

KIM: (Laughter) No. I mean, the Russian government has been very consistent about this from the very beginning. It's flat-out denial. There were bad apples. There were athletes who did use these prohibited drugs, but there was no state involvement and...

INSKEEP: Oh, they admit to the bad apples. They just don't admit to the system.

KIM: Exactly. And I think they're saying, well, what makes us different from any other country which also - there are athletes in other countries that use doping. And I mean, the way it's being portrayed right now is that really these decisions - I mean, this Olympic ban - are part of a much larger anti-Russian campaign led by Western countries, in particular the United States.

INSKEEP: OK. Lucian, thank you very much.

KIM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.