US Sliders Plan Boycott for Skeleton Championship in Sochi

US Sliders Plan Boycott for Skeleton Championship in Sochi
In response to the handling of the Russian doping scandal, US skeleton athletes may consider boycotting next year’s championship in Sochi.
First of all, for people like me who might not be as aware of winter sports:

“Skeleton” is an event that’s very similar to single-person luge. In Skeleton, however, the athletes (called “sliders“) ride with their heads at the front of their sleds and have a running start, like the beginning of a bobsled race. While these two factors make skeleton look like an extremely dangerous form of sled racing, the top speeds tend to be slower than in luge and many riders consider it the safest of the three events.

The US skeleton team came in third during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. This is incredibly controversial because, in the words of Yahoo Sports’ columnist Dan Wetzel, “the whole thing was fake” and “everything in Sochi was crooked”.

Now, just a few short years later, these athletes have been scheduled to return to Sochi for the 2017 BMW IBSF World Championships. For the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF), this is one of the biggest pre-Olympic competition on the calendar, and a boycott could have lasting results for US athletes. The results from this particular competition will be used to determine the rankings for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and by skipping the event, US sliders could negatively impact their placement in 2018.

At the moment, the US Olympic Committee has announced that they will support the decisions made by their athletes, but “does not, and will not, support blanket boycotts of any events”. Kyle Tress, an American skeleton racer, told The New York Times:

“This has been passed down the line from the very highest level of sport, and now it’s fallen into the lap of athletes. There’s tremendous support to skip this event, and I think it’s the right decision.”

Katie Uhlaender, another American skeleton racer, agreed:

“The fact that nothing has been done about the Sochi scandal and the fact that we’re still going to race there it doesn’t make us feel secure, or that they’re taking the situation seriously.”

The Russian doping controversy has been on-going for over a year now. It’s now widely accepted that the Russian Olympic team and it’s affiliates (possibly including the Federal Security Service, official successor to the KGB) provided athletes with “steroid cocktails”, tampered with test samples, and intimidated whistleblowers in order to skirt regulations and gain an edge in international competition.

While these allegations first came to light in 2014, they weren’t widely accepted until a massive file leak the following year showed that “Russian athletes had suspicious results in almost 100 drug tests administered by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)”. Following the leak, allegations continued to surface. Russia was banned from international track and field competition following the leak, but many people felt the nation’s teams were not penalized severely enough considering the widespread nature of the corruption.
In the lead up to the Rio Olympics, both Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko and President Vladamir Putin claimed Russia was being unfairly targeted as “an instrument for geopolitical pressure”. The controversy eventually inspired a reprisal by Russian hackers that culminated in the release of private medical records from several US athletes.
Some in the international community have made it clear they would like to move past this controversy and get back to focusing on regular competition, but that is clearly not a universal sentiment. For many athletes the wounds have not yet healed and the cause has yet to be addressed.
In November, WADA president Craig Reedie told reporters:
“I’m really, really keen to move forward. We need to have Russia compliant… People have been saying to us that non-serious compliance needs non-serious sanctions – and that serious non-compliance needs serious sanctions… There is much work to be done.”