Alexander Legkov is first athlete to be stripped of Olympic gold in Russian doping scandal

Cross-country skier Alexander Legkov has been stripped of his Olympic 50km title, the International Olympic Committee announced on Nov 1, 2017.
Cross-country skier Alexander Legkov has been stripped of his Olympic 50km title, the International Olympic Committee announced on Nov 1, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

LAUSANNE (AFP) - Cross-country skier Alexander Legkov was stripped of his Olympic 50km title on Wednesday (Nov 1) and banned from the Games for life, the International Olympic Committee announced, after publishing the first conclusions from a commission probing the Russian doping scandal.

Russian compatriot Evgeniy Belov was also sanctioned for life for anti-doping violations along with Legkov, who also won silver in the men's 4x10km cross-country event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

The Russian relay team were ordered to return their silver medals as well.

Lawyers for the two athletes condemned the decision as a "scandal".

The lifetime bans come just 100 days before the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and a month before the IOC executive commission meets in Lausanne to decide on Russian participation in the Games.

In December 2016, the International Ski Federation (FIS) suspended Legkov and five other Russian cross-country skiers whose names were cited in the McLaren report, which alleged state-sponsored doping in Russia from 2011 to 2015.

The investigation said the cheating peaked at the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Russian secret agents engineered an elaborate system of state-backed doping.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport last May upheld a temporary ban imposed on the skiers that ran until Oct 31.

A lawyer for Legkov, 34, and Belov, 27, said the pair would appeal the latest ruling, which does not preclude them from regular FIS competitions, to CAS by Thursday (Nov 2).

"With the decision, the IOC goes far beyond the findings provided by the McLaren report without further investigation and without further evidence, and opposes the already existing decision of CAS in the same case," read a statement from their lawyer. "The decision deserves the term scandal. (It) mocks the declaration of the President of the IOC, Dr Thomas Bach, to decide only on the basis of secure evidence."

Vitaly Mutko, Russian deputy prime minister and former minister of sport, blasted the ruling.

"This decision causes huge anguish and confusion," he said, quoted by TASS agency. "The athlete is nothing and nobody anymore. He has spent so many years in this sport, has such a list of honours, not even a positive test, and he is helpless against some indirect evidence."

Russian ski federation chief Yelena Vyalbe said the news "shocked us all", adding that they would prepare to contest the decision in sport's highest court.

The IOC, which set up a commission overseen by Swiss official Denis Oswald to shed light on the nature of doping by those mentioned in the McLaren report, said "additional decisions from these first hearings will be communicated in the coming days".

Legkov and Belov are the first athletes to have their medals and results annulled in the fallout from the scandal.

Russia's track and field Olympic squad and entire Paralympic team were barred from Rio 2016 and the country remains banned from international athletics.

Meanwhile, officials heard last week that a doping task force, set up by winter sports federations, will focus in particular on Russian athletes.

"The Summit supported the intention of the IOC Executive Board (EB) to take a decision with regard to the participation of Russian athletes in the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018 in December," read a statement from the IOC.