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Uncertainty Over Russian Athletes' Participation Clouds Olympics


So we're just days away from the beginning of the Winter Olympics. And we still have no idea how many Russian athletes are going to be there. Russia has been banned due to a major doping scandal. But individual athletes are being allowed to compete. Currently, 47 Russian athletes and coaches are having last-minute appeals heard to see if they can take part. Here's more from NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: These Winter Games are the second straight Olympics where the final run-up has been clouded by a who's-in, who's-out process. Once again, Olympic organizers and courts are making last-minute decisions about whether Russian athletes are clean or dirty. All the while, the games' overseer, the International Olympic Committee, insists it's getting tough on doping. Dick Pound isn't buying it.


DICK POUND: We talk more than we walk.

GOLDMAN: Traditionally, IOC meetings are genteel affairs. But at this week's pre-games gathering in Pyeongchang, veteran IOC member Pound was in no mood for tradition. Pound is a longtime anti-doping advocate, and he unloaded on his organization for the way he said it's mishandled the Russian doping situation.

POUND: I believe that in the collective mind of a significant portion of the world, the IOC has not only failed to protect clean athletes but has made it possible for cheating athletes to prevail.

GOLDMAN: Pound said the IOC has been more concerned with getting Russian athletes into these games than holding Russia accountable for the massive doping system detailed in two major investigations. Once Pound yielded the floor, his colleague Gerardo Werthein accused Pound of discrediting the IOC's work and creating an environment of doubt. And then it got personal.


GERARDO WERTHEIN: For some reason, if Mr. Pound does not agree, then it's wrong. The only thing that is right for him is what he agrees.

GOLDMAN: Pound shot back.


POUND: I think it's extremely inappropriate to turn this into an ad hominem situation.

GOLDMAN: While officials squabbled, athletes in Pyeongchang prepped for their Olympic moments which, this week, meant a mix of training and fielding questions about doping.

DEVON KERSHAW: It is disheartening. It is disappointing. Maybe for some, at times, it's even angering.

GOLDMAN: This is the fourth Olympic Games for Canadian cross-country skier Devon Kershaw. He says what's disheartening is what he calls the murkiness behind the current scandal as different organizations, behind closed doors, try to figure out which Russians are really clean or dirty.

KERSHAW: Yeah. Of course it's hard to believe in the true and just process just because it is so convoluted.

GOLDMAN: Kershaw's pessimism about the process is popular among Olympic athletes but not all. A few feet away from where Kershaw was conducting interviews, cross-country teammate Alex Harvey was sounding bullish on the IOC. He praised the committee's ban of Russia while still inviting clean athletes. Harvey is one of the world's best, and it was startling to hear him speak sympathetically about Russian athletes who dope and who might edge Harvey off the podium because of it.

ALEX HARVEY: I was born in Quebec City with great parents, great education.

GOLDMAN: Which, he said, isn't always the case for his Russian competitors.

HARVEY: It doesn't justify them doping. But I can understand why they say yes because when they win an Olympic medal, they get a big check cut for themself. And they're set up for the rest of their life.

GOLDMAN: He says that, even though one of the world's best cross-country skiers is among the Russians trying to get into the Olympics at the very last moment.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Pyeongchang.


Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.