PYEONGCHANG — That a Russian male curler has tested positive for Maria Sharapova’s former drug of choice is basically irrelevant.
It’s not controversial. It’s not as shocking as some people might have you think. Big picture, it’s rather unimportant considering the highly important history of performance enhancing drugs, Olympics, and Russians, three terms that seem to make for unavoidable sporting sentences.
Ben Johnson and Charlie Francis in South Korea this isn’t.
This isn’t life altering or internationally significant.
The story that matters, though — and it isn’t getting any real play here at all — is the look of the medal standings as we approach the home stretch of the Winter Olympic Games. OAR, the letters we’ve attached to the Olympic Athletes from Russian here competing without flag or anthem and with hockey jerseys that look like they were crested for your local house league, has yet to win a gold medal here at the Games.
And the last time that happened — was never.
On average, over the past 10 Winter Olympics, the Russians have won eight gold medals per Games. Eighty three in all. Four years ago at home in Sochi, they led all countries in the medal standings with 11 golds. It was their third time winning 11 gold medals in the Winter.
Systematic cheating will do that for you. And now, nothing. No gold. They’re tied with traditional Winter Games powers, like Australia or Liechtenshtein, on the shutout scale of gold.
Which strangely means the International Olympic Committee, who clumsily and awkwardly allowed Russian athletes to compete here when every bit of logic said to ban them, is actually succeeding with its approach to Russia. It may have been accidental in approach, but it is exposing the Russians directly.
The story here, is basically this: clean Russians can’t win. And not knowing in the past who was clean and who wasn’t, we just watched and counted and wondered to ourselves. The athletes tend to know who is clean and who isn’t. But whispering doesn’t catch anyone. Investigation does that.
But the truth is, we’ve never seen anything like this before at any Winter Olympics. The shrinking of a people. The disappearance of gold. These Russian emperors, maybe the men’s hockey team aside, basically have been caught with no clothes. No clothes and no gold medals.
And the screams we heard before the Games — and I was among the screaming — was that these Russians should have been banned from here, the way the Paralympics chose to ban them. Once you know, you can’t allow cheaters in the Olympics. You have to put an end to that. That was the cry and it was probably the right cry.
So who saw this coming?
Who saw the Russians without any teeth at all?
The IOC looked clumsy and weak in letting them compete here under whatever banner you wanted to provide them with.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport looked just as awkward in allowing Russians to win their drug testing appeals.
And WADA, the world body, which is well-intentioned but almost toothless, stood by frustrated along with Canadian IOC member Dick Pound as though a disservice was being done to their process, their tests and their beliefs. And it was.
But could there be any sanction stronger and more powerful than inviting the Russians here and having them fall flat on their faces?
From one of the dominant Winter Olympic nations of all time.
It wasn’t planned that way. And now they lose a bronze medal with the positive test in mixed curling — a rather unusual juxtaposition — and the disqualification and embarrassment that goes along with it. They don’t have medals to lose here.
Just a sporting reputation again in tatters.
Prior to the positive curling test, some Russian athletes had gone on the record and spoken about what matters most at these Games. It wasn’t medals. It was getting through these Games and being able to recapture who they are in the end. Their own flag. Their own emblems. Their ability not to be anonymous.
All that is gone now. It’s entirely possible that the Russians will win gold in hockey on the final Sunday of the Games, because in a hockey tournament without NHL players, they have former high-level NHL players such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Slava Voynov. Unless, of course, somebody tests positive.
There is always that.
If it can happen to a Russian in mixed doubles curling, it can happen anywhere.