BEIJING, China — As the Beijing Winter Olympics came to a close, a Russian athlete was once again in the spotlight.
During the Closing Ceremony, medal presentations were held for the men's and women's 30-kilometer mass start cross-country ski races. Despite winning gold, Russian athlete Alexander Bolshunov did not get to hear the national anthem of Russia play after he got his medal.
Instead, the 25-year-old had to settle for Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, a beautiful but distinctive tune from the dynamic and bellowing Russian anthem that has become an international symbol of the country's global presence since its Soviet days.
The reason that Russian athletes who win gold have different situations than other countries? They are competing as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), not the Russian Federation.
Russia's name and flag are banned from the Olympics in the continuing fallout from the doping scandals which dominated the last decade of Russian sports, the most recent of which involved 15-year-old figure skater Kamila Valieva during these Olympics, further tarnishing the country's sports culture.
The three-letter code ROC stands for Russian Olympic Committee, whose flag was used — including a stylized Russian tricolor emblem — and the team's anthem was chosen as the Tchaikovsky piece. Russia's critics wanted stricter rules, including a vetting mechanism to bar athletes involved in doping cover-ups, before the Court of Arbitration for Sports watered down the sanctions package.
It was the third Olympics under these restrictions for Russia, which fielded an ROC team at last year's Tokyo Olympics and the “Olympic Athlete from Russia” team at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The 2018 sanctions were for doping and cover-ups when Russia hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The current punishment is for a further cover-up, when the World Anti-Doping Agency found it had been handed manipulated doping data from the country's national testing lab, which was under the control of Russian law enforcement.
The restrictions on Russia expire in December 2022, well before the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, but it is unclear whether this will change as a result of the Valieva scandal. The Russian government denies there was any state involvement in doping.