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Saturday 17 February 2018

Russian Olympic gold medallists deny Sochi doping claims

Russian president Vladimir Putin's spokesman described the claims as
Russian president Vladimir Putin's spokesman described the claims as "a turncoat's libel"

Two Olympic gold medallists from Russia have denied doping after they were named in a newspaper report detailing state-sponsored cheating at the 2014 Sochi Games.

Bobsled champion Alexander Zubkov and cross-country skier Alexander Legkov were among the athletes accused in a New York Times article of doping by the former head of the Russian national drug-testing laboratory.

"What's written now in this article is baseless libel," Mr Zubkov told Russian state TV, adding that he regularly gave doping samples in his career.

"I'm a person who has worked for many years in sport, competed at the Olympics, and I know how much responsibility each athlete bears when they compete at such a high level."

The article also brought a strong response from the Kremlin. Russian president Vladimir Putin's spokesman denounced the allegations as "a turncoat's libel".

Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Russian lab now living in Los Angeles, told the paper that he was given a spreadsheet of doping athletes by the Sports Ministry ahead of the Games.

It allegedly bore the names of 15 athletes who later won medals, including Mr Zubkov and Mr Legkov.

Mr Rodchenkov said he then switched out tainted urine samples for clean ones at the doping lab used for the Games in Sochi, with help from people he believed to be officers of the Russian security services.

Mr Legkov defended his "honest medals" and said Mr Rodchenkov, who resigned as lab director last year following separate allegations that he covered up doping in track and field, was not a credible source.

"I don't understand why a person like this should be believed, trusted or anything else," Mr Legkov said in televised comments.

Mr Zubkov and Mr Legkov are two of Russia's most prominent winter sports athletes.

Mr Zubkov carried the Russian flag at the opening ceremony for the Sochi Olympics and won gold in the two-man and four-man bobsled events at the age of 39, becoming one of the oldest pilots to win an Olympic event.

Mr Legkov won gold in the men's 50-kilometre cross-country mass start on the last day of the Games and was given his gold medal at the closing ceremony.

Both later threatened to sue Mr Rodchenkov for defamation, with Mr Zubkov calling the accusations "simply lunacy".

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin rejects the accusations that the Russian government oversaw a state-sponsored doping programme and subsequent cover-up.

"It just seems like, you know, some kind of a turncoat's libel," Mr Peskov said, without mentioning Mr Rodchenkov by name.

"I wouldn't put trust in such unfounded claims."

The government continues to back Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, he added.

The country's deputy sports minister, Yuri Nagornykh, said there is no way that Russia could have manipulated doping samples at the Sochi Games because of the presence of foreign observers.

"(Russia) did not have the opportunity to influence in any way the system of doping control procedures, storage and transport," Mr Nagornykh said.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) is set to investigate Mr Rodchenkov's allegations, and Mr Rodchenkov himself has volunteered to identify which samples he tampered with.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said the "allegations are very detailed and very worrying and we ask the World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate immediately".

The IOC said, based on the result of the WADA inquiry, that it "will not hesitate to act with its usual policy of zero tolerance for doping and defending the clean athletes".

Press Association

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