Russian Athletes Are At The PyeongChang Opening Ceremony, But There’s A Catch

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The opening ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics featured athletes from over 90 countries who all took part in the customary Parade of Nations inside South Korea's PyeongChang Olympic Stadium. That large group of athletes included competitors from Russia, but the nation itself wasn't officially recognized during the ceremony, nor will it be during any competition. If you're wondering why Russia isn't walking in the 2018 Olympics opening ceremony, you're probably not alone.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) only decided in December 2017, two months before the start of the PyeongChang Olympics, that Russia would be banned at the 2018 winter games.

The ban stipulates that no Russian government officials will be allowed at the games and that the Russian flag will not be displayed during any competition or ceremony, among other consequences.

The ban is the result of the committee's investigation into whether or not Russia had been guilty of widespread use of performance enhancing drugs. In a press release announcing the ban, the IOC said its investigation found that Russia had indeed overseen "the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia, through the Disappearing Positive Methodology and during the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, as well as the various levels of administrative, legal and contractual responsibility, resulting from the failure to respect the respective obligations of the various entities involved."

The New York Times reported that, during the Sochi Olympics, Russian "antidoping experts and members of the intelligence service" went as far as tampering with as many as 100 urine samples that might have otherwise revealed the use of performance enhancers by Russian athletes.

The Olympic ban on Russia means the country has gone from hosting the Winter Olympics, back in 2014, to not being recognized at all during the PyeongChang games.

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How Will Russian Athletes Be Represented At The PyeongChang Olympics?

Despite the fact that team Russia will be banned from the Olympics, the games will still feature Russian athletes. The IOC is allowing 168 Russian athletes to compete in PyeongChang after being vetted by a select panel of officials.

Because Russia is formally banned from the competition, those 168 athletes will be recognized as "Olympic Athletes from Russia." That's why they marched during the parade of nations under the Olympics flag and wore gray jackets, instead of using tradition Russian colors (as shown in the photo below).

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The Olympic flag is generally used for athletes who are not attached to a nation that is officially competing at the Olympics. During the 2016 summer games in Rio, for instance, a group of 10 athletes who are refugees from Syria, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo marched under the Olympic flag during the parade of nations.

Now, the Olympic flag is being used under much difference circumstances, to punish the Russian Olympic Committee.

"This was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport," IOC President Thomas Bach said in the statement announcing the Russia ban. "The IOC EB [executive board], after following due process, has issued proportional sanctions for this systemic manipulation while protecting the clean athletes. This should draw a line under this damaging episode and serve as a catalyst for a more effective anti-doping system led by WADA."

Despite the IOC's ban, 47 Russian athletes appealed the Court of Arbitration for Sport in order to challenge their exclusion from the PyeongChange Olympics. Some of those challenges have not been resolved as of the day of the winter games' opening ceremony on Friday, the New York Times reports.

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In the meantime, a pair of Russian athletes has already completed a competition at the Winter Olympics. On Thursday, Feb. 8, Team USA brother-sister duo Matt and Becca Hamilton won a mixed curling contest against Anastasia Bryzgalova and Aleksandr Krushelnitckii in PyeongChang.

During the competition, Bryzgalova and Krushelnitckii wore generic, black and white polo shirts that bore their new team's name: Olympic Athletes from Russia.