- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin said Wednesday that Russian athletes should still compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang despite the International Olympic Committee barring Russia for wide-spread doping.

The IOC ruled that the country’s athletes can still participate, if they’re clean, but it must be done under the title neutral Olympic Athlete from Russia, or OAR.

Ovechkin said players shouldn’t boycott the games because of the ruling.

“It was funny, I woke up today and some guys in Russia said we should boycott,” Ovechkin said. “But I never said that. I support our decision, our hockey team. I’m pretty sure they’re going and I’m going to cheer for them.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would allow the country’s athletes to still participate.

NHL players are not allowed to compete in next year’s Olympics because league Commissioner Gary Bettman said it would be too much of a disruption in the middle of the season. Ovechkin, previously upset with the decision, said he would go anyway, but reversed course right before the start of training camp.

The IOC banned Russia over the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the 2014 Sochi Olympics after a lengthy investigation that found evidence of a state-sponsored doping scheme. 

Because of the ban, the Russian national anthem will not be played on the podium if any of their athletes medal.

But Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov doesn’t see that as big of a problem.

“If you win a medal, [Russian fans] will sing the national anthem for you anyway,” Kuznetsov said. “That will probably will be the best, when lots of Russian people will sing the national anthem. If some of the athletes doesn’t make a decision yet, that’s their opinion, but for me personally, I would still probably go because for some people, it’s a lot of years preparing.”

Kuznetsov has never competed in the Olympics and previously voiced his disappointment in the NHL’s ruling.

Ovechkin, who has played for Russia in three Olympics, said it was a tough situation for everyone involved.

“It’s hard for athlete, some athletes work out for maybe three years to get ready for the Olympics,” he said. “It’s hard. … I think our athletes have to go and do their best.”

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