- Associated Press - Monday, February 19, 2018

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) - It sounds like some kind of cheap joke, though no one here seems to be laughing about the Russian curler who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.

This is, after all, curling we’re talking about. Aside from the lean-and-mean Norwegian men’s team, these generally aren’t athletes who will show up in body building magazines.

Indeed, the best thing about curling may be that it’s a sport you can play with a beer in one hand and a broom in the other.

That made the news that broke Monday that Russian bronze medal curler Alexander Krushelnitsky tested positive for meldonium - the drug du jour of many Russians - shocking.

Who knew that sweeping was so hard?

Yes, Russian athletes dope, and they dope a lot. But curlers belong to a community that follows the rules so closely they keep their own score, don’t need referees and would rather lose than cheat.

Up until now there had never been a curler stripped of a medal for doping.

Give the Russians a gold medal for sheer audacity. Toss in a silver, too, for the explanation that some unnamed rival Russian athletes or the country’s political enemies could be responsible for pouring some meldonium powder on the curler’s breakfast.

But more importantly, make sure they are finally held responsible when it really matters.

The fact the druggie curler was a Russian should be an embarrassment to the entire Olympic movement. Olympic officials have spent the last few months assuring us every chance they get the last few months that the remnants of the Russian team allowed to compete in these Olympics were screened so carefully by Olympic testers that there was no chance anyone could be using anything.

But test positive, the curler did. And that could mean a lot more trouble for the team known as “Olympic Athletes From Russia” than just losing the bronze medal Krushelnitsky won in mixed doubles last week.

Russia had been angling to get reinstated to the Olympics by the closing ceremony so the 168 Russians here could march under their own flag. The next step after that would be to be returned to good graces in the world of sport despite having run a blatant state-sponsored doping system four years ago in Sochi.

Now the International Olympic Committee has no choice. Played like fools, they can’t afford now to look like fools.

The fact is the Russians shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the Olympic flame in the first place. They cheated brazenly to win the medal count in their home Olympics in 2014, switching samples through a hole in the wall in the Sochi lab so that Vladimir Putin could bask in the glory of his athletes.

But they’re here, even if it is under a neutral flag that was a joke to begin with. And for that you can blame the spineless members of the IOC that provided the cover for the Russians to come.

The Russian ban turned out to be no ban at all. Not only that, but until Monday it looked like the IOC would look favorably at the Russian request to be reinstated at the closing ceremonies so its athletes could wave the Russian flag.

In a way the positive test might have been a good thing because it shows the true Russian colors. So does the Russian response, which was to immediately blame others.

“There’s a possibility of it being something within the team, that something happened during training camp, or as a political means to achieve some goal,” said Dmitry Svishchev, who heads the Russian Curling Federation.

That’s nonsense, of course. But it’s a familiar pattern from Russian officials, who have loudly denied doing anything wrong in Sochi and complained that they are victims of some sort of international conspiracy against them.

The only real conspiracy was the one the Russians ran in Sochi to keep their dopers from getting caught. They cheated on a scale not seen since the East Germans shot their swimmers full of steroids in the 1970s, and the Russians got caught red-handed.

Let’s recap: The Russians are cheaters, and the Russians are dopers. It’s that simple, no matter how much they protest.

Allowing them to compete here was a terrible idea to begin with.

Allowing them to march under their own flag would be a complete joke.

____

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at [email protected] or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg


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