PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – There was an offseason when U.S. skeleton athlete Katie Uhlaender got a knock on her door from drug testers 19 times in the span of a few weeks. Sometimes they wanted blood. Sometimes they wanted urine. Often, they wanted both.
The process is annoying. It’s also effective, so Uhlaender and her teammates wonder why it’s not the global standard.
Uhlaender and other members of the U.S. skeleton team suggested Thursday that the rest of the world should follow the testing model employed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, especially with the ongoing fallout from the Russian doping scandal that saw widespread accusations of cheating and now a belief that many flat-out beat a broken system.
“I’d love if the global model adopted ours,” three-time U.S. men’s skeleton Olympian John Daly said. “We get tested pretty strictly, as does Canada. Everyone else? You talk to some of the other athletes, they don’t even know how to fill out the paperwork. The testing isn’t happening. We don’t care if our testing is strict. That’s fine with me. We just want the rest of the world to be like ours.”
It’s not the first time American athletes have offered this opinion. Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps took his pleas for change to Congress last year, saying that he does not believe “that I’ve stood up at international competitions and the rest of the field has been clean.”
Same goes these days for sliders, who saw many Russians sanctioned and banned by the International Olympic Committee — and many of those reinstated after appeals went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“I’m not in other nations’ testing pools, so I can’t speak exactly for how often they get tested,” said Matt Antoine, a two-time Olympian and the bronze medalist in men’s skeleton at the Sochi Games. “But my perception, talking to them, is we get tested considerably more than they do.”
Uhlaender finished fourth at the Sochi Olympics four years ago. When Russia’s Elena Nikitina was found by the IOC to have been part of the doping program at those Olympics, Uhlaender was expected to move up to Nikitina’s bronze-medal spot. But the CAS ruling essentially restored Nikitina’s medal, Uhlaender still doesn’t have one and now Nikitina is among those in Pyeongchang fighting for a chance to compete.
“Mindblowing,” Uhlaender said. “I think initially when the IOC took such a strong stance to ban Russia and suspend the federation completely and strip the medals, it gave the athletes who are holding on to the spirit of sport hope and kind of strengthened our Olympic spirit. And then when CAS took that away, it did the opposite. So I think we’re all turning to the IOC for reform and to take a strong stance to give us that spirit back.
“We’re holding onto an Olympic spirit that feels like it’s dying.”
There are still 45 Russian athletes who are trying last-minute appeals with hopes of getting into the Olympics. Some coaches and support staff who were banned also are trying to win appeals before CAS, which is planning to issue decisions Friday — just hours before the opening ceremony.
Nikitina believes she will win, and said the Russians will fight for as long as they can. If they are successful, the IOC may have no choice but to accept athletes who they say are dopers.
“For me, if that’s allowed, my faith in the system will be heartbroken,” Uhlaender said.