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7 Feb, 2022 16:21

Russians ‘shouldn’t be in Beijing,’ claims Norwegian journalist

Jan Petter Saltvedt has claimed Russians should have been barred from the Beijing Games, after skier Alexander Bolshunov won gold
Russians ‘shouldn’t be in Beijing,’ claims Norwegian journalist

A Norwegian journalist has responded with bitterness after Russian skier Alexander Bolshunov claimed gold at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Bolshunov romped to victory in the 30km skiathlon on Sunday, winning the first gold medal of the Beijing Games for the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) team.

The 25-year-old finished more than one minute ahead of countryman Denis Spitsov as they completed a Russian double, ahead of Finland’s Iivo Niskanen in third.

It was a disappointing day for winter sports powerhouses Norway at the Zhangjiakou National Cross-Country Skiing Centre as their best-placed finisher was Hans Christer Holund in fourth, followed by Paal Golberg in fifth – although both men were more than two-and-a-half minutes behind Bolshunov.

For some observers in Norway such as Saltvedt, Bolshunov’s presence atop the podium was a bitter pill to swallow, as they dragged up the doping row which means Russian athletes in Beijing are forced to compete without their national flag or anthem.

“Alexander Bolshunov took as much gold as he could. The only problem is that he and the other Russian athletes should never have been on the starting line in this Olympics,” read an article from Saltvedt on NRK.

Recalling how Bolshunov celebrated with the ROC flag as he crossed the line, the Norwegian added: “This is what you can do with a smile – when you really should never have been involved.”

Saltvedt claimed that the four-year ban handed down to Russia in 2019 by WADA – which was later halved by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and expires at the end of this year – should have been enforced in full, along with a blanket ban on Russians regardless of whether they have been declared ‘clean’ to compete.

“Not because innocent athletes should not be given their opportunities to fulfill their Olympic dreams. And collective punishment, as it is, is an instrument one should be very reluctant to use.

“But punishment without real consequences also loses another of its most basic elements, namely the preventive,” sniped Saltvedt.

“Now we end up congratulating the cross-country skier Alexander Bolshunov on his first Olympic gold – gold Bolshunov and his country women and men could have waited to get to 2026.”

The resentment comes despite ROC athletes reportedly being more tested than any other team at the Beijing Games. Russians were also among the most tested athletes at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

Russia has admitted mistakes with its anti-doping program in past years but has vehemently denied allegations of a state-sponsored doping campaign, saying that many accusations are politically-motivated. 

Bolshunov himself set one US journalist to rights when asked about doping in the press conference following his victory on Sunday.

“As for doping. When I hear about it, I really feel a little bit sick, because I don’t accept it,” said the Russian, who was skiathlon world champion last year.  

“There are clean athletes here who are always taking doping tests… Asking us questions like that is wrong.

“A result like this doesn’t just fall from the sky, behind it are years of training. 

“If you want to watch us train, then come and watch, it’s really hard work. After you look at how we work, you won’t have any more questions like that.”

When asked about Saltvedt’s article, Bolshunov’s trainer Yuri Boradavko had a curt response.

“I can only answer with the words of Professor Preobrazhensky [from the novel ‘Heart of a Dog’]: don’t read the foreign press and don’t communicate with idiots. You will be healthy and feel good!” Borodavko said.