Russian stars have been blocked from an array of international competitions – conveniently paving the way to success for their rivals
If you want to be crowned world champion in any sport, typically you need to beat the best to get there.
But after Russians were banned by a host of sporting federations because of the conflict in Ukraine, rising to the top in some competitions will seemingly become a whole lot easier for some of their rivals.
Here, we take a look at six sports where becoming a champion will now be possible without having to overcome the challenge posed by Russian contenders.
When the 2021-22 figure skating season came to a close last month at the World Championships in Montpellier, France, it did so without any Russian talent in attendance.
The International Skating Union (ISU)
announced a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian skaters on March 1, ruling them out of competition “until further notice.”
The Russian absence in Montpellier was particularly profound in the women’s event, where the likes of Olympic champion Anna Shcherbakova, world record points holder Kamila Valieva, and ‘quad queen’ Alexandra Trusova were prevented from gracing the ice.
To put Russian figure skating dominance into perspective, all three spots on the women’s singles podium at last year’s World Championships were occupied by Russians, with Shcherbakova top of the pile.
The is year’s ladies title was claimed by Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto. Her performance was impressive, but her total tally of 236.09 indicated just how far off her Russian rivals she would have been.
Valieva’s world-record stands at 272.71, while Shcherbakova registered 255.95 to earn Olympic gold in Beijing.
Conspicuously absent in the women’s competition were the so-called ‘ultra-C’ elements that Russian stars such as Valieva, Shcherbakova and Trusova routinely sprinkle into the routines.
While some Western observers gloated at the absence of Russian skaters, observers in Russia said it had been like watching a figure skating show from 20 years ago, such was the level.
Elsewhere, Russian talent was missing in the form of Olympic ice dance silver medalists and 2021 world champions Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov.
Pairs duos Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov – who scooped silver and bronze in Beijing respectively – were forced to sit out proceedings, as was rising teenage star Mark Kondratiuk – the 2022 European Champion. “It is easier to perform without Russians or other athletes. This is a fact,” said Russian Olympic icon Irina Rodnina recently.
Indeed, if the ban on Russian figure skaters remains in place once the ISU Grand Prix season gets going later this year, podium places will be much less troublesome to come by.
At the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics more than a third of the 32 medals won by the Russian team came in cross-country skiing events.
Russian stars racked up 11 podium places in total – even more than traditional powerhouses Norway, although the Norwegians left China with five gold medals compared to Russia’s four.
Achievements by the likes of triple gold medalist Alexander Bolshunov and Russia’s 4x5km women’s relay stars were evidence of their nation’s cross-country resurgence.
Outside of the Beijing Games, Russia’s Natalia Nepryaeva picked up the prestigious Tour de Ski title and overall World Cup crown – claiming the latter accolade despite being barred from competing in the last two races of the event.
That ban was the result of
a decision by the International Ski Federation (FIS) on March 1 not to allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes for the remainder of the season.
Should that sanction extend to next season, the cross-country skiing circuit will be deprived of big names such as Bolshunov, Nepryaeva and rising 21-year-old women’s star Veronika Stepanova, also a relay gold medalist in Beijing.
“When the strongest skiers are excluded, it will be just the Norwegian championship, since the Russian team is a direct competitor,” said Bolshunov derisively of the ban. “At the Olympic Games, we proved that we are one of the main athletes in skiing, we are worthy of the Olympic Games, the World Championships, the World Cup. “Competition should be in a fair fight, in a clean fight, and when this doesn’t happen, it is no longer sport,” added the 25-year-old. Gymnastics
Gymnastics can be filed as another sport where Russia is a traditional powerhouse but its athletes are currently suspended.
The Russian team finished only behind China in the Tokyo 2020 gymnastics medal table, scooping 10 medals in total including gold in the men’s and women’s all-around team event. The women’s team triumph was especially notable for ending American dominance.
In rhythmic gymnastics, Russia’s Dina Averina was controversially deprived of a gold medal in Tokyo by Israel’s Linoy Ashram, although Averina had been strongly tipped to bounce back and add to her remarkable haul of 18 world championship titles.
At least, that was the case before
the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) announced in March that it did not want to see Russian and Belarusian athletes at its competitions “until further notice.”
The decision has ruled the likes of Averina and 2021 all-around artistic world champion Angelina Melnikova out of a host of World Cup events.
They are also set to miss the European Championships in rhythmic gymnastics in Tel Aviv in June, and the artistic equivalent in Munich planned for August. Beyond that are the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Liverpool in October and November.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) confirmed this week that Russia had appealed the FIG sanctions, but as things stand, a range of gymnastics showpieces will take place without Russian participation.
After initially stating that Russian and Belarusian athletes would be allowed to compete as neutrals at this year’s World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, swimming authority FINA
reversed that decision and declared a blanket ban on the two countries. The Russian Swimming Federation responded by saying it was pulling out of all FINA events for the remainder of the year.
The result means the likes of Russian double Olympic champion Evgeny Rylov will be absent from the pool for the foreseeable future, although the 25-year-old finds himself at the center of another investigation for his appearance at a Moscow concert in March celebrating the reunification of Russia and Crimea, where he was seen in a jacket emblazoned with the ‘Z’ symbol used to show support for Russian forces in Crimea.
The Russian team was fifth in the swimming medal table at the Tokyo Games last summer, some way off the likes of the USA and Australia, although the nation’s artistic (synchronized) swimmers are in a league of their own and claimed both gold medals on offer in Japan.
Such is their dominance that Russian stars are unbeaten at Olympic level in more than 20 years in the team and duet events, while they have been just as all-conquering at the World Championships, swept along by the likes of the peerless Svetlana Romashina.
But in the absence of Russian stars, their rivals finally seem set for some rare time at the top of the podium.
Although less successful in recent years than during the Soviet ‘Red Machine’ heyday, hockey in Russia remains hugely popular. The biggest recent glory was men’s gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics, and there was disappointment when they fell short at the recent Games in Beijing, losing to Finland in the final.
Russia has not won the World Championships since 2014, managing three bronze medal and two silver medal finishes since that time, but the nation is nonetheless widely considered as an international powerhouse – not least when it can call on a host of Russian NHL-based stars.
But both Russia and Belarus have been expelled from the next World Championships in Finland in May, after
the IIHF announced its ban on participation by the two countries across all competitions and age categories. Russia could also be stripped of the 2023 edition of the World Championships in St. Petersburg.
That remains unclear, but one thing does seem more certain: victory on the ice for this year’s world champions will come without a Russian obstacle in the way.
United World Wrestling
confirmed on March 2 that it was following the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommendation not to invite Russian participants to any upcoming tournaments, thus depriving the sport of one of its most successful sources of talent. “The UWW Bureau will continue to monitor the situation in Ukraine and make any further immediate decisions as the situation evolves,” the UWW added.
Just prior to the ban being announced, Russia
said it would not send its athletes to the U23 European Championships or the senior men’s equivalent which recently concluded in Budapest.
freestyle wrestling, Russia has continued the traditions of the Soviet Union with some dominant displays by the likes of the legendary Abdulrashid Sadulaev and Khadzhimurat Gatsalov in more recent years. At last year’s World Wrestling Championships in Norway, Russian men’s freestyle wrestler won three golds and eight medals in total. They topped the team rankings in that discipline as well as Greco-Roman wrestling.
The action at this year’s World Championships in Belgrade in September seems set to pass off without Russian participation – potentially meaning an easier route to the top for some competitors.
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