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Russia Olympics Ban Aimed At Giving 'Clean' Athletes Chance, Says IOC Chief

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach (file photo)
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach (file photo)

The head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) says it was trying to strike a balance between punishing Russia and giving a new generation of athletes a chance to compete in future Games when it banned the country for what it called "systematic" doping.

Speaking to reporters in a telephone conference on January 24, Thomas Bach said invitations to the upcoming 2018 Winter Games in South Korea will go only to clean athletes with "not the slightest doubt or suspicion" about them.

The IOC wanted to "give clean Russian athletes the opportunity to participate, and give a young and new generation of clean Russian athletes the opportunity to be at the Olympic Games and be ambassadors for a new clean Russian sport," Bach said.

Russia has said it is seeking clarification from the IOC after what President Vladimir Putin's spokesman called "deplorable" indications that six-time Olympic gold medalist Viktor Ahn and other prominent athletes Moscow claims are clean have been barred from competing in the Winter Olympics in February.

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) said on January 23 that short-track speed skater Ahn -- as well as cross-country skier Sergei Ustyugov and biathlete Anton Shipulin, both reigning world champions -- were not in an IOC pool of Russian athletes who are potentially eligible to compete at the games in Ahn's native South Korea.

In December, the IOC banned Russia from the February 9-25 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, citing its "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of the Olympic anti-doping system.

But it said that some Russians would be allowed to compete as neutral athletes provided they meet certain guidelines on doping.

The IOC said on January 19 that it had reduced the pool of Russian athletes eligible to potentially compete to 389 from 500. It said that Russia could begin proposing for specific athletes in the pool to be cleared to take part, and indicated that a final decision on which Russians could compete could come on January 27.

ROC Vice President Stanislav Pozdnyakov said that he discovered the absence of athletes including Ahn, Ustyugov, and Shipulin from the pool during negotiations with IOC officials on January 22, and asked the IOC to explain why they were not included.

He said that "multiple samples taken throughout their careers" had shown that the three were "clean athletes."

Russian officials deny state-sponsored doping, despite voluminous evidence.

Born Ahn Hyun-soo in Seoul, Ahn won three gold medals and a bronze for South Korea at the 2006 Olympics in Turin.

After falling out with his country's skating union, Ahn gave up his South Korean passport and switched allegiance to Russia in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where he won three golds and a bronze.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and TASS