SALT LAKE CITY — Alpine bobsledder Chris Fogt realized that he’d earned an Olympic medal on the last day of the Olympics in February 2014 when he saw the reaction of his teammates waiting in the finish area of the Sanki Sliding Center in Russia.
“Nothing can describe that feeling of finishing, that moment of coming up the braking stretch (of track) and seeing your teammates jumping up and down,” he said. “That feeling of elation that all that hard work paid off, it’s indescribable.”
Colorado skeleton athlete Katie Uhlaender learned that she was a bronze medalist while training in Canada, nearly four years after leaving that same finish area heartbroken and in disbelief.
“To wake up in the morning and hear that I was a bronze medalist was surreal,” she told the Deseret News a few days after learning that the Russian who edged her off the podium by four-hundredths of a second had been disqualified for doping. “Everyone kept hugging me. … Honestly, I just started crying.”
Russia’s elaborate effort to administer performance-enhancing drugs to many of its athletes before and during the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, stole Uhlaender’s Olympic moment.
But, on Tuesday, a decision by the International Olympic Committee to ban the Russian Federation from the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics restored her faith in the system that’s supposed to ensure fairness for all athletes.
“The IOC has kind of restored my faith in the system,” she told the Deseret News a few days after learning about her bronze medal. “It makes me feel like I’m not alone anymore. … I think it’s a huge step in the right direction.”
While some might feel that the IOC’s action, which allows individual athletes from Russia to go through a process of drug testing that may allow them to compete as independent athletes, is too little, too late, U.S. athletes like Uhlaender and Fogt are grateful for all of the actions taken by the IOC the past month.
“It means something to the entire world,” Uhlaender said. “I feel inspired to know that my fellow competitors and I are going into Korea with cleaner competition.”
Fogt was surprised but pleased with Tuesday’s announcement.
“I think it’s a great move by the IOC to crack down on cheating,” he said in a text conversation with the Deseret News a few hours after the announcement. “It sends a strong message to anyone thinking of cheating, too. It also shows that they are trying to keep the Olympics clean and untainted. It is a heavy punishment, but they have access to all the reports, so I think it’s pretty clear that the evidence is there.”
He is, however, glad that the IOC allowed a way for Russian athletes who didn’t — or don’t — cheat to still compete in February’s Pyeongchang Games.
“On the flip side, I hope the clean athletes can get vetted and are able to compete, too,” Fogt said. “A lot of work goes into training and waiting to compete on that stage, and it is a life changer. It is going to be an interesting process and story line leading up to Korea.”
Fogt was in Utah training with three of his teammates when he learned that his bronze would be upgraded to silver pending the promised appeals by Russia. Like Uhlaender, he said he’d heard rumors about Russian doping for years.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “You grow up watching the Olympic Games, and you just assume the whole mantra, that you’re not there for the money, the glory. You’re there for your country. And then you try to cheat the system.”
He said part of his shock is that the IOC disqualified one of bobsled’s superstars in three-time Olympian and Sochi double gold medalist Alexandr Zubkov.
“I was a little hesitant to believe they’d go after Zubkov,” Fogt said.
“He is a huge deal, has tons of clout, he carried the Russian flag in the opening ceremony, he sat next to Vladimir Putin. I thought he was untouchable in a way. So this kind of shows that no matter how much fame you get, if you cheat, they’ll come after you.”
He knows the appeals will be long and vigorous, but he simply sees the IOC’s effort to catch cheaters as heartening.
Tiger Shaw, CEO of U.S. Ski and Snowboard, said that the decision demonstrates a commitment “to the importance of clean sport and the support of clean athletes.”
“Now we look to the International Ski Federation (FIS) to hold an FIS Council meeting to review the IOC’s decision and related evidence to consider its impact on the Russian Ski Association, it’s FIS committee members, officials and athletes,” Shaw said
U.S. Speedskating issued a similar statement.
"The International Olympic Committee (IOC) sent a strong message with their decision regarding Russia’s participation in Pyeongchang,” the statement said. “We look forward to seeing the process play out to ensure all athletes are competing on a level playing field in Korea. U.S. Speedskating athletes remain focused on performing to the best of their abilities in Pyeongchang."
For athletes, there is finally hope that catching cheaters is a priority, and protecting the integrity of the games a real possibility.
Uhlaender called the widespread cheating by Russia in 2014 an attack on the very ideals that the Olympics champion.
“This his little to do with me,” she said. “They conspired to cheat the Olympic movement.”