Russia was banned from the Winter Olympics. It still showed up in full force.

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Team USA opened the 2018 Winter Olympics by defeating Russia 9-3 in mixed-doubles curling here Thursday morning.

Actually, it wasn’t officially “Russia” that fell to the American brother-sister team of Matt and Becca Hamilton of McFarland, Wisconsin.

Russia was banned from these Olympics because it first systematically doped its athletes – even its Paralympic athletes – at the 2014 Sochi Games and then created an elaborate system to hide it. It was the largest and most sophisticated program ever uncovered by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

As such, the IOC threw the Russians out.

Until it started letting them back in.

There is no “Russia” here but there are 168 “Olympic Athletes from Russia” competing, even after the Court of Arbitration in Sport turned down appeals for 47 others on Friday. Which is to say even Russia’s Olympians are undercover agents.

The IOC’s premise is that while it absolutely must punish Russia, it shouldn’t punish Russian athletes who can’t be proven to have cheated. To anyone who didn’t receive a share of a Ural Mountains nickel mine as a kickback, this is understood to mean the IOC isn’t really punishing Russia.

Russia’s Anastasia Bryzgalova competes in curling mixed-doubles on the opening day of the Olympics. (Getty)
Russia’s Anastasia Bryzgalova competes in curling mixed-doubles on the opening day of the Olympics. (Getty)

Just to recap, the Russians didn’t just supply performance-enhancing drugs to scores of athletes. We’ve seen that act before. This time it constructed an actual building in Sochi next to the laboratory that tested athlete samples. It then drilled a small hole in the shared wall. Each night after the lab closed, it had workers on either side pass clean samples in and dirty samples out.

A few predictable things happened. Russia won the most medals. No Russians tested positive for PEDs. The man who orchestrated it, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who much later acknowledged the scheme, was awarded a prestigious honor by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Once the scam was uncovered, Rodchenkov fled to America fearing for his safety, which seems reasonable after two of his cohorts turned up dead. Just a coincidence, of course.

Regardless, individual athletes can take their case to CAS and win an appeal. Many have. Many of those victories are based on a lack of direct evidence. WADA acknowledges it sometimes lacks direct evidence but notes that’s because the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (an all-timer of an oxymoron) destroyed most of the direct evidence when it took the dirty samples and replaced them with the clean samples.

“It is no surprise you don’t have all the evidence you want,” WADA director general Olivier Niggli said here Thursday.

It’s quite a deal, really. Russia cheated so thoroughly that it got banned. But by cheating so thoroughly it can’t be banned.

And so here come the Olympic Athletes from Russia.

Basically, the IOC just caved to the Russians, allowing Putin to influence the decision-making process and achieve his preferred result.

We in America wouldn’t know about such things.

Anastasia Bryzgalova throws a rock as teammate Aleksandr Krushelnitckii watches during a match against the U.S. (AP)
Anastasia Bryzgalova throws a rock as teammate Aleksandr Krushelnitckii watches during a match against the U.S. (AP)

Not for nothing, but the two Olympic Athletes from Russia who competed in mixed curling, Anastasia Bryzgalova and Aleksandr Krushelnitckii, look casting-call ready. Bryzgalova is straight out of a James Bond movie; Krushelnitckii from “The Fast and the Furious.” The Russians are basically trolling the world by sending mixed-doubles curling teams that look like double agents.

The IOC always loved that Russian money, though. They awarded Sochi the Olympics in a bid process that would make even FIFA officials blush. Then, even as the Russians were torching fair play in Sochi, IOC president Thomas Bach was clinking champagne glasses with Putin. Why would anything change?

The entire thing feels like a farce. WADA held a news conference and tried to put good spin on things but mostly just threw up its hands.

At one point, a “Russian journalist” asked WADA president Sir Craig Reedie if, in lieu of so many Russians winning these crazy appeals, would he resign on the presumption that WADA must have been wrong about Russia the entire time?

Up is down.

Reedie tried not to laugh before noting one had nothing to do with the other, so no, “I don’t plan to resign.”

Inside Russia, the banning has been spun as false allegations from jealous rivals out to get the fair country. Reality is far different. Putin spent $50 billion to host the Olympics and scatter government contracts to his pals. There was no way he wasn’t going win the most medals in 2014. For whatever reason, Putin loves the Olympics even more than the “Today” show does. The Russians went all in.

They even cheated the Paralympics, which should be about as low as it gets. Then again, claiming you’re the victim of mean, old WADA after it caught you doping the Paralympics is actually even lower.

There is no bottom to this barrel, but, hey, it’s Vlad Putin’s world and he gets what he wants. In this case, he wants his Olympic Athletes from Russia to win. And some will. Maybe even in men’s hockey. The Olympic Athletes from Russia officially are competing under the Olympic flag and the Russian anthem will not be played for gold medalists, but everyone knows the truth.

After all, the Olympic Athletes from Russia will wear traditional Russian red and white. They’ll look Russian.

The IOC says it’s actually a slightly different shade of red. Well, that clears it all up then.

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