Opinion | Scott M. Estill: Between a ROC and a hard place | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Scott M. Estill: Between a ROC and a hard place

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Scott M. Estill

Congratulations are in order to the five outstanding athletes representing Summit County in the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Chris Corning, Dylan Walczyk, Katie Uhlaender, Red Gerard and Taylor Gold all have competed in events or have competitions coming up later this week and next, and they deserve our support.

But up until Tuesday, the leading medal winner is something called “ROC,” with 10 total medals. In second place is Norway with eight, while the Chinese and Americans are further down the list with five medals each. I have heard of the three trailing countries, but who or what is ROC?

It turns out that ROC (Russian Olympic Committee) is simply another term for Russia. The reason is straightforward: Russia is not permitted to compete at these games (and previous ones as well) due to cheating. Specifically, the World Anti-Doping Agency unanimously determined that Russia was behind a state-sponsored drug scheme to alter laboratory data, which showed any positive tests, and to plant fake evidence in its lab records in an effort to hide the cheaters. The scheme involved more than 1,000 athletes across at least 30 sports.

The agency gave Russia an opportunity to correct the data on which athletes were involved and apparently provided data that also was manipulated. To get any group of people in any country to agree about anything in a unanimous way shows that the evidence must have been overwhelming.

The doping scandal goes back to the 2014 Games, when Russia was the host country. During those Games, more than 100 “dirty” urine samples (those that test positive for banned performance-enhancing substances) were altered by passing the samples through a hole in the wall, where they were exchanged for samples taken from the athlete prior to when the doping began. A 007-esque filing cabinet was used to hide the secret replacement compartment. A specific cocktail of three anabolic steroids were used to help the athletes compete at a high level.

Russia’s response to the investigation and subsequent sanctions was to claim that the accusations were baseless and simply amounted to “technical issues.” So even though there were a lot of “technical issues” to wade through, what were the consequences of this widespread corruption?

First and foremost, Russia was barred from entering a team in the current Olympics. The ban also applies to any other international competitions. Hence, we have ROC. Second, they cannot use the Russian name, flag or national anthem during the Games. And finally, Russian officials are barred from receiving an accreditation to attend the games.

Interestingly, the colors of the Russian flag happen to be the same colors used on the ROC athletes’ uniforms. And while most of us would not be able to identify the Russian national anthem if we heard it, many would associate the music being used (Tchaikovsky) as Russian.

As if to make a total mockery of the Russian sanctions, Russian President Vladimir Putin is attending the Games. There apparently is an exception to the rule that he cannot attend as a consequence to the scandal. He was invited by Chinese head of state Xi Jinping.

According to the Moscow Times, Putin stated that “Russia has been and remains committed to traditional Olympic values” and opposes ”the politicization of sports.” Of course he does. Any traditional value of Putin is not likely a traditional value of mine.

There are 212 athletes operating under the ROC emblem in Beijing. And while none of them has been directly tied to the doping scandal, I question why they are allowed to compete at all. This is a country for which an investigation yielded systematic cheating and corruption at the state level. To allow these athletes to compete from a country tainted with doping is a disservice to the other athletes competing from the other countries.

When a ROC athlete is on the podium for one of the three medals awarded for each event, there is a thought in the back of my mind that the athlete might be there due to an unfair competitive advantage. Yes, this is unfair to the ROC athletes who are competing fairly like all other athletes, but I cannot erase the thought.

Which brings me back to the five athletes competing from our part of the Rockies. While Walczyk has completed his Olympics, there is more to come. Set your clocks for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 10, to cheer on Breckenridge residents Uhlaender and Gold. Hopefully, Sunday, Feb. 13, will be a lucky day for Silverthorne residents Corning and Gerard.

No matter the outcome, we all appreciate your hard work, dedication, determination and incredible athletic abilities. You have competed fair and square and are all gold-medal winners in my book.

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