PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Proudly flying the Russian flag at the conclusion of the Pyeongchang Winter Games will be worth more than winning medals as neutral athletes, a Russian Olympic official said on Sunday when questioned about the team’s lackluster performance.
Russian athletes are banned from competing for their country at the Games due to allegations of systematic doping. They are listed as neutral Olympic athletes, unable to sing the Russian anthem in medal ceremonies or wear their Russian uniforms.
They are sitting 19th in the medals table, having so far won three silver and seven bronze medals.
“We don’t have the issue of fighting for the first place as a team,” said Stanislav Pozdnyakov, chief of mission for the “Olympic Athletes of Russia” contingent.
“Our main goal is to return home with the flag.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said it may allow the team to march with the Russian flag and in national uniform at the Pyeongchang closing ceremony on Feb. 25, provided they comply during the Games with rules on neutrality.
Pozdnyakov said it was too early for him to comment on the prospect of seeing Russia’s blue, red and white flags re-emerge for the closing ceremony. But he added that the delegation would be ready for a change of kit in the event the flag is returned.
“As for the closing ceremony, we are ready for any development of the situation, including in terms of additional equipment,” he told reporters.
The Russians are lacking some of their top medal contenders because the IOC banned many Russian athletes it felt had been tainted by doping. It also refused to invite a group of Russians whose doping bans were overturned by a court this month.
Pozdnyakov said the team could still hope for gold, with two-time world champion figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva set to battle European champion Alina Zagitova next week.
“In the conditions in which we are competing, many leaders of our team were not invited to the Games and were replaced by young athletes who just yesterday were representing youth teams,” he told reporters.
“As you know, today these guys are winning bronze medals and in our opinion that has been the biggest accomplishment of the first half of the Olympic Games.”
At the 2010 Vancouver Games, Russia won three gold, five silver and seven bronze. Those Olympics were viewed as one of Russia’s least successful.
Pozdnyakov dismissed the comparison between Pyeongchang and Vancouver, given the IOC bans at Pyeongchang.
However, calculations by Reuters this month found that the Russian team in Vancouver was essentially as strong, at least on paper, as the one in Pyeongchang.
Editing by Mark Bendeich