SportsPulse: USA Today Sports’ Rachel Axon discuss Russian doping in the Olympics and the coming decisions for Russia in Pyeongchang in 2018.
USA TODAY Sports
MOSCOW (AP) — When the International Olympic Committee board prepares to vote Tuesday on whether to ban Russia from February’s Winter Olympics, its members will decide the fate of numerous medals yet to be won.
If there’s a blanket ban on Russia for its doping offenses at the 2014 Olympics — or restrictions that prompt Russia to boycott the 2018 Games — it could mean the end of compelling storylines and a slide into irrelevance for the men’s hockey tournament.
Gracenote Sports, which forecasts a “virtual medal table” based on recent results, predicts Russia will win 21 medals, six of them gold, if it competes in Pyeongchang.
That puts Russia eighth on predicted gold medals, or joint fifth on total medals. If Russia is banned, opportunities open up for many other countries.
Here is a look at more possible consequences.
HOCKEY IN JEOPARDY
The men’s hockey tournament at the next Winter Olympics is already the first without the NHL’s participation since 1994, but banning Russia could diminish it even further.
The Moscow-based Kontinental Hockey League is widely considered the world’s second-strongest league, and it’s threatening to withdraw all its players from the Olympics if Russia is banned.
Russia would otherwise be the gold medal favorite thanks to ex-NHL players like Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, who now play in the KHL.
The U.S., Canada and other countries also plan to use KHL players, so losing them could deal a heavy blow to the audience figures of a tournament that’s already struggling to attract attention.
The International Ice Hockey Federation called Tuesday for “full participation of all clean Russian athletes,” saying that punishing Russia too harshly would put “the health of ice hockey at…