International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach (L) and Chair of IOC Inquiry Commission into alleged Russian doping at Sochi 2014 Swiss Samuel Schmid attend a press conference following an executive meeting on Russian doping, on December 5, 2017 in Lausanne.
Russia were banned from the 2018 Olympics on December 5 over state-sponsored doping but the International Olympic Committee said Russian competitors would be able to compete "under strict conditions". / AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI        (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Russia banned from 2018 Winter Olympics
01:05 - Source: CNN

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Many prominent Russian athletes suggest they will not compete as neutrals

Visitors to South Korea are down almost 25% compared to last year

CNN  — 

South Korean Olympic organizers have expressed shock after Russia was banned from taking part in the upcoming Pyeongchang Winter Games.

The absence of one of the world’s major winter sports powers from the competition adds another stress for the hosts, who are already dealing with lackluster ticket sales in the shadow of the ongoing North Korea crisis.

Lee Hee-beom, President of the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee, said in a radio interview Tuesday he did not expect the International Olympic Committee (IOC) “to go this far.”

“We plan to meet with the chairman of the IOC and deliver our message. The message that it’s better to allow as many nations, as many athletes to compete,” he told South Korea’s CBS Radio.

Evgenia Medvedeva is one of several Russian athletes who indicated they may boycott the Games rather than compete as neutrals.

‘Murder of our national sport’

Under the IOC’s ruling, which found Russia had engaged in “systemic manipulation” of anti-doping rules, “clean” sportspeople will be able to participate in the Games under the designation “Olympic Athlete from Russia” (OAR).

Lee said the organizing committee respects the IOC’s decision, and that allowing Russians to compete in a personal capacity was the next best option, beyond full participation.

Some prominent Russian Olympians say they haven’t yet decided if they’ll compete.

Evgenia Medvedeva, a two-time world figure-skating champion, told reporters after the IOC’s decision that it was “too early” for her to decide whether she would take part.

Figure skating is one of the most popular Winter Olympics events, and the loss of Medvedeva – widely tipped for a gold medal – would be a major blow to fans.

In a speech to the IOC panel before the ruling came down, Medvedeva seemed to indicate she would not compete as a neutral athlete, saying she “could not accept” that option.

“I am proud of my country, it is a great honor for me to represent it at the Games,” she said. “It gives strength and inspires me during the performances.”

Medvedeva told panel members as a “clean” athlete she never dreamed she could be banned from the Olympics.

“In 2014, I was 14 years old. I had not even entered the adult national team of my country,” she said. For me personally, Pyeongchang should be the first chance to plunge into the unique atmosphere of the Olympic Games. I do not understand why my Russian teammates and I can lose this chance.”

Other Russian athletes have reacted similarly. According to state-run broadcaster RT, Irina Avvakumova, a member of the ski jumping team, said she “did not prepare for so many years just to go and compete without representing my country.”

Figure skating trainer Tatiana Tarasova called the IOC’s decision to ban the Russian team “the murder of our national sport.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously said it would be a humiliation to compete without any national symbols.