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Star Canadian cross-country skier applauds IOC decision to not invite Russians

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of - Canada's Alex Harvey applauded the International Olympic Committee's decision not to invite the 13 Russian cross country-skiers who recently had their doping suspensions overturned by an arbitration court to the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

"If you look at all that's happened over the last eight months, I think their decision was justified," Harvey, of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., said Tuesday. "Russia is suspended from the Games and the athletes that are here, are here by invitation.

"Participation in the Olympic Games is not a basic right. They have to qualify and meet standards and criteria, including having to show that you are not doping or aren't associated with a coach who has participated in a doping operation."

However, Canada's top cross-country skier said the decision may help those athletes to compete drug-free in the future.

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Cross-country skier Alex Harvey, of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Quebec, responds to a question during a news conference Tuesday, February 6, 2018 in Pyeongchang. Harvey applauded the International Olympic Committee's decision not to invite the 13 Russian cross country-skiers who recently had their doping suspensions overturned by an arbitration court to the Pyeongchang Winter Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Cross-country skier Alex Harvey, of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Quebec, responds to a question during a news conference Tuesday, February 6, 2018 in Pyeongchang. Harvey applauded the International Olympic Committee's decision not to invite the 13 Russian cross country-skiers who recently had their doping suspensions overturned by an arbitration court to the Pyeongchang Winter Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of - Canada's Alex Harvey applauded the International Olympic Committee's decision not to invite the 13 Russian cross country-skiers who recently had their doping suspensions overturned by an arbitration court to the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

"If you look at all that's happened over the last eight months, I think their decision was justified," Harvey, of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., said Tuesday. "Russia is suspended from the Games and the athletes that are here, are here by invitation.

"Participation in the Olympic Games is not a basic right. They have to qualify and meet standards and criteria, including having to show that you are not doping or aren't associated with a coach who has participated in a doping operation."

However, Canada's top cross-country skier said the decision may help those athletes to compete drug-free in the future.

"Some are caught in a system where it isn't their choice whether to use banned drugs or not," he said. "If they want to be on the team, they have to follow the team doctor's orders.

"You have to change the way they do things. Sometimes that takes draconian measures and I think the ones taken by the IOC are the right ones."

Harvey also responded to reports from Britain and Germany that at least 13 cross-country skiers from several countries at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia had blood tests between 2001 and 2010 showing they likely used banned substances.

Most of the tests came before Harvey started on the World Cup circuit in 2008 and he said he knew nothing about it at the time.

He said it is normal for athletes to have higher-than-average levels of oxygen in their blood, either naturally or because most do high-altitude training, but athletes' blood-oxygen levels are more closely watched now.

"There are parameters, but even if you went above them it's possible that it was natural," he said. "But now, with the biological passport (instituted by the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2012), limits are more fluid.

"They are adapted to each individual based on results over several years," he said. "If your tests results fall into that range, there's no problem."

He said he does not expect doping to be a major issue at the Pyeongchang Games.

"There are no guarantees, but I don't think the athletes who are doping will be here, " he said. "First because the suspects are suspended and also because the sanctions will have a dissuasive effect on anyone who may be thinking of doping. It's a strong message, and that may have been the biggest victory for the clean athletes."

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