Russian court says bobsledder can keep Olympic titles

MOSCOW — Russian bobsledder Alexander Zubkov won a Moscow court ruling on Friday that could make it harder for the International Olympic Committee to recover his gold medals.

The Russian flagbearer at the 2014 Sochi Olympics was stripped of his two gold medals from those games in 2017 by the IOC for doping. He failed to overturn that disqualification at the Court of Arbitration for Sport last year.

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But Moscow's highest civil court in November upheld Zubkov's claim that the CAS procedure was unfair and shouldn't be recognized in Russia. That means Zubkov is legally recognized as an Olympic champion — but only in Russia.

On Friday, the court rejected an IOC-backed appeal from the Russian Olympic Committee, which earlier said letting Zubkov keep his medals could "give rise to doubt that Russia truly observes the main principles of the fight against doping."

Zubkov strongly denies cheating.

"I am a clean athlete. If you don't know my story you can open Wikipedia and see how much I've done for sport and what I did in Sochi," he said. "I brought gold medals here and gave sport 30 years (of my life)."

The Russian Olympic Committee had previously warned that disobeying the IOC — whose Olympic Charter specifies CAS as the only venue for Olympic disputes — could lead to sanctions against Russian athletes, even a complete suspension from the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

However, a statement Friday by the IOC made no such threat but stood firm on recovering the medals.

"Today's decision does not play any role — for the IOC what counts is the decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which has not been appealed," the IOC said by email. "For this reason the IOC continues to request the return of the medals."

Friday's ruling will also make it harder for Zubkov to be removed as president of the Russian Bobsled Federation, and may entitle him to a Russian state pension for retired star athletes.

The IOC's case against Zubkov was based on testimony from Moscow and Sochi anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov, who said he arranged for athletes to dope before swapping their dirty samples for clean ones. There was also forensic evidence that the allegedly fake sample stored in Zubkov's name contained more salt than could be possible in urine from a healthy human.

Zubkov said on Friday that even if his sample had been tampered with, it didn't mean he was a cheat.

The International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation issued a provisional suspension against Zubkov last month, though he remains RBF president and said on Friday he was "not frightened of challenges." The International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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