January 19, 2017

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) U.S. Figure Skating President Sam Auxier said Thursday that Russia should be banned from the 2018 Olympics because of accusations of a mass doping cover-up at the Sochi Games three years ago.

World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren has said there is evidence that doping test samples given by 12 Russian medal winners at the 2014 Olympics were tampered with. Leaders from 19 national anti-doping agencies, including the U.S., have argued that Russia should be excluded from all international sports events, including next year's Winter Games in South Korea.

Auxier said Russia should be excluded from the Olympics.

''I don't think they should be able to (compete),'' Auxier said at the U.S. figure skating championships. ''It was state sponsored. It was a huge program, well-coordinated to cheat, and they should pay a pretty stiff penalty. I think the only way the IOC and the ISU (International Skating Union) maintain any level of integrity is to take a strong stand and weigh a strong penalty for those actions.''

The doping scandal heavily depleted Russia's team for last year's Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Evidence of widespread doping meant the entire Russian weightlifting team was banned and only one of the 68-strong track and field team was allowed to compete.

''It's important to us that the ISU take a strong stand against doping and making sure our athletes who are all clean compete against athletes who are clean,'' Auxier said. ''So we're very focused on what the decision is and what steps the ISU will take. We'll exert whatever influence we're able to.''

Russian skater Adelina Sotnikova won a surprising gold in Sochi. The IOC has announced that 28 unidentified athletes across a variety of sports currently are under investigation, and Italian newspaper La Gazetta dello Sport reported that Sotnikova is among them.

If she were to be stripped, South Korea's Yuna Kim could be elevated to the gold medal, which would be her second in a row at the Olympics. That would give Italy's Carolina Kostner the silver and American skater Gracie Gold would be awarded bronze.

The Russian anti-doping agency remains suspended following allegations of corruption, which includes the cover-up and swapping of illicit samples during the Olympics in Sochi.

''We're a highly motivated, highly interested bystander in that,'' said David Raith, U.S. Figure Skating executive director. ''We'll see what the ISU and the IOC do. Ultimately, it's going to be their decision.''

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