Russian pairs skater Ksenia Stolbova and ice dancer Ivan Bukin have apparently been barred from competing in the 2018 Olympic Winter Olympics by the International Olympic Committee.
"Apparently" must remain the operative word because the IOC will not release until Saturday a list of which Russian athletes have been cleared to compete next month in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The surprising news about Stolbova, a gold and silver medalist at the 2014 Winter Olympics, and Bukin came via a Tuesday statement from the Russian Figure Skating Federation, which in turn was citing information from the Russian Olympic Committee.
The figure skating federation's statement blasted the IOC.
"This unsubstantiated and absurd decision once again demonstrates the inconsistency of the IOC's statements denying the external influence on its decisions, as well as violates all the fundamental norms set forth in the Olympic Charter, in particular rejection of discrimination, respect for the principles of solidarity and fair play," the statement said.
"The Federation of figure skating in Russia is deeply outraged by the groundless decision of the IOC, reminiscent of a provocation aimed at forcing Russian athletes to abandon participation in the Games by any means."
The Russian Olympic Committee, which the IOC banned from the 2018 Olympics in the light of reports detailing alleged state-sponsored doping and sample manipulation at the 2014 Olympics, has no reference to Stolbova and Bukin on its web site.
After the Russian Figure Skating Federation's statement, the IOC released a statement Tuesday in which it said, "Not being included on the invitation list does not necessarily mean that an athlete has been doped -- it should not automatically cast doubt on their integrity."
The International Skating Union's vice-president for figure skating, Alexander Lakernik of Russia, said in a Tuesday email responding to an icenetwork request for comment on the Stolbova-Bukin news, "I am astonished myself." Lakernik declined to say anything more.
The Russian Figure Skating Federation had announced Sunday that Stolbova and partner Fedor Klimov, and Bukin and partner Alexandra Stepanova were among the "athletes of the Russian national team to participate" in PyeongChang. That news release made no reference to the athletes' needing to be cleared by the IOC.
Stolbova and Klimov, gold medalists in the team event and silver medalists in pairs at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, finished second at last week's European Championships. Stepanova and Bukin were dance bronze medalists at those same Europeans.
The IOC decided in December to invite Russian athletes to compete at the 2018 Olympics as "neutrals" under the rubric, "Olympic Athlete from Russia." They cannot use the Russian flag or Russian uniform colors, and their national anthem will not be played at medal ceremonies.
The IOC also created a process for determining which athletes would be cleared to receive such invitations and announced last Friday that it had narrowed the pool of possible Russian invitees by 111 to 389. Stolbova and Bukin reportedly are among the 111 who were not cleared from the original pool of 500 submitted for consideration by the Russian Olympic Committee.
"That was the point of the Friday announcement," IOC communications director Mark Adams said in a Tuesday email. "We have given them a pool of clean athletes -- 80 percent who did not compete in Sochi. It is now up to them to say who fits into which quota."
According to a story on the Russian Olympic Committee website quoting vice-president Stanislav Pozdnyakov, the ROC has asked the IOC to give specific reasons why some "leading Russian athletes" are not on the list of those cleared to compete in PyeongChang.
Asked by icenetwork in an e-mail whether the Russian Figure Skating Federation was aware of the IOC having removed Stolbova and Bukin from consideration for invitation to PyeongChang, federation press officer Olga Ermolina replied, "Of course we didn't know about Stolbova and Bukin. Their names were not in any lists, they had no positive doping."
In December 2016, the Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport reported Stolbova was among those linked to doping control manipulation at the Sochi Olympics by part two of the McLaren report, the result of the World Anti-Doping Agency's independent investigation into the Russian doping issue. She was not mentioned by name in the McLaren report, nor was any reference made to a female figure skater.
"We intend to immediately begin the struggle to restore a fair attitude to Russian skaters and defend the honor and dignity of our athletes in all possible ways," the Russian Figure Skating Federation's Tuesday statement ended.
Here is the full statement issued by the International Olympic Committee, which was released Tuesday morning through the organization's media relations team:
To protect the rights of the persons involved, the IOC cannot comment on any individual cases but will communicate the invitation list in due course. We refer you to our press release, which we published on Friday which explains how the process works and how the athletes have been chosen for the pool of athletes who can be considered for invitation to PyeongChang 2018.
Please find below the response of Dr. Valerie Fourneyron, the chair of the Independent Testing Authority and former French Sports Minister, who chaired our OAR Invitation Review Panel:
"When putting this list together, the Invitation Review Panel that I chaired wanted to ensure that only clean Russian athletes could be invited to the Olympic Winter Games. By carefully looking at all the evidence available, we wanted to be absolutely certain that there was not the slightest doubt or suspicion against any of those athletes who will be invited. Not being included on the invitation list does not necessarily mean that an athlete has been doped -- it should not automatically cast doubt on their integrity."
The IOC would like to make clear that there may still be further enquires and further anti-doping procedures coming up against a number of those athletes who have not been included on the pool of athletes considered for invitation.
(This article originally appeared on icenetwork.)