Russian cheating may have cost this American an Olympic medal; the ban gives her hope

The focus nearly four years ago on the side of a Russian mountain, as the final sled whooshed by, fell to the clock. Katie Uhlaender, a blue-blooded American who had died her hair red for the Sochi Olympics, stared at it. Her eyes squinted. Befuddled, she blurted, “I don’t even know how to process that.” Tears were at the ready.

A Russian skeleton athlete named Elena Nikitina slid down the track that night 30-something miles northeast of Sochi, in her home country. Nikitina’s cumulative time over four runs beat Uhlaender’s by four hundredths of a second. That night, Nikitina won bronze, and smiled. That night, Uhlaender won nothing, and cried.

“I don’t want to see someone else’s moment get taken away,” Uhlaender said by phone Tuesday.

Uhlaender is 33 and is preparing for what she realizes is almost certainly her last Olympics. As of Tuesday, though, she believes her last Olympics will be a clean Olympics. Tuesday evening, she was dining with fellow U.S. skeleton team members Matt Antoine and John Daly in Winterberg, Germany, when they received the news: The International Olympic Committee had barred the Russian federation from the upcoming PyeongChang Games following what IOC President Thomas Bach described as “an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sports.”