GENEVA (AP) — In a landmark verdict that indicates Russia conspired to run a doping program at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, a cross-country skier who won a gold medal was disqualified by the IOC on Wednesday.
All results for Alexander Legkov in Sochi were wiped from the record and he was banned for life from attending another Olympics.
A second Russian cross-country skier was also disqualified and banned by the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday, while cases implicating 26 more Russian athletes in a Sochi doping conspiracy are pending.
With calls to ban Russia's team from next year's Pyeongchang Olympics likely to increase, the IOC's executive board will meet next month to discuss the matter.
The IOC disciplinary panel did not have a positive doping test from Legkov but used evidence of cover-ups and tampering of sample bottles that was first gathered last year by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren.
"The IOC showed its determination to protect clean athletes from the very beginning of the case," said the Olympic body, whose board meets Dec. 5-7 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The IOC panel did not give details of the evidence Wednesday. McLaren has said that glass sample bottles were scratched when broken into, and in some cases clean urine used to cover up doping was tampered with, revealing unnatural levels of salt and even DNA from the wrong gender.
Legkov's gold medal was a marquee Russian success at the Sochi Olympics, which was a national priority for President Vladimir Putin and cost $51 billion to prepare for and host.
The cross-country skier won gold in the individual 50-kilometer freestyle race in a Russian podium sweep on the last day of competition. The Russian trio received their medals in the main Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony. Legkov had earlier taken silver in the 4x10-kilometer relay.
Legkov said last year he had never failed a doping test, claiming he was tested so often that he couldn't have doped without being caught.
"You'd have to be a complete kamikaze to do that in Russia if you're an athlete representing our nation," Legkov said then.
However, McLaren's investigation said the Russian doping program was enabled by the country's government, anti-doping agency and testing labs, plus sports governing bodies.
The second cross-country skier who was disqualified and banned, Evgeniy Belov, did not win a medal.
Lawyers for the two skiers disputed the IOC panel's ruling while accepting a doping program was in place.
"So there is neither Prof. McLaren's assertion nor proof that individual athletes have really participated in the system that has undoubtedly existed," German law firm Wieschemann said in a statement.
Russia's sports minister during the Sochi Olympics, Vitaly Mutko, told the Russian state news agency Tass that the IOC ruling "inspires great alarm and bewilderment."
"The correct and just decision is to file an appeal with CAS (the Court of Arbitration for Sport)," said Mutko, who is now a Deputy Prime Minister and heads the organizing committee for soccer's 2018 World Cup.
The two skiers' cases are the first from Sochi to be judged by the IOC panel created to verify McLaren's work. The Canadian law professor had himself been appointed by WADA to examine claims by Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia's WADA-authorized drug-testing laboratories.
Rodchenkov, who is now in a witness protection program in the United States, said he switched tainted urine samples for clean ones at the Sochi lab with help from what he believed was the Russian security service.
The verdicts announced Wednesday were the first from six cross-country skiers scheduled to have hearings at IOC headquarters this week. They include Maxim Vylegzhanin, who won one of his three silver medals in the Russian sweep of the 50-kilometer event.
"Additional decisions from these first hearings will be communicated in the coming days," the IOC said.
Other cases involving Russian athletes in different Winter Olympic sports have also been handed over to the IOC panel, chaired by Swiss lawyer Denis Oswald.
"The Oswald Commission has announced that all hearings for active athletes who could qualify for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 will be completed by the end of November," the IOC said.
The 34-year-old Legkov also has two medals from the world championships — a silver and a bronze in relay races — plus nine individual victories on the World Cup circuit. He now faces a ban by the International Ski Federation.
Skiing's governing body said its doping panel will wait until the IOC gives all six verdicts, which it expected next week. FIS set a target of Nov. 24 — when the cross-country World Cup season starts — to make progress.
Legkov also threatened to file a libel lawsuit against Rodchenkov, the former lab director who is the key witness to the Sochi conspiracy claims.
At his news conference last year, Legkov spoke alongside then-Deputy Sports Minister Yuri Nagornykh, who stepped down after he was accused by McLaren of helping to cover up doping.
The Russian government says it has never supported drug use by athletes.
Russia now risks losing its place atop the Sochi medal tables, with second-place Norway set to be upgraded for medals in each of the men's cross-country ski events affected by doping. Norwegians Petter Northug and Martin Johnsrud Sundby could each be awarded two medals.
AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth in Moscow contributed to this report.