Without NHL, Olympic Athletes from Russia are podium favourites

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    GANGNEUNG, South Korea, Feb 10 : The absence of NHL players and the doping scandal that has ensnared Russia will only add to the pressure facing their men’s Olympic ice hockey team, who arguably have the best chance in decades to win gold.

    The team, who are officially known in Pyeongchang as Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) after the country was banned for a doping scandal resulting from the last Games in Sochi, were once a powerhouse of ice hockey during the Soviet era.

    The USSR won medals, seven of them gold, at nine successive Winter Olympics between 1956 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

    The Unified team won gold in 1992 but since the introduction of NHL players at the Nagano Games in 1998 Russia have won only two medals — a silver in 1998 and bronze in 2002.

    The situation has troubled Russian officials, who have pledged to devote more attention to the sport’s development in a bid to return to the glory of its Soviet era.

    (Agencies)