Russia reorganizes amid allegations

GENEVA -- Russian skiers will likely avoid penalties that could have barred them from their home Olympics in 2014 because of the country's improved doping record.

International Ski Federation President Gian Franco Kasper told The Associated Press he was "very optimistic" the reorganized Russian body will meet a Nov. 1 deadline to show it has cleaned up its act.

"I have had the chance being in Sochi [last week] to discuss it with their top people. I have the feeling they took it very seriously," Kasper said by phone.

The Russian federation has fired at least eight cross-country skiing coaches and support staff who worked with athletes caught using the banned blood-booster EPO since it was warned by the governing body in June.

Russia's reputation for doping among cross-country skiers and biathletes prompted International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge to raise the matter with President Dmitry Medvedev this year.

Three-time Olympic cross-country ski champion Julia Chepalova is among several Russians serving a two-year suspension.

In June, the international ski organization ordered her coach and father, Anatoly Chepalov, to be removed from any position of authority or contact with athletes in the Russian ski body.

It also fined Russia $183,000 and demanded improvements in how it educated athletes and worked with the national anti-doping agency.

The governing ski group warned that its rules allowed for countries with serious doping issues to be suspended from competition for four years -- which could have excluded Russian skiers in all disciplines from Sochi.

Kasper said this week that the Russian federation has improved since appointing as president Elena Vjalbe, a triple Olympic gold medalist and 10-time individual world champion in cross-country skiing.

"They have known for a long time what they needed to do: The question was would they do it? We know they are on the right track," Kasper said.

The international federation will assess Russia's progress Nov. 6 at its Swiss headquarters in Oberhofen.