Russian President Vladimir Putin has told the country’s athletes to forget about doping scandals when they compete at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
As punishment for what it deemed a doping scheme during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the International Olympic Committee has invited 169 Russians to compete under a neutral flag using the name “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”
“I wish you not to think about anything which has recently accompanied your preparation for these Olympics,” Putin told a gathering of athletes at his presidential residence outside Moscow on Wednesday.
He added that he hopes they “focus on sporting competition, and that you know that following you, as usual, are hundreds of thousands, millions, of fans who love you and hope you win.”
While the athletes wore their IOC-approved “neutral” uniforms without the Russian flag — grey for men, red for women — the event was full of patriotic gestures.
Hockey players Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk stepped up to present Putin with a Russian jersey bearing his name and players’ signatures along with the slogan “Russia in my heart.”
Several athletes wore their “neutral” jackets open to show a Russian-flag shirt underneath.
Russian athletes won’t be allowed to display the flag in Pyeongchang, or to celebrate with Russian flags given by fans. If they win, the Olympic anthem will be played.
Related: Russia’s Olympic punishment stuns Canadian sport community
The Associated Press