By Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber
MOSCOW (Reuters) - A total of 169 Russian athletes have been cleared to compete at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games next month, but not the top ones, a Russian Olympic Committee official said on Thursday.
"Unfortunately, our top athletes did not make it onto this list," Stanislav Pozdnyakov, the vice president of the Russian Olympic Committee, told reporters.
"Those 169 people are those who will defend our country's honor at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games."
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Published by the Russian Olympic Committee shortly after the announcement, the list of 169 Russians athletes was missing some big names, including short-track speed skater Viktor Ahn, biathlete Anton Shipulin and cross-country skier Sergei Ustyugov.
The list, which contains four biathletes and seven speed skaters, also included alternates to replace some of the athletes who did not make it onto the International Olympic Committee (IOC) invitation list.
Russia's figure skating federation said this week that pairs skater Ksenia Stolbova, who won silver at the European championships with partner Fedor Klimov in Moscow last week, and ice dancer Ivan Bukin, who won bronze with Alexandra Stepanova, had not been included on the IOC's list.
The absence of Stepanova and Bukin will be filled by ice dancers Tiffani Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro, while pairs skaters Kristina Astakhova and Alexei Rogonov will replace Stolbova and Klimov, according to the list.
Despite losing part of its Olympic roster, Russia will still see several medal contenders compete in Pyeongchang, including two-time world figure skating champion Evgenia Medvedeva and defending European champion Alina Zagitova.
The IOC banned Russia last month from Pyeongchang over "systematic manipulation" of the anti-doping system at the 2014 Sochi Games. It left the door open to athletes with no history of doping to compete as "Olympic Athletes from Russia".
The Olympic body earlier this week said that the exclusion of certain athletes from the list of eligible Russians did not necessarily mean they had doped.
Speaking alongside Pozdnyakov at the Russia's Olympic Committee, Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov said Russia would take legal measures to defend the athletes excluded from the Olympics.
"We will fight for every last athlete," Kolobkov said. "We are really hoping for a fair decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport."
He added that Russia was planning to organize alternative competitions for the athletes excluded from the Olympics.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, editing by Larry King)