PYEONGCHANG – Doping-scarred Russia's bid to return to the Olympic fold in time for the Pyeongchang Winter Games closing ceremony will go down to the wire after the executive board of the IOC failed to reach a decision on Saturday.
Star figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva led a charm offensive to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board, hoping to convince them to let the Russian flag fly at Sunday's ceremony.
But after three-and-a-half hours of talks, the executive board failed to come to a decision about lifting the ban on Russia, and were set to resume discussions early on Sunday.
"The meeting is over tonight and no decision has been taken," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said, adding that talks will resume at 8:00am on Sunday (2300 GMT Saturday).
Russia's national Olympic committee was suspended in December over mass doping, but 168 athletes who passed stringent vetting were allowed to compete in Pyeongchang as neutrals. However, two of them failed drugs tests.
Stanislav Pozdnyakov, head of the Russian delegation, blamed "negligence rather than malicious intent" for the positive tests from curler Alexander Krushelnitsky and bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeyeva.
"We firmly believe that we have fully complied with all of the terms and conditions," said Pozdnyakov, adding that he had apologised for the two failed doping tests.
"In my presentation, I told the EB (executive board) that our anti-doping system in Russia has been restructured completely," he added.
"Our entire delegation – all of our coaches, all of our athletes – believe that the best award for us would be to have our national flag returned and our Olympic committee readmitted," Pozdnyakov said.
The behaviour of the 168 "Olympic Athletes from Russia", and whether they have complied with the guidelines governing their participation in Pyeongchang formed a major part of the considerations by the IOC.
Figure skating silver-medallist Medvedeva said: "I would be exceedingly happy if we were allowed to march under our national flag" at the closing ceremony.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport said Sergeyeva had been kicked out of the Games after failing a test for a banned heart medicine.
Alexander Krushelnitsky was stripped of his mixed doubles bronze medal for taking the banned substance meldonium.