By Peter Rutherford
PYEONGCHANG (Reuters) - The Olympic spirit is in danger of being snuffed out by a doping scandal that saw the IOC ban dozens of Russian athletes for life only for sport's highest tribunal to nullify the sanctions, U.S. skeleton slider Katie Uhlaender said on Thursday.
Two-time world champion Uhlaender finished 0.04 seconds outside the medals at the 2014 Sochi Games.
The third-placed slider, Russia's Elena Nikitina, was stripped of her bronze medal in November and banned for life after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said she had committed anti-doping violations.
However, Nikitina was one of 28 Russians to have their bans overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), leaving Uhlaender unsure if or when she would ever get her hands on the Sochi bronze.
Both the IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have expressed disappointment with the CAS decision and while Uhlaender says the situation is a "catastrophe" all parties involved must grasp the opportunity for reform.
"Initially when the IOC took such a strong stance to ban Russia and strip the medals, it gave the athletes who were holding on to the spirit of sport, hope. It strengthened our Olympic spirit," she said at a news conference on Thursday.
"When CAS took that away, it did the opposite. So I think we're all turning to the IOC for reform and to take a strong stance to give us that spirit back.
"We're holding to an Olympic spirit that feels like it's dying."
The IOC invited 169 carefully screened Russian athletes to compete as independents after the nation was banned from Pyeongchang over the Sochi 2014 doping scandal.
It then refused to invite any of the Russian athletes who had their bans overturned by CAS.
Dozens of Russians, including some who had not been named in the investigations or had any prior doping offences but were still not invited, have since lodged appeals with CAS seeking to be admitted to the Games.
Nikitina is in Pyeongchang awaiting news on her appeal.
Uhlaender warned that if the IOC, WADA and CAS failed to find a solution to the anti-doping system's problems it would open a "Pandora's Box".
"I'm looking to the IOC to take a harder stance and I think all the athletes are looking to the IOC to make sure that the athletes are tested -- not just increased in competition, because we know when we're going to compete," said Uhlaender, who will be competing in her fourth Olympics.
"It's the out-of-competition testing that's most important. Why can't we have the top 10 athletes in the world tested out of competition mandatory by an independent source?"
(Editing by John O'Brien)