Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Aussie swim coach calls expectations a “fantasy”

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The Australian swim team is freaking out and pointing fingers at everyone and everything following a less than stellar performance in London, where they took home only one gold medal, six silver, and three of whatever the other shade is. Most are blaming a lack of cohesion and some prank phone calls and doorbell ditching, neither of which should hamper world class swimmers from winning medals.

The more likely scenario was posed by head coach Leigh Nugent in a letter to the Australian Swimming board, which was then leaked to the Sydney Morning Herald and eventually the rest of the media. In it Nugent argues that maybe expectations for the team were a bit too high, and that past performance doesn’t necessarily dictate future results.

“It appears evident following the barrage of criticism the expectation placed on this team was based on the fantasy that the result from four years prior will automatically repeat itself regardless of the comparative world positioning,” he wrote.

And while everyone agrees that Australia underperformed, especially following six golds in Beijing (note: two fewer than Michael Phelps), the team has only averaged roughly four golds per Games at the five previous Olympics, compared to the Americans twelve per Games over the same period. The Aussies only won five at their home Olympics in Sydney.

So yes, disappointing, but aside from missing the podium in the men’s 4x100m free relay, which James Magnussen and Co. were favorites to win, the rest can probably just be chalked up to a bad year.

To his credit, Nugent acknowledged the performance and is already putting a plan in motion so that the Rio Games will be more successful for his team and country: “Our process is to evaluate objectively and to continue to improve from the low base we started from in 2009,” Nugent added. “And establish a higher platform to launch from in 2013. This is a time where we all need to pull together, not fall apart.”

Yuzuru Hanyu tops Grand Prix Final short program

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu is well on his way to a record fourth straight Grand Prix Final title.

The Olympic champion landed two quadruple jumps while his closest rival, Spain’s Javier Fernandez, nearly fell twice in the short program in Marseille, France, on Thursday.

Hanyu tallied 106.53 points, the third-highest short program score under the decade-old scoring system, but said he wasn’t completely satisfied. Hanyu owns the five best short programs, all compiled in the last two seasons, with a best of 110.95.

“This program feels like a concert,” said Hanyu, who skated to Prince music in a purple outfit. “I consider this program cannot be completed without the audience.

“I feel this program has a lot more potential. I really wanted to improve my personal-best score here.”

Hanyu is trying to become the first singles skater to win four straight Grand Prix Finals in the event’s 22-year history.

He leads three-time Canadian world champion Patrick Chan by 6.77 points going into Saturday’s free skate. Chan’s clean short program included one quad and marked his first personal best in three years.

“The first good short program in a long time, internationally,” Chan said. “It didn’t feel any more special than any usual training day.”

Fernandez, who beat Hanyu at the last two world championships, nearly fell on a quad Salchow and a triple Axel and is in third, nearly 15 points back of Hanyu.

Fernandez was followed by Japan’s Shoma Uno and the two Americans, training partners Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon, in fifth and sixth in the six-skater field.

Chen, 17, fell on a quad flip and stepped out of a quad Lutz landing.

“I made two pretty big mistakes, so I’m a little bit upset about that,” Chen said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I was able to land the triple Axel, which I’m happy about because that’s always been my struggle jump.”

Rippon, 27, was the only skater to not attempt a quad.

“I’m trying the least amount of quads so my focus is to skate well overall,” Rippon said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I want to do my best and improve for the rest of the season.”

Chen and Rippon are the first American men in a Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, since 2011.

The Grand Prix Final continues Friday with the short dance, pairs free skate and women’s short program (broadcast schedule here).

Earlier in pairs, Canadian world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford struggled to third place in the short program. Duhamel fell on a throw triple Axel.

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead by 3.26 points going into Friday’s free skate.

MORE: Javier Fernandez builds toward last Olympic chance

Men’s Short Program
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 106.53
2. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 99.76
3. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 91.76
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 86.82
5. Nathan Chen (USA) — 85.30
6. Adam Rippon (USA) — 83.93

Pairs Short Program
1. Yevgenia Tarasovana/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 78.60
2. Xiaoyu Yu/Hao Zhang (CHN) — 75.34
3. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 71.44
4. Cheng Peng/Yang Jin (CHN) — 70.84
5. Natalya Zabiyako/Aleksander Enbert (RUS) — 65.79
6. Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 60.86

IOC president wants life bans for Russian cheats

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 16: IOC President Thomas Bach closing remarks during the fourth day of the 21st ANOC General Assembly at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on November 16, 2016 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images for ANOC)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Russian athletes and officials who are proven to have been part of a doping “manipulation system” should be banned for life from the Olympics, IOC President Thomas Bach said Thursday.

Bach gave his personal view one day before Canadian investigator Richard McLaren publishes a final report into alleged state-backed cheating at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Proof of systematic doping would be “aggravated circumstances” to justify life bans, the IOC leader said at a news conference after a three-day executive board meeting.

“I would not like to see this person again at any Olympic Games in any function,” Bach said, noting that as an IOC disciplinary commission chairman he approved life bans for Austrian team members implicated in doping at the 2006 Turin Winter Games.

However, proving that individual athletes knew of systematic doping involving state agencies could be difficult.

McLaren, who was appointed by the World Anti-Doping Agency in May, is expected to give more detail about cheating operations at the Sochi laboratory.

In his interim report in July, McLaren confirmed claims by former lab director Grigory Rodchenkov of a hole-in-the-wall swapping system aided by the FSB security agency to exchange athletes’ dirty urine samples for clean ones.

Earlier Thursday, the IOC member appointed to oversee disciplinary cases that arise from McLaren’s evidence acknowledged they could be tough to prove.

“Can you prove (athletes) were aware?” Denis Oswald, a Swiss lawyer, said on the sidelines of a sports law conference in Geneva.

“It is not that we would be scared to attack high level people in the Russian regime,” the Swiss lawyer said. “The question is more on the legal point of view. Can you punish athletes if they have done nothing and whether they were not aware of what was happening?”

Bach has also appointed a second IOC commission, headed by former Switzerland president Samuel Schmid, to evaluate if McLaren’s report and evidence proves a state-run doping system.

“And then based on that we will see if we can start cases against athletes,” Oswald said.

Meanwhile, United States lawmakers want Bach to attend a congressional committee hearing next Thursday to provide an update on sports’ fight against doping.

“Unfortunately I cannot attend there,” said Bach, adding that the IOC will “provide by other means all the information they may need.”

MORE: Russia sets 2018 Olympics medal target