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Year in Review: Shin A-Lam triumphs in protest, victory

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OlympicTalk’s writers recount some of their favorite moments from the 2012 London Games. 

One of the most triumphant series of events during the London Games began as one of the most controversial – and most awkward.

It started with South Korean fencer Shin A-Lam sitting on the fencing strip, sobbing uncontrollably after she lost a semifinal epee bout that would have advanced her to the gold-medal match.

Moments earlier Shin held priority – a tiebreak – over Germany’s Britta Heidermann when the clock was stopped at 0:01 in overtime. Neither woman had scored in extra session, but because Shin earned the final point during regulation, by rule she would win if the score remained when the clock ran out.

The match recommenced and both women scored simultaneous; offsetting touches. Play stopped but the clock remained at :01. The bout was restarted and again both women immediately scored simultaneous touches. The clock stayed at :01.

“We’re talking fractions of a second here – has the clock even started?” the TV announcer wondered aloud.

Play was started a third time, Heidermann landed a quick touch and the final second on the clock ran off.

Incredulous that the clock had not moved at all during the two previous actions, Shin’s coach immediately argued with the judges. After 25 minutes of deliberation, the judges awarded the bout to Heidermann.

That’s when the real drama began: Shin refused to leave the piste, the elevated platform where fencers fight, because, by rule, a fencer who leaves the piste accepts the judges’ ruling on a bout.

So Shin stayed. And stayed.

For nearly 70 minutes Shin sat alone on the piste, sobbing, the uncomfortable drama all the more intense for its surroundings: All that was illuminated in the darkened ExCel arena was the piste itself – luminously brilliant in white, red and green – and Shin, still in her crisp white jacket.

Eventually the judges denied a formal appeal from her coach, and Shin was forced to leave. After losing the bronze-medal match, Shin was offered a consolation medal from fencing’s governing body.

She didn’t think much of the offer.

“It does not make me feel better because it’s not an Olympic medal,” she told the Guardian. “I don’t accept the result because I believe it was a mistake.”

Robbed, as she saw it, of an individual medal and disdainful of a sympathy medal, Shin refused to leave London empty handed.

She didn’t. Five days later she and her South Korean teammates stormed to a silver medal triumph in the women’s team epee competition.

“I am really happy now,” she told the Associated Press. “My teammates and people back in [South] Korea gave me wonderful support this week.”

Russia track and field boss: ’50-60 percent’ chance of Olympics

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Russia’s new track and field federation president said he thinks his nation’s track and field athletes have “between 50 and 60 percent” of a chance of competing in the Rio Olympics, according to Reuters.

The IAAF is expected to rule June 17 whether Russia’s ban from international track and field competition will be lifted before the Rio Olympics.

Russia’s track and field athletes were banned indefinitely in November by the IAAF, after an independent World Anti-Doping Agency report alleged widespread doping issues.

Russia was given criteria to earn reinstatement, and Dmitry Shlyakhtin, elected new Russian track and field chief in January, believes the situation has improved.

“A mouse would not be able to slip past us now!” Shlyakhtin said, according to Reuters.

Russia has recently come under more scrutiny following reports of widespread winter sports doping leading up to the Sochi Olympics and cheating during those Winter Games to avoid positive drug tests.

MORE: Yelena Isinbayeva to sue if barred from Rio Olympics

Yelena Isinbayeva to sue if barred from Rio Olympics

Yelena Isinbayeva
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MOSCOW (AP) — Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva plans to file suit if Russia’s ban from global track and field competition remains in place and she is barred from competing at the games in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s a direct violation of human rights, discrimination,” Isinbayeva said.

Russia’s athletics federation was suspended by the IAAF in November after a World Anti-Doping Agency commission report detailed systematic, state-sponsored doping. The IAAF is due to rule next month on whether to reinstate Russia ahead of the Rio Olympics in August.

“In the case of a negative ruling for us, I will personally go to an international court regarding human rights,” Isinbayeva said. “And I’m confident that I’ll win.”

Speaking from her home city of Volgograd in a Skype interview arranged by Russian track officials, Isinbayeva held up four forms documenting recent drug tests she had passed — proof enough, she said, that she should be allowed to compete in Rio.

“Of course I’m angry because of this helplessness. All I can do now is train,” she said, adding that young Russian athletes’ careers could be destroyed if they have to wait until 2020 to go to the Olympics. “Four years, it’s a long time. Many of them can be, how can you say, broken.”

Isinbayeva’s comments came as a key adviser to Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said that Russia’s government supports making doping a criminal offense.

Adviser Nataliya Zhelanova told reporters at the ministry that the government hopes to get the law on the statute books for 2017, targeting coaches and officials who encourage or coerce athletes to dope. Fines or prison sentences were possible, she said, though this could change during the legislative process.

“It’s quite a long procedure but now everyone understood that we are in crisis and we have to do quick steps to fix the situation,” Zhelanova said.

In December, the IAAF asked the Russian track federation to consider lobbying for distribution and trafficking of doping substances to be made a criminal offense.

The new head of the Russian track federation maintained Russia was on track to meet IAAF conditions for reinstatement, but admitted to The Associated Press that a notorious training center was still part of the country’s track and field system.

The IAAF last year demanded the federation “immediately suspend all cooperation” with race-walking coach Viktor Chegin‘s state-funded center in the city of Saransk, which has been linked to more than 25 doping cases.

While Chegin was later banned for life, several of his top athletes are still competing and would be Olympic medal contenders if Russia is reinstated.

“I don’t rule out that (athletes are) living and training there,” Russian track and field president Dmitry Shlyakhtin said in an interview with the AP, adding that dozens of coaches who were part of Chegin’s hierarchy remained part of the federation’s system.

“If we shut down the Chegin center as a key point, we can’t stop and we won’t stop 75 coaches who are clean and transparent,” Shlyakhtin said.

Shlyakhtin said those coaches were working with children, but documents from this year’s national championships show top Russian walkers continuing to work with coaches from the main Chegin center. Officially, the athletes now represent local clubs and sports schools in and around the city.

Former Olympic gold medalist Olga Kaniskina, who lost her 2012 Olympic silver medal because of a doping ban, won the Russian 20-kilometer title in February in the fastest time recorded in the world this season. Federation documents list her as being coached by three trainers from the Chegin center and officially representing a children’s sports school, even though she is 31 years old.

“Kaniskina has finished her ban. She’s completely rehabilitated,” Shlyakhtin said. “Western people who are caught doping are not outcasts (either).”

Sergei Kirdyapkin, who lost his Olympic gold medal from 2012 due to a doping ban, is listed as being coached by Chegin center coaches, as is national champion Sergei Bakulin, who was stripped of his 2011 world championship gold. Both recently returned from doping bans.

Ahead of next month’s IAAF vote, Shlyakhtin said he was confident that Russia had made a significant effort to reform.

He said “90 percent” of the conditions for reinstatement had been fulfilled, including extra testing for Russia’s national track team in recent months and a shakeup of senior management.

Shlyakhtin suggested political interference, rather than a lack of reforms, could keep Russia out of the Rio Games, saying that countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, India and “especially China” deserved similar scrutiny on doping. He hinted that international officials turned a blind eye to some violations.

“The brakes are put on a lot of issues and they go away. Let’s all play fair according to one set of rules,” he said.

MORE: Russia’s top swimmer has meldonium ban lifted