Mao Asada

Mao Asada wins Skate America; more records for Russian pair

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Shaky Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada held on to win the first Grand Prix figure skating event of the season, beating a field that included U.S. champion Ashley Wagner.

Asada, a two-time world champion, scored 204.55 points at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Wagner looked like an Olympic medal threat Sunday, totaling 193.81 for second place (full results below).

In the pairs competition, Russian world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov reset their world record for a free skate one day after they broke their mark in the short program to win easily.

The Grand Prix season continues with Skate Canada beginning Friday (NBC coverage Sunday, 4 p.m. ET). Three-time reigning world champion Patrick Chan and U.S. silver medalist Gracie Gold lead the field in St. John, New Brunswick.

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On Sunday, Asada, 23, fell on a triple axel, the toughest jump in women’s skating today. She also doubled the second jump of a planned triple-triple combination.

It was still good enough to beat Wagner, who was four points behind Asada after the short program Saturday.

Wagner landed a triple-triple jump combination for the second straight day after adding it to her repertoire for the Olympic season. The daughter of a U.S. Army officer hit six more triple jumps skating to “Romeo and Juliet.”

“Two solid programs back to back, that’s a huge accomplishment any time of the year,” Wagner told NBC. “I have a lot of work to do until Sochi, but I’m on the way up.”

Wagner is a favorite to grab one of three women’s spots on the U.S. Olympic team that will be named after the U.S. Championships in Boston in January.

She just missed the two-woman Olympic team in 2010, placing third at the National Championships.

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In the pairs, Volosozhar and Trankov confirmed their massive Olympic favorite status with 237.71 points, nearly 30 more than the rest of the field.

They skated to “Jesus Christ Superstar” with Trankov in yellow velvet pans, hitting side-by-side triple salchows, a triple toe loop-double toe loop combination and a pair of throw triples.

They broke the world record for short and long programs for the second time this season.

“You never stop, and we try to do better and better every competition.” said Trankov in an interview for the Joe Louis Arena crowd before he switched to Japanese to thank their fans from that country.

Volosozhar and Trankov may be the host country’s only figure skating gold medalists at the Sochi Olympics. They’re trying to regain Russian dominance in pairs skating.

A Russian/Unified Team/Soviet pair won gold at every Olympics from 1964 through 2006, but none won a medal in 2010.

Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, fourth at the World Championships, were nearly 30 points behind in second place.

U.S. pairs took fourth, sixth and seventh, led by 2012 U.S. champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin.

Pairs has been the U.S.’ weakest figure skating event for the last decade with no Olympic medalists since 1988.

Denney and Coughlin, 2013 U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir (sixth at Skate America) and Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, ninth at worlds, are the top contenders for two spots on the Olympic team.

Attention on Asada in quest for Olympic gold

Women’s Results
1. Mao Asada (JPN) 204.55
2. Ashley Wagner (USA) 193.81
3. Yelena Radyonova (RUS) 183.95
4. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) 176.75
5. Samantha Cesario (USA) 167.98
6. Mae Berenice Meite (FRA) 167.35
7. Valentina Marchei (ITA) 156.79
8. Viktoria Helgesson (SWE) 152.34
9. Elene Gedevanishvili (GEO) 148.94
10. Caroline Zhang (USA) 110.12

Pairs Results
1. Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov (RUS) 237.71
2. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch (CAN) 208.45
3. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) 187.35
4. Caydee Denney/John Coughlin (USA) 182.43
5. Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek (ITA) 180.27
6. Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir (USA) 177.11
7. Felicia Zhang/Nathan Bartholomay (USA) 168.42
8. Margaret Purdy/Michael Marinaro (CAN) 146.28

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7 more Kenyan athletes banned for doping

Emily Chebet
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Two-time cross-country world champion Emily Chebet was among seven Kenyan athletes banned for doping Friday, another indication that the country has a serious problem of cheating among its famed distance runners.

Chebet, the cross-country world champion in 2010 and 2013, was banned for four years after testing positive for the diuretic and masking agent furosemide, the Kenyan athletics federation said.

The list of sanctions announced by Athletics Kenya included bans for the two runners that failed doping tests at the world championships in Beijing in August. Joyce Zakary and Koki Manunga, who were provisionally suspended at the worlds, also received four-year bans for furosemide.

There has been a recent spike in doping cases in Kenya and more than 40 athletes have now failed tests since 2012. Kenyan track officials are under scrutiny after allegations of doping cover-ups, and separate accusations of embezzlement of money at the national federation.

This week, a group of athletes stormed the federation headquarters in Nairobi demanding the resignation of top officials over the doping scandals and corruption allegations.

Along with her two cross-country world titles, the 29-year-old Chebet was a bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Her ban was backdated to July 17 and she will be unable to compete until July 16, 2019.

The doping cases of Zakary, a 400-meter runner, and Manunga, a 400-meter hurdler, undermined Kenya’s impressive display at this year’s worlds, where the country tied with Jamaica for the most gold medals with seven. They failed targeted tests carried out by world athletics body the IAAF in Beijing, enhancing suspicions that doping in Kenya is widespread.

Zakary set a national record of 50.71 seconds at the worlds before her failed test. The two were banned until Aug. 24, 2019.

The other four athletes banned on Friday were Agnes Jepkosgei, Bernard Mwendia, Judy Jesire Kimuge and Lilian Moraa Marita.

Jepkosgei was banned for four years for testing positive for the anabolic steroid metabolite norandrosterone. Mwendia was given a two-year ban for norandrosterone. Kimuge was banned two years for the norandrolone and Marita two years for the blood-booster EPO.

A World Anti-Doping Agency panel that recently reported on a systematic program of doping cover-ups in Russia said that Kenya also has a serious doping problem. That has spurred speculation that, like Russia, Kenya could face a blanket ban from international competition.

The IAAF has opened investigations into allegations that track officials in Kenya were involved in covering up positive doping tests. In a separate investigation, the IAAF is also looking at accusations of corruption against top officials at Athletics Kenya after they were questioned by Kenyan police over the alleged embezzlement of around $700,000 of the federation’s money.

One of the officials accused, AK Vice President David Okeyo, is a member of the IAAF’s decision-making council. The athletes protesting at Athletics Kenya this week demanded that Okeyo and AK President Isaiah Kiplagat step down.

IAAF clears Paula Radcliffe, defends its blood testing program

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(AP) — The IAAF cleared marathon world record-holder Paula Radcliffe of doping allegations on Friday and rejected claims that it failed to act on hundreds of suspicious blood tests, saying the accusations lacked “any scientific or legal basis.”

Track and field’s governing body issued a 38-page response to allegations by British and German media outlets that it had ignored and tolerated rampant blood doping in the sport.

“The IAAF is not complacent about doping in its sport,” the federation said. “It will continue to use every tool at its disposal to fight doping and protect clean athletes.”

The statement was released a few days before IAAF President Sebastian Coe faces a British parliamentary hearing into the doping allegations made by The Sunday Times newspaper and German broadcaster ARD.

Already reeling from revelations of government-backed doping in Russia and criminal corruption charges against former president Lamine Diack, the International Association of Athletics Federations said it had a duty to set the record straight on the blood doping issue.

“The IAAF cannot sit idly by while public confidence in its willingness to protect the integrity of its sport is undermined by allegations of inaction/incompetence that are based on bad scientific and legal argument,” it said.

The IAAF singled out the case of Radcliffe, saying the three-time London Marathon winner was publicly accused of doping “based on the gross misinterpretation of raw and incomplete data.”

Elevated blood value readings in some of Radcliffe’s tests had “clearly plausible” explanations that were “entirely innocent,” the IAAF said.

“Any competent scientist would immediately conclude that they should be disregarded,” the statement added.

The IAAF said it followed up by testing Radcliffe’s urine and blood samples for EPO and blood transfusions, and all the results came back negative.

“Obviously there’s been damage done to my reputation, and to the reputation of the sport, and that’s why I took the stand I did against this,” Radcliffe said Friday after the release of the IAAF statement. “Yes, it was only me being singled out but there are a lot of other innocent, clean athletes who have or may produce an atypical value at some point.

“That’s precisely why it has to be kept so confidential until an expert that’s properly qualified looks at it and assesses it.”

Britain’s national anti-doping agency said it also reviewed Radcliffe’s test results and agreed there was no case against her.

“The data does not provide any evidence that any anti-doping rule violation proceedings should be brought,” the UK Anti-Doping Agency said.

Radcliffe, who retired from competition this year, was publicly implicated during a British Parliamentary hearing in August into the doping allegations leveled by the British and German media.

She acknowledged that her blood-testing data may have shown “fluctuations” but insisted there were no “abnormalities” and experts had concluded she had done nothing wrong.

Radcliffe set the world record when she ran 2 hours, 15 minutes, 25 seconds in winning the 2003 London Marathon. She also won the New York Marathon three times (2004, `07 and `08) and the Chicago Marathon in 2002. Radcliffe competed in four Olympics but never won a medal.

The Sunday Times and ARD examined the results of 12,000 blood tests involving 5,000 athletes from a leaked IAAF database covering 2001 to 2012 and concluded there was evidence of widespread cheating.

The reports said that 146 medals — including 55 golds — in disciplines ranging from the 800 meters to the marathon at the Olympics and world championships were won by athletes who have recorded suspicious tests. The Sunday Times also claimed the London Marathon was won seven times over a 12-year period by athletes who recorded suspicious tests.

The IAAF said Friday that its biological passport program — which monitors athletes’ blood profiles over time for evidence of doping — began in 2009 and that all screenings done before then could not be used as proof of doping.

“No charge could ever be brought based on the pre-2009 tests,” the statement said.

The IAAF said it would respond separately to allegations made in a report by a World Anti-Doping Agency commission this month that IAAF officials swept aside up to eight blood doping cases in 2012, allowing athletes to compete at the London Olympics when they should have been suspended.

MORE: Russia vows to follow all WADA recommendations on doping