olympic-liftoff

Olympic torch launches into space (video, photos)

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We have liftoff.

An Olympic torch blasted into space aboard a Russian rocket in a special part of the Sochi torch relay from Kazakhstan at 11:14 ET on Wednesday night.

NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata took the torch aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket with Sochi 2014 designs.

An Olympic torch has gone into space at least once before. A ceremonial torch went on the space shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station before the 2000 Olympics, but this will be the first time it will go into open space on a spacewalk, scheduled for Saturday.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy will take the torch as part of a six-hour spacewalk beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET, according to Space.com. It will be tethered to make sure it doesn’t fly away.

The torch will not be lit on the expedition for safety reasons. Photos and video are expected to be made available after the spacewalk.

“We’d like to showcase our Olympic torch in space,” Kotov said, according to Engineering & Technology magazine. “We will try to do it in a beautiful manner. Millions of people will see it live on TV, and they will see the station and how we work.”

UPDATE: The torch reached the International Space Station on Thursday morning.

The torch is expected to return to Earth at 9:50 p.m. ET on Sunday, landing in Kazakhstan.

The crew that will stay at the International Space Station for six months will be able to watch the Olympics (on a delay), according to Interfax.

One of the three Sochi Olympic mascots — a polar bear — was also aboard the rocket:

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Screencap via Space.com

Here are photos from before the launch:

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Journalist says torch flame has gone out at least 44 times

Whistleblower: Four Russian Olympic champs in Sochi were on steroids

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Four Russians who won gold medals at the Sochi Olympics were on steroids at the time, a whistleblower who previously provided evidence of Russian track and field doping said, according to CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

The “60 Minutes” piece on Russian doping will air Sunday on CBS between 7 and 8 p.m. ET. An excerpt will air on CBS Evening News on Friday between 6:30 and 7 ET.

The whistleblower is Vitaly Stepanov, a former Russian anti-doping official who, along with wife and former Russian 800m runner Yulia Stepanova, provided a 2014 German TV documentary undercover footage and evidence of Russian track and field doping.

Russia’s track and field federation was banned from competition in November. The suspension could last through the Rio Olympics.

The “60 Minutes” report cites Stepanov learning of Russian cheating at the Sochi Olympics from Grigory Rodchenkov, former director of a Moscow drug-testing lab that was stripped of its accreditation by the World Anti-Doping Agency in April.

In a November WADA independent commission report, Rodchenkov was alleged to have requested and accepted money to conceal positive drug tests. He immediately resigned.

MORE: Russia track and field Olympic fate gets decision date

Tori Bowie runs fastest 100m ever this early in a year; Diamond League recap

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Tori Bowie, primarily a long jumper until two years ago, began to make her case as Olympic 100m favorite in the Diamond League season opener in Doha on Friday.

Bowie won in 10.80 seconds, the fastest-ever time this early in a year. The clocking matched the soft-spoken Mississippi native’s personal best.

Bowie was the world’s fastest woman in 2014, her first season as a full-time sprinter, and earned the World Championships 100m bronze medal last August.

At Worlds, she finished behind Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers.

In Doha, Bowie beat Schippers (10.83) and Worlds fourth-place finisher Veronica Campbell-Brown (10.91) with a .7 meter/second tailwind, easily within the legal limit of 2.0.

“I’m a much better runner now than I was last season,” Bowie said, according to the IAAF.

Fraser-Pryce, the two-time reigning Olympic and World champion, bettered 10.80 three times last year, including a 10.76 to win the World title.

Fraser-Pryce was not in Doha and hasn’t raced a 100m yet this year but is entered in a Jamaican meet Saturday.

In other events Friday, Caster Semenya notched her first Diamond League win since 2011, taking the 800m in 1:58.26, the fastest time in the world this year.

Semenya, who won the 2009 World title and 2012 Olympic silver, is best known for a gender-testing controversy of 2009 and 2010. The South African struggled since the London Games, failing to make the 2015 Worlds final, but on Friday breezed into the lead with about 60 meters left and opened a comfortable winning margin of .88.

“I can’t say there have been many changes in my training or my attitude,” Semenya said, according to the IAAF.

Semenya’s resurgence has come since a July decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that suspended for two years an IAAF ruling in 2011 that regulated women’s testosterone levels for competition eligibility.

Semenya has performed well at various times before the 2011 ruling, during the regulation period and now without the regulation.

In the 110m hurdles, Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt took sixth place in 13.37 seconds in his first Diamond League race since a Sept. 1 kidney transplant. Jamaican Omar McLeod prevailed in 13.05, the fastest time in the world this year.

Beijing Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt won a 400m in 44.41. Merritt took silver at 2015 Worlds behind South African Wayde van Niekerk, who clocked 44.11 in Bloemfontein earlier Friday.

Ameer Webb looked like a man who will make his first Olympic team in the 200m, winning in a personal-best 19.85 seconds. Webb, 26, had not broken 20 seconds until this year. He’s now done it in consecutive meets.

The Doha 200m did not include World medalists Usain BoltJustin Gatlin or Anaso Jobodwana. Webb’s time on Friday would have taken bronze at Worlds and ranks him No. 3 among Americans since the London Olympics. Only Gatlin and LaShawn Merritt have been faster in that span.

The Diamond League continues in Shanghai on May 14.

MORE: U.S. sprinters past, present trade relay barbs