Around the Games: Day 11 - 2014 Winter Olympic Games

NHL boss: “What comes next we’ll all have to figure out”

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SOCHI, Russia — Let’s start with a direct quote from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman:

“I don’t want to get into what the pros and cons are for participating. Everybody knows them, and they’ve been debated ad nauseam. We are here because we think it’s great to be here today at this tournament. What comes next we’ll all have to figure out, as we’ve done each of the other times that the NHL players have participated.”

Because that, folks, is the most important takeaway from today’s press conference that featured Bettman, NHLPA chief Donald Fehr, and IIHF president René Fasel. Anyone who figured we’d learn something more definitive about the future of NHL participation in the Olympics was left disappointed, and was probably a bit naive to figure that in the first place.

“It’s nothing that’s been discussed. It’s nothing that will be discussed while we’re here in Sochi.”” said Bettman of the potential to send NHLers to Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

“From our standpoint, we have a process we go through,” said Fehr. “We have a significant time period which we talk to the players, digest what they have to say, figure out what they want, and then they tell me what they’d like me to do, and we try and make that happen. And that process will play out after the Games.”

The most entertaining part of today’s affair came near the end, when Fasel — a big supporter of maintaining NHL participation — said, “There is nothing like an Olympic gold medal in the life of an athlete. Nothing.”

To which Bettman responded, “Except perhaps winning the Stanley Cup.”

So failing any actual hard answers, at least there were some laughs.

At this point, the ball seems very much in the court of the players. As we wrote last week, if NHLers want to keep coming to the Olympics, they need to make that clear.

“None of this moves forward at all, if it moves forward at all, if the players don’t want to play,” said Bettman. “The reason we’re here in the first instance is this is a game with a history and tradition of international competition and our players, NHL players, love representing their countries. And so, if the players ever said, ‘We’re not interested,’ we’re not going to ever force them to go.”

As for when the decision will be made? Fehr employed a famous legal phrase: “I think it will be done…with all deliberate speed. You do it as fast as you can, but in a democratic organization, you have to do it at the rate the players are prepared to do it. All the players.”

Bettman backed the time frame of six months that was proposed by deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

“As a logistical matter, subject to what Don said, we don’t see why it couldn’t be done in that time frame,” said Bettman. “Frankly, if we’re going to continue to participate, having as long a runway as possible to use the advantages would be a good thing. And if we’re not going to participate, giving the various national federations an opportunity to adjust to that, giving them as much time as possible would be good.”

Kenya banned athletes allege doping bribery

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EMBU, Kenya (AP) — Two Kenyan athletes serving four-year bans for doping at the 2015 World Track and Field Championships say the chief executive of Athletics Kenya, the country’s governing body for track and field, asked them each for a $24,000 bribe to reduce their suspensions.

Joy Sakari and Francisca Koki Manunga told The Associated Press that CEO Isaac Mwangi asked for the payment in an Oct. 16 meeting, but that they could not raise the money. They were then were informed of their four-year bans in a Nov. 27 email, but never filed a criminal complaint because, they say, they had no proof to back up their bribery accusation and also feared repercussions.

Mwangi dismissed the allegation as “just a joke,” denied ever meeting privately with the athletes and said Athletics Kenya has no power to shave time off athletes’ bans.

“We have heard stories, athletes coming and saying, ‘Oh, you know, I was asked for money,'” Mwangi said. “But can you really substantiate that?”

Sakari, a 400m runner, and Manunga, a hurdler, told AP they would be willing to testify to the ethics commission of the IAAF, the global governing body of athletics.

The commission already is investigating allegations that AK officials sought to subvert anti-doping in Kenya, solicited bribes and offered athletes reduced bans. The probe has led to the suspensions of AK’s president, Isaiah Kiplagat, a vice president, David Okeyo, and AK’s former treasurer, Joseph Kinyua.

Sharad Rao, a former director of prosecutions in Kenya who also has adjudicated cases for the Court of Arbitration for Sport, is leading the ethics investigation for the International Association of Athletics Federations. Sakari and Manunga’s decision to come forward could be a breakthrough, because Kenyan athletes have been unwilling to act as whistleblowers.

“There is obviously the reluctance on the part of the athletes to come forward,” Rao said. “They don’t want to stand out.”

As many as a half-dozen banned athletes have privately indicated to the IAAF commission that AK officials sought to extort them and that they feel their sanctions might have been less if they had paid bribes, Rao said.

AP’s interview with Sakari and Manunga is the first time Kenyan athletes have detailed such allegations publicly.

“That information would, of course, be very, very significant, very important for us,” Rao said.

Rao said he has been talking to at least one other athlete who may have been approached for a bribe, and that his first priority was to get responses from Kiplagat, Okeyo and Kinyua — all three of whom have flatly denied to him that they took or solicited bribes.

Sakari and Manunga, both police officers in Kenya, said Mwangi asked them for 2.5 million Kenyan shillings — or $24,000 — each.

“I told him I’ve never seen that much money in my life,” Manunga told AP. “Even if I sold everything, I wouldn’t be able to get together that amount of money.”

The athletes tested positive in August for furosemide, a diuretic banned because it can mask the use of forbidden performance-enhancers, and were sent home from the worlds in Beijing. They told AP the drug was sold to them by a chemist in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, who said it would alleviate side effects of supplements they were taking. The chemist testified in defense of the athletes to AK, saying he gave them furosemide to combat water-retention caused by the supplement.

Compared to doping cases involving other athletes, their four-year bans appear harsh. World Anti-Doping Agency rules classify furosemide as a so-called “specified substance,” distinguishing it from hardcore performance-enhancers like steroids or the blood-boosting hormone EPO.

For specified substances, IAAF rules allow for lesser bans of no more than two years, or even just a reprimand and no ban, if athletes can prove they weren’t at fault or negligent.

To impose a four-year ban, the rules require authorities to establish that athletes intentionally cheated. But AK appears to have discounted the chemist’s testimony. In the letter it sent to Manunga announcing her ban, AK said there was no “plausible explanation” for using furosemide and that the federation “can only infer” she took it intentionally as a masking agent.

Last year, Serbia’s athletics federation imposed a two-year ban on 800m runner Nemanja Kojic for the same substance. He can return to competition in 2017; Sakari and Manunga were banned until 2019.

They said they visited Mwangi’s first-floor office together, seeking news of their case. During that meeting, they said, he asked for the bribe, dangling the possibility of shaving time off their bans.

Both athletes say they are sure of the date of that meeting — Oct. 16 — because, they say, they went to the KCB bank together later that day to open accounts and deposit 600,000 Kenya shillings ($5,785) paid to each of them for being on Kenya’s team in the Bahamas.

“He was waiting for us to give him money, so that this ‘thing’ disappears,” Manunga said. “We left, kept quiet and later that’s when our names came out and we were told that we’ve been banned because we did not deliver that money.”

“He asked us if we could give him something. That’s what he said,” said Sakari. “He asked for money.”

Mwangi denied that he met privately with the athletes.

“Why we avoid those kinds of things is because we know athletes are fond of making any kind of claim,” he told AP.

“It is not possible to give anyone money to meddle with your case,” he added. “I will contact the athletes officially and I will ask the athletes to come, the two of them, and like I said they are police officers, so we will have to involve the police force.”

Soliciting a bribe is a crime in Kenya.

The athletes have told their story privately to the Professional Athletics Association of Kenya, an advocacy group of Kenyan runners. The association’s secretary, Julius Ndegwa, said Sakari and Manunga came to see him and a lawyer in January.

The athletes spoke to AP in an on-camera interview in Embu, a ramshackle town 130 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of Nairobi where they were housed in police accommodation.

Sakari also raced at the 2012 London Olympics and 2009 Worlds. In Beijing, she competed under the name Zakary, but Sakari is her preferred spelling. She indicated that she is now done with athletics, because she will be 33 when her ban expires.

Manunga, 23, said she would have paid to return sooner to competition.

“For me, those four years are too many,” she said. “If I had the money, I’d have paid. But I didn’t have it. So I just left.”

MORE: Kenya marathon runner-up arrested for cheating in race

Kate Hansen retires from luge, eyes Running of the Bulls

Kate Hansen
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The last luge competition of Kate Hansen‘s career came at the Sochi Olympics. The one before that, she became the first U.S. woman to win a World Cup race in 17 years.

Not a bad way to go out.

Hansen has retired and will not attempt an Olympic encore in two years.

“I won’t go back to [competing in] luge,” Hansen said in a phone interview, coming to a firm decision the last several months. “As much as I miss my team, I miss my people, I miss traveling, I’m just feeling good about where my life’s at. I’m feeling fulfilled in a lot of different ways.”

She may be done speeding down an icy chute at 80 miles per hour, but she’s not done challenging herself. Hansen’s bucket list includes a trip to Pamplona, Spain, next year to participate in the Running of the Bulls.

She placed 10th in Sochi while also gaining fame for her warm-up dance routine while listening to Beyoncé and pranking the world with her wolf-in-the-athletes-village video.

“I never cared if I won or lost; I never cared about racing,” Hansen said. “Results, like they got me through the day-by-day, but my favorite part was being able to travel the world and make best friends all over.”

She’s still involved in the sport. Hansen will be the analyst on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra‘s broadcast of the World Luge Championships on Thursday from 6:30-8:30 p.m. ET.

“It’s really cool to use my craft that I’ve been working on half my life in a setting outside of competition,” Hansen said. “To still be a part of it is really fulfilling.”

Hansen, 23, sat out the last two seasons to concentrate on studying public relations and business at BYU (and backpack around Europe, Ecuador and Peru). She’s one year from her degree.

On March 27, 2014, Hansen was sought out by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ social media while attending a game to perform on their Dance Cam.

One month later, she threw out a ceremonial first pitch at a Dodgers game, met the right people and was offered a job with the club.

“Stars aligned,” Hansen said. “I would’ve never been able to take that job if I had been training.”

Hansen carries a microphone to help with an on-field pre-game show and in-game promotions (as she does at BYU). It helped her re-connect last summer with Jimmy Kimmel, with whom she pulled off the wolf-video prank in Sochi.

She hopes to be offered an ESPN internship for this summer after finding a delicate way to include her viral Sochi fame on her application.

“I embarrassed myself in front of the whole world,” she joked. “I definitely don’t lead with that.”

Hansen is also working on checking items off her bucket list, such as fixing up a motorcycle, reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s five books and wearing hoop earrings.

Hansen and her older sister plan to celebrate their birthdays in 2017 with a trip to Spain. They’re inviting anybody who wants to join them in the Running of the Bulls.

“I feel like after I went to the Olympics, if I have enough confidence, I can do anything,” Hansen said.

MORE: Update on every U.S. Olympic medalist from Sochi, two years from Pyeongchang

Wolfgate 2014

A photo posted by Kate Hansen (@k8ertotz) on