sadRussiaAP

Finns bounce host Russians from men’s hockey playoff

4 Comments

Just prior to the start of the Olympic tournament, Russia’s Alex Ovechkin said he had a “dream” of winning a gold medal on home soil

On Wednesday, that dream died.

Finland beat Russia 3-1 in front of a partisan Russian crowd at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, stifling the host country for most of the game while setting off a national nightmare in the process.

Russia came into this tournament with huge hopes riding on hockey gold. Ovechkin joked a gold medal would “only cost $50-billion” — well, we think he was joking — and his teammates also acknowledged the pressure to win it all. Yet their tournament will end with a quarterfinal loss, and Finland deserves full credit for ending it.

VIDEO: Watch highlights from the game

Juhamatti Aaltonen, Teemu Selanne and Mikael Granlund all scored for Finland, with the three goals coming unanswered after Ilya Kovalchuk opened the scoring for the Russians midway through the third period. Granlund, 21, has stepped up huge in this tournament after injuries kept veteran forwards Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula from participating — Granlund now has a team-high five points.

If today’s game showed one thing, though, it’s the importance of quality goaltending in a single elimination tournament. Tuukka Rask was absolutely brilliant for the Finns, stopping 37 of 38 shots. Russia, meanwhile, got an uneven start from Semyon Varlamov — chased after allowing three goals — and was forced to insert Sergei Bobrovsky early in the second period.

The Russian goaltending situation will likely come under fire. Head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov went back and forth between Varlamov and Bobrovsky all tournament long; conversely, Finland has started Rask in three of its four games, including the last two against Canada and Russia.

This wasn’t just about goaltending, however. Finland played a smart, efficient game and outworked the Russians on a number of occasions. At no time was that more evident than on Teemu Selanne’s game-winning goal; Minnesota forward Mikael Granlund chased down and stripped Slava Voynov for a loose puck before centering to Selanne, who broke his own record (set five days ago) as the oldest goalscorer in Olympic history.

The Finns will now face Sweden in the semifinal for the chance to advance to Sunday’s gold medal game.

The Russians, meanwhile, will now face a number of questions.

Weak Brazilian ties get some athletes into Rio Games

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 19: Miriam Nagl of Germany competes during day two of the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open at The Grange GC on February 19, 2016 in Adelaide, Australia.  (Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAO PAULO (AP) — Rugby player Isadora Cerullo never lived in Brazil. Fencer Ghislain Perrier speaks very little Portuguese. Golfer Miriam Nagl played abroad most of her life.

They’ll still be parading under the host nation’s flag at the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Games come Aug. 5.

Cerullo, Perrier and Nagl are among several athletes who will be fulfilling their Olympic dream because of Brazil’s shortage of athletes in sports it automatically qualified for as host. Without an Olympic tradition to fall back on, the country was left to rapidly recruit an international band of athletes for events such as field hockey, golf, rowing, wrestling and rugby.

Their ties, in many cases, are weak. Some have lived away for most of their lives but were born in Brazil. Some were born abroad but have Brazilian parents or grandparents. Some had almost no links to the country but were hired by local federations and became naturalized.

“I would have very slim chances of participating in the Olympics if I hadn’t made the switch to play for Brazil,” said Nagl, a Brazilian-born golfer who left the country when she was 8 years old and had always played for Germany. “When this idea came up and I realized that I had a chance to make it to Rio, I started dreaming about being at the Maracana Stadium during the opening ceremony.”

The 35-year-old Nagl, who plays in the Ladies European Tour and is No. 445 in the women’s world rankings, said she hadn’t given much thought about representing her native country until being contacted by golf officials after Rio was awarded the games.

“By making the switch, I gave myself a chance to be in the Olympics, but I also thought about how this could be good for Brazil, about how I could become a good ambassador and help the game develop,” she said.

Brazil had only two foreign athletes in its delegation at the 2012 London Games – American basketball player Larry Taylor and Chinese table-tennis player Gui Lin. Now about 20 “international” athletes will be taking advantage of the many extra spots available for the home nation in Rio.

Rugby is one of the sports in which Brazil lacks tradition but will compete anyway. Hoping to put on a good show in front of the home fans, the local federation launched a worldwide campaign – entitled “Brazilian Rugby Players Wanted” – to attract athletes playing abroad.

A few who responded to the campaign will be in Rio, including American-born Cerullo, who has Brazilian parents but had never visited the country until after contacting Brazilian rugby officials. Two Brazilian brothers who lived in France also made it to the team, as well a Brazilian-born athlete who lived and played in Argentina. England-born Juliano Fiori and France-born Laurent Bourda-Couhet, who has a Brazilian mother, will also play.

Brazil’s fencing team earned eight additional spots as hosts and included three international players for the games. Among them are Perrier, who was born in Brazil but left the country as a baby after being adopted by a French family, and Italian-born Nathalie Moellhausen, who competed for Italy at the 2012 London Games but chose to be with the hosts in Rio to fulfill the wish of her Brazilian grandmother.

“I don’t have many connections to Brazil,” admitted Perrier, who has lived and trained in France most of his life. “I spent vacation in Brazil a few times, but I know only a few people there.”

The fencing team will also have Marta Baeza, who was born in Brazil but had been competing for Spain, and reserve team member Katherine Miller, who was born in the United States.

Another foreigner, Hungary’s Emese Takacs, tried to make the team but she was dropped after her citizenship was contested in court by a Brazilian athlete who had been left out of the squad. Takacs was accused of faking her marriage in Brazil to become naturalized.

“She had the legal documents but we always suspected it was a fraud,” the Brazilian who had lost her spot, Amanda Simeao, told local media. “She was married to a Brazilian but had a boyfriend in Hungary.”

Takacs denied wrongdoing but lost her battles in court.

Another controversial case was water polo goalkeeper Slobodan Soro, a Serbian whose naturalization process was approved just before the games. He and center Josip Vrlic of Croatia were hired to play for Brazil despite not having direct connections to the country. They were among five foreign-born players picked to play for the Brazilian team by Croat coach Ratko Rudic, the gold medalist with Croatia at the London Games.

The others were Spain’s Adria Delgado, who has a Brazilian father; Italian-born Paulo Salemi, son of a Brazilian mother; and Cuban Ives Gonzalez, who is married to a Brazilian. The team also has Brazilian-born Felipe Perrone, who used to play for the Spanish national team before joining the hosts for the Rio Games.

“They have been playing for Brazilian clubs for some time, this is not something that just happened,” said Ricardo Cabral, who is in charge of Brazil’s water polo team. “We created an Olympic project to help the sport develop and make Brazil more competitive. Because of the Olympics in Rio, there is more investment available and we want to take advantage of that to give the sport more visibility.”

MORE: Rio Olympics schedule highlights, daily events to watch

IOC to rule Sunday on Russia’s status for Rio

MONACO - DECEMBER 08:  IOC President Thomas Bach hold a press conference during the 127th IOC Session at the Grimaldi Forum on December 8, 2014 in Monaco, Monaco.  (Photo by Tony Barson/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) — As the clock ticks down to the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, international Olympic leaders are facing a seminal moment.

With the credibility of the fight against doping on the line and the image of the Olympic movement at stake, the IOC will hold a crucial meeting Sunday to consider whether to ban Russia entirely from the Rio Games because of systematic, state-sponsored cheating.

Short of a blanket ban, the International Olympic Committee could leave it to individual sports federations to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow Russian athletes in their events.

The doping crisis represents one of the Olympic movement’s biggest challenges since the boycott era of the 1980s, and how it plays out may well define Thomas Bach‘s IOC presidency.

The IOC’s ruling 15-member executive board will meet via teleconference to weigh the unprecedented step of excluding Russia as a whole from the games. Bach and others have spoken of a need to balance “individual justice” versus “collective punishment.”

Time is of the essence, with the games set to open in Rio on Aug. 5.

Russia’s track and field athletes have already been banned by the IAAF, the sport’s governing body, following allegations of state-directed doping – a decision that was upheld Thursday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Calls for a complete ban on Russia have intensified since Monday when Richard McLaren, a Canadian lawyer commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, issued a report accusing Russia’s sports ministry of overseeing a vast doping program of its Olympic athletes.

McLaren’s investigation, based heavily on evidence from former Moscow doping lab director Grigory Rodchenkov, affirmed allegations of brazen manipulation of Russian urine samples at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, but also found that state-backed doping had involved 28 summer and winter sports from 2011 to 2015.

Bach said the findings showed a “shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sports and on the Olympic Games” and declared the IOC “will not hesitate to take the toughest sanctions available against any individual or organization implicated.”

Russia also faces a possible ban from the Paralympic Games. Citing evidence in McLaren’s report of doping among Russian Paralympic athletes, the International Paralympic Committee said Friday it will decide next month whether to exclude the country from the Sept. 7-18 event in Rio.

The decision for the IOC is loaded with geopolitical ramifications.

Never has a country been kicked out the Olympics for doping violations. And Vladimir Putin‘s Russia is a sports powerhouse, a huge country seeking to reaffirm its status on the world stage, and a major player in the Olympic movement. Many international Olympic officials and federation leaders have close ties to Russia, which has portrayed the exclusion of its track athletes and calls for a complete ban as part of a political, Western-led campaign.

Putin, citing the U.S. and Soviet-led boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 Games, said the Olympic movement “could once again find itself on the brink of a division.”

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev wrote an open letter to Bach on Friday to plead against a blanket ban.

“I am worried and deeply upset by the possibility that in the case of a ban on Russian athletes competing in the Olympics, the innocent will be punished along with the guilty,” Gorbachev wrote. “For me the principle of collective punishment is unacceptable.”

Bach and other Olympic officials have repeatedly cited the difference between collective and individual punishment.

“It is obvious,” Bach said last week, “that you cannot punish a badminton player for infringement of rules or manipulation by an official or a lab director in the Winter Games.”

For many in the anti-doping community, however, the choice is simple: The extent of state-backed doping in Russia has tainted the country’s entire sports system and the only way to ensure a level playing field is to bar the whole team, even if some innocent athletes will lose out.

Former WADA president Dick Pound, a senior IOC member from Canada, accused Bach of dithering and failing to live up to his “zero tolerance” line on doping.

“You can’t have zero tolerance, but say, of course it’s Russia,” Pound told The Associated Press. “You have to go down trying to defend your policies, rather than shuffle the responsibility off in all other sorts of directions.”

Pound said the IOC will face a backlash if it decides against a full ban.

“I think it will go down very badly,” he said. “I think there will be an athletes’ revolt, a public revolt, maybe even the sponsors. You’ve got to take control of it, and show your leadership. The hesitation makes it looks worse and worse.”

WADA and many national anti-doping agencies and athletes’ groups have led the calls for a total Russian ban from Rio.

A coalition of 14 national anti-doping agencies sent a letter to Bach saying the IOC’s initial response did not meet his pledge of the “toughest sanctions available.” The group called on the IOC to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee and set up a task force that could allow certain Russians to compete under a neutral flag if proven to be clean.

“The scale, coordination and leadership of a doping system like this is arguably the most heinous crime possible against the Olympic movement,” Britain’s Adam Pengilly, a two-time Olympian in skeleton who serves as an athlete member of the IOC, told the BBC. “So, somewhat reluctantly, I am led to one conclusion: exclusion from Rio.”

Richard Ings, former head of Australia’s anti-doping agency, told the AP: “Any Russian Olympic sport athlete who had not been subject to independent testing in recent months should not be in Rio. It’s not about whether you were doping or not. That can’t be proved either way. What this must be about is, ‘Were you subject to compliant independent testing?'”

But the summer federations may not have all the information they need from the McLaren report to act. Some sports, such as gymnastics, were not cited in the report and feel there is no justification to ban Russians. And the federations all have different rules.

“This is our predicament,” said Andrew Ryan, director of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, which represents the 28 sports in the games. “We accept there is a collective responsibility and some IFs can address that, but the vast majority don’t have that within their rules. For the IOC, it is more simple.”

MORE: Mikhail Gorbachev writes to IOC president opposing Russia Olympic ban