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WADA: Russian hackers publish Simone Biles, U.S. Olympians medical data

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GENEVA (AP) — Confidential medical data of gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles, seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams and other female U.S. Olympians was hacked from a World Anti-Doping Agency database and posted online Tuesday.

WADA said the hackers were a “Russian cyber espionage group” called Fancy Bears.

They revealed records of “Therapeutic Use Exemptions” (TUEs), which allow athletes to use otherwise-banned substances because of a verified medical need.

Williams, who won a silver medal in mixed doubles at the Rio Olympics last month, issued a statement via her agent in which she said she was granted TUEs “when serious medical conditions have occurred,” and those exemptions were “reviewed by an anonymous, independent group of doctors, and approved for legitimate medical reasons.”

Williams revealed in 2011 she had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, an energy-sapping disease.

“I was disappointed to learn today that my private, medical data has been compromised by hackers and published without my permission,” Williams said. “I have followed the rules established under the Tennis Anti-Doping Program in applying for, and being granted, ‘therapeutic use exemption.'”

Another athlete named was women’s basketball gold medalist Elena Delle Donne, who had thumb surgery on Tuesday and posted a post-op pic on Twitter, along with a statement saying she takes prescribed medication approved by WADA.

In a statement, USA Gymnastics said Biles — who won five medals, four gold, in Rio last month — was approved for an exemption and had not broken any rules.

She wrote on Twitter that she’s taken medication to treat ADHD since she was a child.

“Please know I believe in clean sport, have always followed the rules, and will continue to do so as fair play is critical to sport and is very important to me,” Biles posted.

WADA previously warned of cyberattacks after investigators it had appointed published reports into Russian state-sponsored doping.

“These criminal acts are greatly compromising the effort by the global anti-doping community to re-establish trust in Russia,” World Anti-Doping Agency director general Olivier Niggli said in a statement.

WADA said it “extended its investigation with the relevant law enforcement authorities.”

Last month, hackers obtained a database password for Russian runner Yuliya Stepanova, a whistleblower and key witness for the WADA investigations. She and her husband, a former official with the Russian national anti-doping agency, are now living at an undisclosed location in North America.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected WADA’s statement blaming Russian hackers as unfounded.

“There can be no talk about any official or government involvement, any involvement of Russian agencies in those actions. It’s absolutely out of the question,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies. “Such unfounded accusations don’t befit any organization, if they aren’t backed by substance.”

The International Olympic Committee said it “strongly condemns such methods which clearly aim at tarnishing the reputation of clean athletes.”

“The IOC can confirm however that the athletes mentioned did not violate any anti-doping rules during the Olympic Games Rio 2016,” the Olympic body said.

The top American anti-doping official said it was “unthinkable” to try to smear athletes who followed the rules and did nothing wrong.

“The cyberbullying of innocent athletes being engaged in by these hackers is cowardly and despicable,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

The name “Fancy Bears” appears to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to a collection of hackers that many security researchers have long associated with Russia.

In a statement posted to its website early Tuesday, the group proclaimed its allegiance to Anonymous, the loose-knit movement of online mischief-makers, and said it hacked WADA to show the world “how Olympic medals are won.”

“We will start with the U.S. team which has disgraced its name by tainted victories,” the group said, adding that more revelations about other teams were forthcoming.

Internet records suggest Fancy Bears’ data dump has been in the works for at least two weeks; their website was registered on Sept. 1 and their Twitter account was created on Sept. 6.

Messages left with the group were not immediately returned. A French name and phone number associated with the site both appeared to be bogus. A mailing address listed by the hackers appeared to point to a florist east of Paris; messages left with the business were not immediately returned.

MORE: Russia loses 2 more Olympic track and field medals for doping

Several women’s players spurn worlds inquiry from USA Hockey

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As sports organizations and notable hockey figures express support of the U.S. women’s team, several players say they rejected overtures from USA Hockey to serve as replacements for the upcoming world championships.

Two players told The Associated Press on Friday that USA Hockey reached out to them to gauge their interest for the worlds, which begin next week in Plymouth, Michigan.

Brittany Ott, a goaltender for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League, and Annie Pankowski, a junior forward at the University of Wisconsin, said the email from USA Hockey was not an invitation but rather an inquiry about their availability.

“I responded to that email and I said I’m not willing,” Pankowski said.

A third player, goalie Lauren Dahm, told the AP on Saturday she also turned down an invitation. Dahm plays for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Boston Blades.

The U.S. team has said it plans to boycott the worlds over a wage dispute with USA Hockey, which confirmed Thursday it would begin reaching out to potential replacement players. Several players posted messages on social media saying they support the national team and would decline or have declined any outreach from USA Hockey.

“From a personal standpoint I have never been invited to a USA Hockey series or camp or anything like that and I would honestly love to be invited to something like that,” Ott said by phone. “However at the current time, this is a fight that I believe in and I’m definitely going to stand up and help fight as much as I can.”

Many players posted a version of a Jerry Rice quote on Twitter on Friday: “Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t. I said no to USAH & will not play in the 2017WC.” Not all players who tweeted that message were asked by USA Hockey if they could play.

On Saturday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith joined the chorus of support for the players, saying on Twitter the organization stands behind their pursuit of fairness and equality.

“These women understand inequality when they see it and are expressing their right to be treated fairly as athletes and workers,” Smith tweeted. “Of course, they have the NFLPA’s support in daring to withhold their services until a fair agreement is reached.”

Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol posted his support on Twitter, calling players competitors and role models.

On Friday, the NHL Players’ Association and Major League Baseball players posted messages of support. The NHLPA posted on Twitter that it supports players and panned USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements, adding that the decision “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

The MLBPA encouraged all female hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period. The sides met for 10-plus hours Monday, but players have called USA Hockey’s counterproposal “disappointing.”

USA Hockey said Thursday its priority was to have all the players selected for the national team on the ice March 31 when the tournament begins. But the organization added that it informed players’ representatives it would begin reaching out to potential replacements with the tournament coming up.

Star national team forward Hilary Knight said last week she wished USA Hockey luck putting together a suitable team of replacements to defend the gold medal because the player pool was united in the dispute. Ott and Pankowski said they had not heard from any players expressing a willingness to play in worlds.

“It’s a very unified front,” Ott said. “It’s a tight-knit community that we have in women’s hockey here. This is definitely a big opportunity for us to make a big change and have a big impact on our sport and have it grow. We’re all standing together.”

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World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.