Vladimir Putin
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Vladimir Putin criticizes therapeutic use exemptions

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that therapeutic use exemptions for banned substances give an unfair advantage, and suggested athletes who use them should be excluded from major competitions.

TUEs allow athletes with medical conditions to take medications that would usually be banned. Their use has been under scrutiny since a hacking group known as Fancy Bears released confidential World Anti-Doping Agency documents listing medical information for many athletes.

“We need to understand what to do about (TUEs), otherwise we could soon face all records and victories going only to people who are ill with, let’s say, chronic illnesses,” Putin said, speaking at a sports forum in Russia.

Putin suggested putting restrictions on athletes with TUEs.

“Maybe they can be put in a special category, or their achievements, points, seconds and honors can be considered in a special way,” he said.

Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, called Putin’s stance “laughable, as the entire world has agreed to allow athletes to use medication for documented health needs like birth control, acne, life-saving surgery or established asthma.” When approved as required, Tygart said, none of the medicines gives a performance-enhancing advantage.

“It either shows a clear misunderstanding of the rules or it’s another attempt to smear innocent athletes in response to the uncovering of Russia’s state-sponsored doping system that gave athletes a tremendous performance advantage and corrupted the Sochi Olympic Games,” Tygart said.

Two independent investigations detailed state-sponsored doping inside the Russian sports program, one of which found evidence that dirty Russian urine samples at the Sochi Games had been exchanged with clean ones.

At a later meeting Tuesday with sports officials, Putin said all TUEs should be made public, a move that could face significant resistance from athletes, as well as possible legal obstacles related to the confidentiality of medical records.

“A person should decide, does he want people to know and does he want to do sport?” Putin said.

If athletes don’t want their medical status made public, “then they shouldn’t be competing in high-level sport.”

Putin did not address WADA’s allegation that the documents were released by hackers linked to Russia. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said last month that he would ask “the Russian authorities” for help to put a stop to the hacking.

The Fancy Bears group began posting medical records of Olympians online last month, with U.S. and British athletes making up a large proportion of those targeted. Only selected records have been released. It is not clear how many have been held back and for which reasons.

Many of the athletes named in the files have said their medicines are necessary for their health, while others have pointed to TUEs issued as a result of a medical emergency such as a sudden collapse or anaphylactic shock. A substantial minority of the TUEs that were leaked date back several years and concern substances that were closely regulated at the time but are no longer considered potentially performance-enhancing if not abused.

Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins‘ use of a TUE for three injections of an anti-inflammatory drug has prompted scrutiny in Britain, though he denies gaining an advantage.

Only one Russian, boxer Misha Aloyan, is among the dozens of athletes whose information has been leaked. However, many more Russian athletes are believed to have used TUEs.

Putin said last month that “we don’t support what the hackers have been doing, but what they have done can’t fail to attract public attention internationally.”

The leaks began a month after the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, from which many Russian athletes were banned following the investigations into state-sponsored doping. The entire weightlifting team was excluded, while only one track and field athlete was allowed to compete.

MORE: WADA updates list of prohibited substances

Sonja Henie record at stake; figure skating worlds pairs preview

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When Aljona Savchenko won her first gold medal at her fifth Olympics with her third different partner in PyeongChang, she said she “wrote history.”

She can write some more this week.

Savchenko, who at 34 became the oldest female figure skating champion in Winter Olympic history, and partner Bruno Massot are the only pairs medalists from PyeongChang who are back for the world championships in Milan.

The Germans headline the field for the short program Wednesday and free skate Friday.

MORE: World Champs TV Schedule

Savchenko can tie Norwegian Sonja Henie for the female record of 11 world championships medals. She can grab a share of second on the all-time pairs list with a sixth world title, four shy of Soviet Irina Rodnina‘s record.

Savchenko, who won four crowns with now-retired Robin Szolkowy, goes for her first world title with Massot. They’re clear favorites.

Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong withdrew from worlds due to Sui’s foot injury. Olympic bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford retired.

It’s arguably a surprise that Savchenko and Massot chose to compete in Milan. They’re the first Olympic pairs champions to compete at a post-Olympic worlds since 1992.

Their top challengers are Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who outscored Savchenko and Massot in the Olympic short program but dropped off the podium in the free skate with a fall on their throw.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, 15th at the Olympics, made the top 10 in all of their four world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh. The last U.S. pairs medal came in 2002, the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline.

The Knierims were the only U.S. pair in PyeongChang, but in Milan they’re joined by Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay.

Stellato earned singles silver at the 2000 World Junior Championships, then retired at age 17 due to hip injuries. She came back at age 32 in 2016 in pairs and, with the Sochi Olympian Bartholomay, took bronze at this year’s nationals.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

Mirai Nagasu enters worlds motivated by Olympic finish, future undecided

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A sense of validation coursed through Mirai Nagasu. Probably in PyeongChang, when she became the first U.S. woman to land a triple Axel at the Olympics. Definitely two weeks ago, when she attended the Academy Awards.

“It felt like I had really made it,” she said in an interview with NBC Sports Research. “The Oscars was open bar, so I had a little champagne there.”

The 24-year-old had earned at least that much, but somewhere in the back of her mind on March 4 had to be Milan, where she would be in two weeks for the world championships.

“It’s hard to [train] programs when you want to go on vacation and sip a mimosa,” Nagasu said, “but something about alcohol and training doesn’t mix well.”

Most of the other big-name U.S. Olympic figure skaters — including Adam Rippon and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani — withdrew from worlds, along with many international medalists, after the Olympics. For some, there were simply too many off-ice opportunities to fit in training. Others, exhaustion. Or retirement.

None of the above for Nagasu.

“Part of the reason I want to go to worlds [is] because I know I’m capable of performing better than I did in the long,” she said.

MORE: World Figure Skating Championships TV Schedule

Nagasu wasn’t referring to her memorable long program from the Olympic team event, where she helped the U.S. secure a bronze medal with that triple Axel.

Rather, she meant the individual free skate.

A fatigued Nagasu popped her planned triple Axel for zero points and singled a triple Lutz. She finished 10th overall, part of the worst U.S. women’s results in Winter Olympic history (but not completely unexpected given the pre-Olympic world rankings).

Nagasu knew that she was a dark-horse bronze-medal pick after her personal-best free skate in the team event. She scored nearly 18 fewer points in the individual long program.

So Nagasu decided to compete at worlds after making the U.S. team outright for the annual event for the first time since 2010.

She hopes to land the triple Axel in both programs Wednesday and Friday. That might be necessary to challenge for the podium. Most of the top women from the Olympics are in this week’s field, except silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia and Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, sixth in PyeongChang.

It could be the last competition of Nagasu’s career. She has not decided if she will compete in the fall.

“Some days I want to throw my skates in the trash, and other days I’m like, I still love this and I want to kill myself doing programs every day,” she said. “Right now I want to do my best at worlds, and that’s what I’m focused on. … I can’t even really think about competing next season.”

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang