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Russia track and field eyes ‘neutral status’ for athletes at winter meets

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MOSCOW (AP) — A year after the release of a damning report into widespread doping, Russian track and field is hopeful of a way back into the global fold.

On Nov. 9, 2015, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s independent commission unleashed a strongly worded, 323-page account of how Russian athletes, coaches and officials had colluded in the use of performance-enhancing drugs before and after the 2012 London Olympics.

That report set in motion a year of turmoil and legal battles for Russia, which had more than 100 athletes in various sports barred from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, including all but one member of the track and field team. The Russian track federation remains barred from international competition, with no date set for when it could return.

“We’ve lived through a hard year, very hard,” All-Russian Athletics Federation general secretary Mikhail Butov told The Associated Press. “Not just regarding the participation of our athletes at the Olympics, which was the most important thing for us, but in terms of recognizing the situation and understanding which way to go.”

Despite being under the heaviest sanctions in track and field history, Russian officials insist they are making progress on anti-doping reforms and plan to send athletes to major competitions in the coming months. The main target is the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, from March 3-5, federation president Dmitry Shlyakhtin said after talks with IAAF representatives in Monaco.

The IAAF will hold a special congress in Monaco on Dec. 3.

Any Russians who are allowed to compete will probably have to accept “neutral status” in IAAF events rather than officially representing Russia, Butov suggested. The IAAF declined to comment on the talks.

“The work has continued and there is something to show for it,” Butov said.

The only Russian who competed in track and field at the Rio Games was long jumper Darya Klishina, who was allowed to take part under IAAF rules because she had been based in the U.S. for several years, away from the Russian drug-testing system, which faced accusations that officials and lab staff had covered up hundreds of failed tests.

Russian track and field officials and athletes hope the IAAF will accept individual athletes’ applications to compete, even if the federation as a whole remains suspended.

“Now it seems as if that criterion about living abroad can probably be disregarded,” Butov said. “The issue now is that the testing that has been done in this period is considered convincing and guaranteed to give an athlete the opportunity to be considered for competition. If it’s not like that, it’ll be an endless process.”

The Russian drug-testing agency has been suspended for almost a year, with testing carried out in reduced numbers by Britain’s anti-doping agency. Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said the situation was “totally unacceptable” because UK Anti-Doping plans to collect only 6,000 samples in 2017, compared to the 20,000 collected by the Russian agency at its peak. He said that only national team athletes are being targeted for testing, leaving youth and junior athletes out of the system.

“So, in a situation like this, why not to find a fast-track way to give the accreditation back to RUSADA and to renew its activities, especially since it is under the full control of WADA?” Zhukov said in a speech to IOC officials released Wednesday. “What is preventing this? For our part, we would like to appeal to you as WADA’s founders to assist in the prompt reinstatement of the Russian anti-doping agency and the anti-doping laboratory in their rights.”

Among those who missed the Rio Games was hammer thrower Sergei Litvinov, who had hoped to compete in his first Olympics.

“I’ve spent the whole year on edge,” he said.

Litvinov, a vocal critic of drug use, had requested extra drug-testing by the IAAF to prove he was clean, but still came under the Russian team’s ban. He still doesn’t know when he can compete again.

“Whatever will be, will be,” he said. “It could all change at any moment.”

MORE: Russia passes tough anti-doping bill

U.S. men look to fill Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte void at swim worlds

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With Michael Phelps retired and Ryan Lochte suspended, the superstars at the world swimming championships clearly lie on the women’s side.

But the men’s events will include world-record chasers, a stinging rivalry and, perhaps, the emergence of Phelps and Lochte’s successor as leading U.S. man.

Caeleb Dressel came through in Rio under arguably the most pressure of any swimmer, starting off the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay team in his very first Olympic splash with a personal-best time.

Dressel, a 20-year-old who nearly quit swimming three years ago as the No. 1 recruit in the nation, has nine events to choose from at worlds in Budapest starting Sunday.

He qualified in four individual events — 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles — and is eligible for all five relays (two mixed-gender).

In the last 15 years, only two U.S. men have raced in four individual events at a single Olympics or world championships — Phelps and Lochte.

Dressel is in the medal mix in all of his individual events, ranking No. 1 in the world this year in the 100m fly, No. 3 in the 50m free, No. 4 in the 100m free and No. 5 in the 50m fly. He is also almost guaranteed medals in any relays that he enters given the unmatched U.S. depth.

Dressel has never been to a worlds and raced just one individual event in Rio. He’s the potential breakout star on a U.S. team, surrounded by more proven names.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

Ryan Murphy, who swam for the same Jacksonville, Fla., club team as Dressel, swept the backstrokes in Rio and broke the 100m back world record leading off the medley relay. That dominance has not quite carried over so far in 2017. Murphy ranks third in the world in the 100m and 200m backs this year.

Chase Kalisz, a longtime Phelps training partner in Baltimore, has followed up his Rio Olympic 400m individual medley silver medal well this year. He chopped two seconds off his personal best in the 200m IM and goes into Budapest ranked No. 1 in the world in the 400m IM by nearly a half-second.

The U.S. boasts more medal threats including Nathan Adrian (sprint freestyles), Townley Haas (200m free), Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes (breaststrokes), but nobody is a clear favorite.

The surest bets are world-record holders Adam Peaty and Ippei Watanabe in the breaststrokes and Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri in the 1500m free. Paltrinieri could challenge a five-year-old world record held by Sun Yang.

Speaking of Sun, the mercurial Chinese superstar is set to renew his rivalry with Australian Mack Horton. In Rio, Horton memorably called Sun “a drug cheat,” in reference to Sun’s three-month suspension in 2014 for using a banned stimulant.

Horton then went out and beat Sun in the 400m freestyle, dethroning the Olympic and world champion. Horton and Sun could face off in four individual events in Budapest.

Key men’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Sun has been two seconds faster than Horton this year
4x100m freestyle relay — Olympic silver medalist France won’t defend world title; U.S. favored

Monday, July 24
100m breaststroke — Peaty has the eight fastest times ever and fastest by .95 this year

Tuesday, July 25
200m freestyle — Haas the only man within .64 of Sun in 2017
100m backstroke — Rio silver medalist Xu Jiayu was .01 shy of Murphy’s WR in April

Wednesday, July 26
200m butterfly — Japan and Hungary lead the post-Phelps-era world; Chad le Clos ranks 8th in 2017
800m freestyle — Italian Gabriele Detti fastest in 2017 by six seconds, but slower than Sun’s winning times in 2011, 2013, 2015

Thursday, July 27
200m individual medley — Phelps, Lochte won the last 12 Olympic/world titles
100m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel

Friday, July 28
200m backstroke — U.S. won 14 of the last 15 Olympic/world titles, including Murphy in Rio
200m breaststroke — Watanabe broke WR in January; surprise Olympic champ Dmitriy Balandin ranks No. 127 this year
4x200m freestyle relay — U.S., without Lochte, Phelps, looks to take world title back from Great Britain

Saturday, July 29
50m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel
100m butterfly — Joseph Schooling eyes Phelps’ WR, but Dressel ranks No. 1 in 2017

Sunday, July 30
400m individual medley — Kalisz ranks No. 1 in 2017, but time is .94 slower than Kosuke Hagino in Rio
1500m freestyle — Sun holds WR of 14:31 but hasn’t broken 14:55 since 2014
4x100m medley relay — Great Britain will lean on Peaty to challenge U.S.

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MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

Katie Ledecky eyes more history as women to star at swimming worlds

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The year after the Olympics isn’t always known for it, but there should be fireworks in the women’s events at the world swimming championships in Budapest next week.

Katie Ledecky could match Missy Franklin‘s record of six gold medals at a single worlds by swimming one more event than she did at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics. Judging by Ledecky’s times at the U.S. Championships last month, the rising Stanford sophomore is in her usual dominant form.

Hungarian Katinka Hosszu, swimming in front of her home fans, could try to equal Ledecky with four individual golds in backstrokes and individual medleys.

Swede Sarah Sjostrom could do the same in the 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles, where world records are under threat.

Ledecky, Hosszu and Sjostrom are all bidding to become the first women to three-peat in an individual event at worlds.

Then there’s the return of the greatest rivalry in swimming. After their memorable Rio duel, King and Yulia Efimova rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year in all three breaststrokes.

Spain’s Mireia Belmonte and American Leah Smith have never won an individual world title, but they could be the busiest swimmers of all next week.

Belmonte could race 7,4000 total meters if she makes every event final. Smith could get up to 7,000 meters. Both would outdistance Ledecky and Hosszu in mileage.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

The women’s program could have been even more loaded if not for two notable absences. Australian Cate Campbell, the 100m freestyle world-record holder, is sitting out world champs.

Australia beat the U.S. in the 4x100m free relay at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, but without Campbell, the Americans are about even with the Aussies. Ledecky’s bid for six golds could hang on this race on the opening night.

Ledecky also greatly benefits from Sjostrom’s decision to skip the 200m freestyle. In Rio, Sjostrom was the closest swimmer to Ledecky in her individual events, coming .35 shy in the 200m free while outsplitting Ledecky in the final 50 meters.

Key women’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Ledecky hasn’t lost a 400m free since the 2012 Olympic Trials
4x100m freestyle relay — Showdown with Campbell-less Australia crucial for Ledecky’s six-gold bid

Monday, July 24
100m butterfly — Sjostrom’s only competition is her world record of 55.48
200m individual medley — Nobody has been within a second of Hosszu this year

Tuesday, July 25
100m backstroke — Kylie Masse was .09 off the longest-standing women’s swimming world record at Canadian Champs
1500m freestyle — Ledecky is 25 seconds faster than anyone else this year
100m breaststroke — Efimova is .13 faster than King this year

Wednesday, July 26
200m freestyle — Ledecky’s toughest individual event made easier by Sjostrom’s absence

Thursday, July 27
200m butterfly — Olympic champ Belmonte eyes first world title; Nos. 2, 3, 4 from Rio absent
4x200m freestyle relay — China is strong, but Ledecky is the U.S.’ ace in the hole

Friday, July 28
100m freestyle — Heavy favorite Sjostrom .02 off the world record in June
200m breaststroke — Efimova is two seconds faster than second-ranked King this year

Saturday, July 29
200m backstroke — Kathleen Baker can inherit throne from retired Maya DiRado 
800m freestyle — Likely Ledecky’s sixth and final event, could match Franklin’s gold record

Sunday, July 30
50m freestyle — No. of sub-24-second times this year — Sjostrom: 6; Rest of World: 0
400m individual medley — Hosszu, after breaking WR by two seconds in Rio, slower this year
4x100m medley relay — U.S. should gap Australia, China on breaststroke leg

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MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

*Correction: The integrity of a Lilly King quote attributed to Agence France-Presse in earlier version of this story has been called into question and was removed.