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IOC president answers critics on Russia doping, Rio Olympics, 2024 bidding

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — IOC President Thomas Bach defended his handling of the Russian doping scandal, attacked critics of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and claimed no cities would have bid for the 2024 Games without his “Agenda 2020” reform program.

In a speech to the general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees on Tuesday, Bach appeared determined to counter the negative public perception surrounding the Olympic movement following a turbulent year of doping crises, the troubled buildup to Rio and continuing concerns over the costs of hosting the games.

Bach cited media headlines in the months ahead of the Rio Games about security, water quality, the Zika virus and allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia. Citing Donald Trump‘s victory in the U.S. presidential election last week, Bach said the Rio Games were a “case study” in the difference “between published opinion and public opinion” and “between perception and reality.”

Bach said the Rio Games were a great success, citing record global television viewership and social media interest, though he made no mention of the empty seats and organizational glitches that also affected the event. Bach said the success of the games was a “miracle” in light of the severe recession and political turmoil that Brazil has been going through.

He also went to great lengths to defend the International Olympic Committee’s decision not to impose a total ban on Russia from the games, saying he has received support from dozens of world leaders on the issue.

The World Anti-Doping Agency had called for the complete ban following a report by investigator Richard McLaren that detailed systematic, state-assisted doping in Russia. The IOC instead allowed international sports federations to decide which Russian athletes could compete.

Bach said he has met with many heads of state and government since the games and all backed the IOC’s position.

“They appreciated and acknowledged we did not take a political decision but we took a decision that took in the interest of sport and respected justice for clean athletes and protecting the clean athletes worldwide,” he said. “To see this acknowledgement and this appreciation by so many political leaders was a confirmation of our decision and is a great encouragement for all of us.”

McLaren’s final report is due out next month and will focus on allegations of Russian doping and manipulation of samples at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Two IOC commissions are also looking into the allegations, which could lead to calls for sanctions on Russia for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Bach said once the investigations and hearings are completed, the IOC will take “the necessary measures and all the sanctions because if only part of this would be true, it would be an unprecedented attack on the integrity on the Olympic Games and on the Olympic competitions.”

On a separate issue, Bach said no cities would have come forward as candidates to host the 2024 Summer Games had the IOC not passed his “Olympic Agenda 2020” project, which aims to reduce the cost of hosting the games and insists on maximum use of existing and temporary facilities.

Several cities pulled out of bidding for the 2022 Winter Games over financial and political concerns. Last month, Rome withdrew from the 2024 race because of opposition from the city’s new mayor. That decision leaves Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest, Hungary, as candidates.

“Without ‘Olympic Agenda 2020,’ we would have had zero candidates,” Bach said. “There would have been none. All of the candidates who you will see now and the others who were in the race or considering in the race, they can confirm this to you. They told us this.”

Bach also said that high-ranking Olympic official Patrick Hickey, who was arrested during the Rio Games on ticket scalping charges, deserves the “presumption of innocence” pending the resolution of his case. Hickey, who is not permitted to leave Brazil, has temporarily stepped down as a member of the IOC executive board and president of the European Olympic Committees.

Bach said Hickey’s arrest shows Olympic officials are “not immune” and must obey the laws and rules in other countries.

“What was in the past something that just concerned us in an organization is now concerning the rules and the laws of a country,” Bach said. “These laws of the country we have to respect, and each and every one of you has to take them into consideration when acting accordingly.”

MORE: Russia track and field eyes ‘neutral status’ for winter meets

USA Gymnastics closes Karolyi Ranch

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USA Gymnastics said it will no longer use the Karolyi Ranch in Texas as its training center, where athletes said Larry Nassar sexually abused gymnasts.

“USA Gymnastics has terminated its agreement with the Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville, Texas,” USA Gymnastics CEO and president Kerry Perry said in a press release Thursday. “It will no longer serve as the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center.

“It has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December. Our most important priority is our athletes, and their training environment must reflect this. We are committed to a culture that empowers and supports our athletes.

“We have cancelled next week’s training camp for the U.S. Women’s National Team. We are exploring alternative sites to host training activities and camps until a permanent location is determined. We thank all those in the gymnastics community assisting in these efforts.”

MORE: Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

World champions Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols said that Nassar sexually abused gymnasts at the ranch.

“When I was 15 I started to have back problems while at a National Team Camp at the Karolyi Ranch,” Nichols wrote in a victim impact statement read at one of Nassar’s sentencing hearings on Wednesday and published last week. “This is when the changes in his medical treatments occurred.

“I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should. He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve my pain.

“He did this ‘treatment’ on me, on numerous occasions.”

Raisman, a three-time Olympic champion, urged USA Gymnastics to close the ranch in a Tuesday interview on ESPN.

“I hope USA Gymnastics listens because they haven’t listened to us so far,” she said. “I hope they listen, and I hope they don’t make any of the girls go back to the ranch. No one should have to go back there after, you know, so many of us were abused there.”

Simone Biles did not specifically name the Karolyi Ranch in her Monday statement, but Raisman said Tuesday that Biles was referring to that site.

“It is impossibly difficult to relive these experiences and it breaks my heart even more to think that as I work towards my dream of competing at Tokyo 2020, I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused,” was posted on Biles’ social media.

Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympian, said Nassar was alone with her in her bed at the ranch.

“There was no one else sent with him,” she said on CBS last year. “The treatment was in the bed, in my bed that I slept on at the ranch.”

USA Gymnastics said in July 2016 that it reached an agreement with former national team coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi to purchase the training facility the couple owned.

The national governing body backed out of the purchase in May “for a variety of reasons” but continued under its current lease agreement while exploring alternative locations for camps. It held national team camps there in September and November.

The Karolyis established the ranch in 1983 after defecting from Romania. It had been a national team training center since 2001.

Larry Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A statement from McKayla Maroney read Thursday repeated that sexual assault by Larry Nassar “left scars” in her mind that may never fade as a judge heard a third day of testimony from victims.

Nassar could be sentenced Friday in Lansing. Since Tuesday, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has been listening to dozens of young women who were molested after seeking his help for injuries.

Aquilina started the hearing Thursday by saying Nassar had written a letter fearing that his mental health wasn’t strong enough to sit and listen to a parade of victims. He called the hearing “a media circus.”

The judge dismissed it as “mumbo jumbo.”

“Spending four or five days listening to them is minor, considering the hours of pleasure you’ve had at their expense, ruining their lives,” Aquilina said.

Nassar, 54, faces a minimum sentence of 25 to 40 years in prison for molesting girls as a doctor for Michigan State University and at his home.

He also was a team doctor at USA Gymnastics for nearly two decades. He’s already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.

“Dr. Nassar was not a doctor,” Maroney said in a statement read by a prosecutor (Maroney’s statement was previously posted in the fall). “He left scars on my psyche that may never go away.”

USA Gymnastics in 2016 reached a financial settlement with Maroney that barred her from making disparaging remarks. But the organization this week said it would not seek any money for her “brave statements.”

A 2000 Olympian, Jamie Dantzscher, looked at Nassar and said, “How dare you ask any of us for forgiveness.”

“Your days of manipulation are over,” she said. “We have a voice. We have the power now.”

Nassar wasn’t the only target. Victims also criticized Michigan State and USA Gymnastics.

Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon attended part of the session Wednesday. The school is being sued by dozens of women, who say campus officials wrote off complaints about the popular doctor.

“Guess what? You’re a coward, too,” current student and former gymnast Lindsey Lemke said Thursday, referring to Simon.

The judge has been praising each speaker and criticizing Nassar.

It’s “about their control over other human beings and feeling like God and they can do anything,” Aquilina said of sex offenders.

On Jan. 31, Nassar will get another sentence for sexual assaults at a Lansing-area gymnastics club in a different county.