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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

Tori Bowie upsets Elaine Thompson; Gatlin, Felix struggle at Pre

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Tori Bowie ran a statement 200m at the Pre Classic, clocking the fastest-ever time before the month of June and upsetting Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica.

And she called it a training race.

“My coach made it clear that we were just training for nationals,” Bowie, huffing and puffing after winning in 21.77 seconds, told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “No pressure at all.”

Bowie, the Olympic 100m silver medalist and 200m bronze medalist, beat her personal best by .22 of a second.

While Bowie starred, U.S. stalwarts Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin dropped to fifth-place finishes Saturday.

Full Pre Classic results are here.

Athletes are preparing for the U.S. Championships from June 23-25, a qualifying meet for the world championships in London in August.

Felix finished fifth in the 200m behind Bowie, Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller, Thompson and Olympic 200m silver medalist Dafne Schippers.

“Not that great, not that great today,” Felix said, according to meet officials. “I feel like my training is going well, it was good to get out here and see where I was at.”

Felix has a bye into the worlds in the 400m as defending world champion but is no longer a medal favorite in the 200m, where she won Olympic silver in 2004 and 2008 and gold in 2012. She clocked 22.33 seconds for fifth Saturday, which was .35 behind third-place Thompson.

Felix missed the 2016 Olympic team in the 200m by .01 while slowed by an ankle injury. But in 2015, a healthy Felix ran faster than 22.33 in all four of her 200m races.

Gatlin finished fifth in the 100m in 9.97 seconds, continuing his slowest season in recent years. At 35 years old, he is no longer looking like the top rival to Usain Bolt, who debuts in his farewell season June 10.

In fact, Gatlin may be in danger of not making the U.S. team in the 100m, which will be the top three finishers at nationals in four weeks.

In contrast, American Ronnie Baker is looking like a medal contender. He won Saturday in 9.86 seconds, which would be the fastest time in the world this year if not for too much tailwind (2.4 meters/second).

Baker, 23, has been a surprise this season, breaking 10 seconds a total of three times including Saturday. He was eliminated in the 2016 Olympic Trials semifinals and had not broken 10 seconds with legal wind before this year.

“My thoughts were, I’ve got every chance to win this just as much as everyone else does,” Baker told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “9.86 is unbelievable.”

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a 16-year-old, became one of the youngest-ever to break four minutes in the mile. He finished 11th against a field of older runners.

Four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah held off Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha to extend his 5000m winning streak to 11 meets dating to 2013. Farah clocked 13:00.7 to Kejelcha’s 13:01.21.

It marked Farah’s last track race in the U.S. as the Oregon-based Brit plans to switch to marathon running after the world championships in August.

Rio gold medalist Caster Semenya barely extended her 800m undefeated streak to 16 finals. The scrutinized South Africa edged Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui by one tenth of a second, clocking 1:59.78.

Olympic champion Omar McLeod took the 110m hurdles in 13.01 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. McLeod beat a field that included Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder (12.80), and 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Christian Taylor, a two-time Olympic champion, recorded the third-best triple jump of all time, 18.11 meters.

Rio bronze medalist Sam Kendricks won the pole vault against a field that included Olympic champion Thiago Braz of Brazil, world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France and Swedish phenom Armand Duplantis, a Louisiana high school junior. Kendricks cleared 5.86 meters.

Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer won the 400m hurdles in 53.38 seconds, a personal best and the fastest time in the world this year. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad was fifth in her first 400m hurdles race of the year.

In the shot put, Olympic champion Ryan Crouser unleashed a 22.43-meter throw to beat a field including world champion Joe Kovacs.

Jasmin Stowers won the 100m hurdles in 12.59 seconds, .03 off the fastest time in the world this year. The field lacked suspended Olympic champion Brianna Rollins and world-record holder Keni Harrison, who recently suffered a broken hand.

Russian Maria Lasitskene won the high jump in her first competition outside of Russia since 2015, when she was world champion. Lasitskene competed as a neutral athlete Saturday as Russia is still banned from international competition due to its poor anti-doping record. Her 2.03-meter clearance matched the best in the world since June 2013.

The Diamond League continues in Rome on June 8, with coverage on NBC Sports Gold.

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VIDEO: Runner clocks No. 2 time ever … after stopping to fix shoe

Mo Farah on Oregon Project allegations: ‘I’m sick of it’

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — As he prepares for what could be his final track race on U.S. soil, Mo Farah remains dogged by doping allegations surrounding his team.

The British Olympian will race the 5000m Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic, the only U.S. stop in the elite Diamond League series (NBC, NBC Sports Gold from 4-6 p.m. ET).

Farah has said that 2017 will be his last year on the track, with an eye on the world championships in London this August. The 34-year-old plans to transition after that to marathons.

Farah defended his 5000m and 10,000m titles at the Rio Olympics last August, becoming the first British track and field athlete to win four Olympic gold medals. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth last December.

But at a news conference for the Prefontaine, Farah faced questions about allegations that paint his team, Nike’s Oregon Project, in a bad light.

Details have emerged from a 2016 report prepared by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on practices by the team, led by decorated U.S. marathoner Alberto Salazar. Allegations have also surfaced recently based on information obtained by the hacking group known as Fancy Bears.

“I just get sick of it, really, to be honest with you,” Farah said. “As an athlete you just want to do the best as you can, and that’s what I want to do. But it’s nothing new. It’s something the press likes to be able to twist it and add a little bit of spices and add stuff on it. Being an Olympic champion, four-time Olympic champion, you do get a lot of that stuff. But at the same time you just have to do the best that you can. I believe in clean sports.”

He said he has not read the USADA report that has shown up online.

“It’s nothing new. You tell me something new. Since 2011 it’s the same stuff,” Farah said, clearly exasperated. “It’s all right. That’s what you get being an Olympic champion, and what we do.”

Farah has been training for the past five months in Flagstaff, Ariz., for the outdoor season and his final bow at the worlds. He hopes to run both of his signature races, the 5000m and 10,000m, if his body lets him, he said.

Saturday’s Prefontaine will be bittersweet.

“I don’t like to think like that, but it will be, my last,” he said. “It will probably be very emotional knowing that will be my last track racing in the U.S. But you know, tomorrow (I) just can’t be worrying about anything. I just have to concentrate on the race and getting the job done.”

Farah will be part of a stellar field that includes Paul Chelimo, the 5000m silver medalist in Rio, and Kenyan Paul Tanui, the Rio silver medalist in the 10,000m.

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VIDEO: Runner clocks No. 2 time ever … after stopping to fix shoe