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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

Chinese lead, star pairs struggle in world championships short program

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China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong recorded the highest pairs short program score in the world since the 2014 Olympics, topping the world championships field in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Two-time defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are well behind in seventh and 13th place, respectively.

Sui and Han, in just their second event this season, tallied a personal-best 81.23 points.

They lead by 1.39 over Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot going into the free skate Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are in third.

The Chinese will go for their first world title after giving up a short-program lead last year and taking silver for a second straight time.

Full worlds short program results are here.

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Sui and Han missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at the Four Continents Championships in February and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

Duhamel and Radford, looking to become the first pair to three-peat in 40 years, came in slowed by Radford’s hip injury suffered in the last week. Radford was off-balance on his triple toe loop landing Wednesday. Duhamel’s hand touched the ice on her throw triple Lutz landing.

They scored 72.67 points, which is 8.56 behind Sui and Han.

Stolbova and Klimov both suffered falls in their short program and scored 65.59, qualifying for the 16-pair free skate by four points. The Russian champions missed the autumn season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury.

The top U.S. pair was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, who posted a personal-best 72.17 points for eighth place. The husband-and-wife pair are competing for the second time this season after Scimeca Knierim’s serious abdominal injury.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier suffered two falls and placed 20th, matching the worst U.S. pairs finish in worlds history. They did not qualify for the 16-pair free skate.

Therefore, the Knierims must finish 10th or better after the free skate to ensure the U.S. earns two pairs places at the 2018 Olympics.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. medal in pairs at worlds came in 2002. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

North Korean pair Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik placed 14th in the short program, the highest of any pair expected to compete for one of four final Olympic quota spots in September.

North Korea sent no athletes to the Sochi Olympics, and it’s not a guarantee it will qualify any athletes for PyeongChang, or if it will send athletes to South Korea in February. But Ryom and Kim’s personal best by nearly 11 points on Wednesday was very encouraging.

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MORE: U.S. pairs skater back from life-threatening condition

Pairs Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 81.23
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 79.84
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 79.37
8. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 72.17
20. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 56.23

Missy Franklin out due to shoulder surgeries

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Missy Franklin is sidelined from swimming competition for an undisclosed period of time to recover from surgeries on both of her shoulders due to bursitis, according to her social media.

“This is what’s best for me to come stronger than ever,” was posted on Franklin’s Instagram. “I’m so far from being done with this sport.”

The five-time Olympic champion was diagnosed in early January following an MRI, underwent surgeries that month and has returned to limited training.

Franklin, who has not raced since the Rio Olympics, will not compete in the next USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., in two weeks.

Her return date is not set.

The U.S. Championships are in June in Indianapolis and serve as a qualifying meet for the world championships in Budapest in July.

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