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IOC extends provisional measures against Russia

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Two days before the release of a new report into Russian doping, the IOC on Wednesday extended the provisional sanctions imposed on the country over allegations of systematic cheating and cover-ups.

The International Olympic Committee executive board said the measures imposed on July 19 have been extended “until further notice.”

The sanctions, originally designed to apply until the end of this year, were put into place following the first report by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren that alleged state-sponsored doping in Russia.

Under the measures, the IOC will not organize or “give patronage” to any sports events or meetings in Russia. In addition, the IOC urges all Olympic winter sports federations to “freeze their preparations for major events in Russia,” including world championships and World Cups and “to actively look for alternative organizers.”

Separately, the IOC also released its latest figures from this year’s retesting of stored doping samples from the 2012 London Olympics and 2008 Beijing Games, putting the total so far of positive cases at 101, with three new positives recorded since the 98 cases announced in July. Russian athletes and the sport of weightlifting were the worst offenders.

IOC medical director Dr. Richard Budgett said he expects “many more” positives from the London Games to be confirmed in the coming weeks. To date, the retests have caught at least 27 medalists from Beijing and 16 from London, including five gold medalists.

The IOC executive board released a statement that set out its position ahead of Friday’s r release in London of McLaren’s second and final report into the Russian scandal.

The Canadian lawyer’s first report, issued in July, led WADA to recommend Russia’s exclusion from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The IOC rejected the call, instead allowing international federations to decide which Russians could compete.

Friday’s report is expected to focus on evidence of organized Russian doping centered on the Sochi Games, including allegations that tainted samples of Russian athletes — including medalists — were swapped for clean ones through a concealed hole in the wall of the drug-testing lab.

The IOC said the allegations “go to the heart of the Olympic Games and are a fundamental attack on their integrity.”

The committee said “due process” must be followed, meaning McLaren’s evidence must be evaluated and those implicated — including athletes and the Russian Sports Ministry — “have to be given the right to be heard.”

Once the investigations are complete, the IOC will “take all the appropriate measures and sanctions,” including disqualification of athletes from the games and exclusion of implicated officials, entourage or government officials from the Olympics, the statement said.

The IOC’s call for a “freeze” on major events in Russia has been called into question by Russia’s hosting of the 2017 World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships in Sochi. Some athletes have suggested they could boycott the event.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the resolution did not cover events that were “already planned.”

“As it stands that event was planned beforehand and doesn’t contravene the IOC’s call as far as I understand,” he said.

Questions have also been raised over the recent decision to award the 2021 World Biathlon Championships to Russia in the Siberian city of Tyumen. International Biathlon Union President Anders Besseberg has said the event could be relocated if more evidence of state-backed doping emerges.

Outside of the Olympics, international federations have the authority to sanction athletes and their entourage and potentially suspend national federations, the IOC said.

McLaren’s report will be sent to two separate IOC inquiry commissions. One is looking into the allegations of Russian state involvement in doping, the other is investigating the athletes and the doping samples.

Meanwhile, the IOC said it has so far sanctioned 79 athletes whose samples came back positive this year in reanalysis with improved techniques that can detect use of steroids going back weeks rather than days. The IOC stores doping samples for 10 years, allowing them to be retested when new methods become available.

Budgett said the Beijing testing is now complete, while more samples remain to be reanalyzed from London.

“There will be many more (positives) to come in the future because the program is continuing,” he said. “In the coming weeks and months we should expect more from London.”

Budgett said McLaren is investigating samples for Sochi, and they will be turned over to the IOC for forensic examination and reanalysis. Sixty blood samples from Russian athletes have already been checked and did not produce any positive findings, he said.

Russia has been by far the worst violator in the retesting program, with 16 of its athletes out of the 44 caught from Beijing, and 11 out of the 29 from London so far.

Budgett said it would be “speculation” to conclude that the figures support evidence of an organized Russian doping program.

“It adds some substance to the debate but it doesn’t actually tell us what goes on,” he said.

Weightlifting was the sport with the most positives — 38 out of the 79 from London and Beijing, followed by track and field with 31.

Many critics have called for weightlifting to be kicked out of the Olympics because of its doping record.

“I suppose you could say every sport is at risk,” Budgett said. “Weightlifting has got a good anti-doping program in place at the moment. It’s a judgment as to what went on in the past and what they are doing now.”

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Laurie Hernandez plans on competing in 2019, agent says

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Olympic gymnastics champion Laurie Hernandez plans on competing in 2019, her agent said.

Hernandez has not competed since taking team gold and vault silver at the Rio Olympics, followed by winning “Dancing with the Stars” later that fall.

She said in October that she hoped to compete in 2018 but would not rush a comeback. Hernandez since decided not to compete at the U.S. Championships this August.

No member of the Final Five has competed at the elite level since Rio, though Madison Kocian is in her sophomore season at UCLA and Simone Biles plans to return this summer.

Aly Raisman said in September 2016 that she planned to take one year off, then return to training for a Tokyo 2020 run. But her focus shifted in the last year to something more important — taking on USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee after Larry Nassar sexual-abuse crimes.

The last member of the Final Five, 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas, has not said in widely reported comments if or when she will return to competition.

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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.

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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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