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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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Several women’s players spurn worlds inquiry from USA Hockey

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As sports organizations and notable hockey figures express support of the U.S. women’s team, several players say they rejected overtures from USA Hockey to serve as replacements for the upcoming world championships.

Two players told The Associated Press on Friday that USA Hockey reached out to them to gauge their interest for the worlds, which begin next week in Plymouth, Michigan.

Brittany Ott, a goaltender for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League, and Annie Pankowski, a junior forward at the University of Wisconsin, said the email from USA Hockey was not an invitation but rather an inquiry about their availability.

“I responded to that email and I said I’m not willing,” Pankowski said.

A third player, goalie Lauren Dahm, told the AP on Saturday she also turned down an invitation. Dahm plays for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Boston Blades.

The U.S. team has said it plans to boycott the worlds over a wage dispute with USA Hockey, which confirmed Thursday it would begin reaching out to potential replacement players. Several players posted messages on social media saying they support the national team and would decline or have declined any outreach from USA Hockey.

“From a personal standpoint I have never been invited to a USA Hockey series or camp or anything like that and I would honestly love to be invited to something like that,” Ott said by phone. “However at the current time, this is a fight that I believe in and I’m definitely going to stand up and help fight as much as I can.”

Many players posted a version of a Jerry Rice quote on Twitter on Friday: “Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t. I said no to USAH & will not play in the 2017WC.” Not all players who tweeted that message were asked by USA Hockey if they could play.

On Saturday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith joined the chorus of support for the players, saying on Twitter the organization stands behind their pursuit of fairness and equality.

“These women understand inequality when they see it and are expressing their right to be treated fairly as athletes and workers,” Smith tweeted. “Of course, they have the NFLPA’s support in daring to withhold their services until a fair agreement is reached.”

Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol posted his support on Twitter, calling players competitors and role models.

On Friday, the NHL Players’ Association and Major League Baseball players posted messages of support. The NHLPA posted on Twitter that it supports players and panned USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements, adding that the decision “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

The MLBPA encouraged all female hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period. The sides met for 10-plus hours Monday, but players have called USA Hockey’s counterproposal “disappointing.”

USA Hockey said Thursday its priority was to have all the players selected for the national team on the ice March 31 when the tournament begins. But the organization added that it informed players’ representatives it would begin reaching out to potential replacements with the tournament coming up.

Star national team forward Hilary Knight said last week she wished USA Hockey luck putting together a suitable team of replacements to defend the gold medal because the player pool was united in the dispute. Ott and Pankowski said they had not heard from any players expressing a willingness to play in worlds.

“It’s a very unified front,” Ott said. “It’s a tight-knit community that we have in women’s hockey here. This is definitely a big opportunity for us to make a big change and have a big impact on our sport and have it grow. We’re all standing together.”

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World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.