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Over 1,000 Russian athletes involved in organized doping, McLaren report says

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LONDON (AP) — Russia’s sports reputation was ripped apart again Friday when a new report into systematic doping detailed a vast “institutional conspiracy” that covered more than 1,000 athletes in over 30 sports and corrupted the drug-testing system at the 2012 and 2014 Olympics.

The findings were handed over to the International Olympic Committee, which will be under pressure to take action against the Russians ahead of the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It is impossible to know just how deep and how far back this conspiracy goes,” World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren said. “For years, international sports competitions have unknowingly been hijacked by Russians. Coaches and athletes have been playing on an uneven field. Sports fans and spectators have been deceived.”

McLaren’s second and final report said the conspiracy involved the Russian Sports Ministry, national anti-doping agency and the FSB intelligence service, providing further details of state involvement in a massive program of cheating and cover-ups that operated on an “unprecedented scale” from 2011-15.

The Canadian law professor described the Russian doping program as “a cover-up that evolved over the years from uncontrolled chaos to an institutionalized and disciplined medal-winning strategy and conspiracy.”

The findings confirmed much of the evidence contained in McLaren’s first report issued in July, while expanding the number of athletes involved and the overall scope of the cheating program in the sports powerhouse.

“Over 1,000 Russian athletes competing in summer, winter and Paralympic sport can be identified as being involved in or benefiting from manipulations to conceal positive doping tests,” McLaren said.

The names of those athletes, including 600 summer sports competitors, have been turned over to international federations to pursue disciplinary sanctions, he said.

The 144-page report provided further forensic evidence of manipulation of samples at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, where sealed doping bottles were opened with special tools by intelligence agents and tainted urine was replaced with clean urine to beat the drug-testing system.

Russians who won 15 medals in Sochi had their samples tampered with, including two athletes who won four gold medals, McLaren found.

The report also found the Russian doping program corrupted the 2012 London Olympics on an “unprecedented scale.” While no Russians tested positive at the time of the games, McLaren said the sports ministry gave athletes a “cocktail of steroids … in order to beat the detection thresholds at the London lab.”

The report said 15 Russian medal winners in London had been on a list of athletes who had been protected by Russian officials from testing positive before the games. Ten of those athletes have since had their London medals stripped after their samples were retested.

Declaring that McLaren’s findings detailed “a fundamental attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and on sport in general,” the IOC said it would retest samples of all Russian athletes who competed in Sochi and London.

IOC President Thomas Bach said any athlete or official involved “in such as sophisticated manipulation system” should be banned for life from the Olympics.

The Russian Sports Ministry said it was studying the report and denied the country had any state-sponsored doping system.

McLaren’s first report, issued in July, led WADA to recommend that Russia be excluded from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The IOC rejected calls for an outright ban, allowing international federations to decide which Russians could compete.

The IOC has two separate commissions that will study McLaren’s report and make recommendations to the executive board for sanctions. While a blanket ban on Pyeongchang would seem unlikely, the IOC has indicated it will impose stiff sanctions.

“We now have detailed information which will allow us to take serious decisions, so let’s take them,” WADA President Craig Reedie, who is also an IOC member, told The Associated Press. “If you look at the statements made by the IOC, it seems to be pretty likely they will take the appropriate decisions.”

Other findings in the report include:

— Six Russian athletes who won a total of 21 medals at the Sochi Paralympics had their urine samples tampered with.

— Two female hockey players at the Sochi Olympics had samples that contained male DNA.

— Eight Sochi samples had salt content that was physiologically impossible in a healthy human.

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart called McLaren’s report “another staggering example of how the Olympic movement has been corrupted and clean athletes robbed by Russia’s state-supported doping system.”

Tygart said the Russian Olympic Committee should be suspended and no international sporting events should be held in Russia until its anti-doping program is in line with global rules.

While the report again accused the Russian Sports Ministry, it found no evidence of involvement of the Russian Olympic Committee. The IOC had repeatedly cited the fact that the national Olympic committee was not implicated in defending its decision not to ban the entire Russian team from the Rio Games.

McLaren’s first report set off bitter divisions and infighting in the Olympic movement and those recriminations have dragged on since the Rio Games.

“I find it difficult to understand why were at not on the same team,” he said. “We should all be working together to end doping in sports.”

McLaren opened his investigation earlier this year after Moscow’s former doping lab director, Grigory Rodchenkov, told The New York Times that he and other officials were involved in an organized doping program for Russian athletes. He detailed how tainted samples were replaced with clean urine through a concealed “mouse hole” in the wall of the Sochi lab.

The new report further backs Rodchenkov’s account. McLaren’s investigation found scratches and other marks left on the doping bottles. WADA investigators were able to recreate the method used by the Russians to pry open the sealed bottle caps.

The report also detailed how some Russian samples were diluted with salt or even coffee granules.

“The report has proved without a shadow of a doubt there was organized manipulation of the doping process in Russia,” Reedie said. “Now the challenge is for Russia, first of all to admit that the report is worthy, and second to make sure they change their process so this does not happen again.”

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, the former sports minister in charge during the London and Sochi Olympics, said Russia would take legal action in response to the report. It was not clear what course any legal action might take.

Asked how he would respond to Russian critics, McLaren said: “I would say, ‘read the report.'”

MORE: IOC president wants life bans for Russian cheats

London Marathon preview; runners to watch

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World records are under threat from male and female runners at the London Marathon on Sunday (3:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).

The forecast calls for the warmest London Marathon in its 38-year history (a high Sunday in the low 70s, though likely cooler for the morning start times).

The elite fields, stronger than for last Monday’s Boston Marathon, include the greatest marathoners of this generation — Eliud Kipchoge and Mary Keitany — plus arguably each Kenyan’s top rival at the moment.

Five runners to watch in each field …

Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya
2016 Olympic champ
2015, 2016 London Marathon winner
Ran 2:00:25 in Nike’s sub-two-hour marathon attempt last May

In Kipchoge’s last start in London, he missed countryman Dennis Kimetto‘s world record by eight seconds, prevailing in 2:03:05 in 2016. Since, Kipchoge won the Olympic title, had what he deemed his greatest performance in the sub-two-hour (non-record-eligible) event and extended his marathon win streak to seven races over four years in rainy, humid Berlin last September. The 33-year-old has refused to get into world-record talk, telling media he just wants to run “a beautiful race” Sunday.

Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia
Second-fastest marathoner of all time (Berlin 2016, 2:03:03)
World-record holder in 5000m, 10,000m
Eight Olympic/world titles in 5000m, 10,000m

Credentials from 5000m to marathon make a strong case that Bekele is the greatest runner of all time, ahead of Usain Bolt and Kipchoge. He really started taking aim at the world record after that 2016 Berlin breakthrough. Bekele was runner-up with foot blisters in London last year, nearly three minutes slower than in Germany, and failed to finish his other two marathons in 2017. “To have the records for 5000m to marathon would be something – no one else has done that. I feel like that would make me the greatest ever,” Bekele said, according to marathon organizers.

Mo Farah, Great Britain
2012, 2016 Olympic champ in 5000m/10,000m
Second marathon
8th at 2014 London Marathon

Farah’s primary goal Sunday is modest in comparison to Kipchoge and Bekele — break the British marathon record of 2:07:13. Farah, repeating in a press conference Tuesday that he is ranked 27th in the world in the distance, said he still intends to go out with the leaders even if they start on world-record pace. It’s his first marathon since switching full-time to road running after last season and his second overall after his 2:08:21 in London four years ago.

Guye Adola, Ethiopia
Second to Kipchoge at 2017 Berlin Marathon in 26.2-mile debut

Adola came out of nowhere to finish 14 seconds behind Kipchoge in Berlin on Sept. 24 in the fastest-ever marathon debut on a record-eligible course, sticking with Kipchoge until the last mile. Afterward, we learned Adola didn’t know he was running until four days before the race and wasn’t meant to start with the elite group. The 27-year-old was second and fifth in half marathons in January and February, not particularly impressive.

Daniel Wanjiru, Kenya
2017 London Marathon winner

Wanjiru won his major marathon debut last year, then returned to London for the world championships on Aug. 6 and was eighth. Neither of those fields was as strong as Sunday’s is shaping up to be. Just 25, Wanjiru will be tested like never before.

Mary Keitany, Kenya
2011, 2012, 2017 London Marathon winner
Ran fastest marathon by a woman without male pacers
2014, 2015, 2016 New York City Marathon winner

The 5-foot-2 mother of two smashed Paula Radcliffe‘s women-only world record by 41 seconds in London last year, clocking 2:17:01. She’ll run with male pacers Sunday in a bid to break Radcliffe’s world record of 2:15:25 from the 2003 London Marathon (the first time since 2003 London has male pacers for the women’s race). Keitany was stunned by Shalane Flanagan at her last marathon in New York City in November but came back in February to lower her half marathon personal best. “I’ve had Paula’s record in mind since I started my career,” the 36-year-old Keitany said.

Tirunesh Dibaba, Ethiopia
2017 Chicago Marathon winner
2017 London Marathon runner-up
Third-fastest female marathoner of all time
Eight Olympic/world titles in 5000m/10,000m

The Baby-Faced Destroyer is the only woman in the field whose personal best is within two minutes of Keitany’s. There’s reason to believe she can be closer to Keitany than last year (55 seconds behind, and that’s after stopping briefly with two miles left with stomach problems). Dibaba is four years younger than Keitany, with a decorated track background and just one year into her full-time marathon career.

Gladys Cherono, Kenya
2015, 2017 Berlin Marathon winner

The woman with the third-fastest personal best in the field has never raced London and was fifth in her only major marathon outside of Berlin. She was eighth in a half marathon in February, more than two minutes behind Keitany.

Rose Chelimo, Bahrain
2017 World champion
2017 Boston Marathon runner-up

Impressive second year as a marathoner in 2017. Chelimo, 28, was born in Kenya but switched to Bahrain in 2015. Though this is her London Marathon debut, her world title came in London in August. She did not impress at the world half marathon championships last month, finishing 14th overall and fifth among runners from Bahrain.

Vivian Cheruiyot, Kenya
Fourth at 2017 London Marathon in 26.2-mile debut
Four Olympic medals in 5000m/10,000m
Four world championships in 5000m/10,000m

Credentials similar to but not quite as impressive as Dibaba in terms of track medals, early marathon experience and age (34 to Dibaba’s 32). Cheruiyot finished more than five minutes behind Keitany and Dibaba in her 26.2-mile debut in London last year. She dropped out of the New York City Half Marathon on March 18 with a breathing problem in the cold weather but insisted she’s healthy for Sunday.

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Lance Armstrong settles $100 million lawsuit with U.S. government

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong has reached a $5 million settlement with the federal government in a whistleblower lawsuit that could have sought $100 million in damages from the cyclist who was stripped of his record seven Tour de France victories after admitting he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout much of his career.

The deal announced Thursday came as the two sides prepared for a trial that was scheduled to start May 7 in Washington. Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis filed the original lawsuit in 2010 and is eligible for up to 25 percent of the settlement.

Seeking millions spent sponsoring Armstrong’s powerhouse teams, the government joined the lawsuit against Armstrong in 2013 after his televised confession to using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs and methods. Armstrong had already retired, but the confession shattered the legacy of one of the most popular sports figures in the world.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Armstrong said he’s happy to have “made peace with the Postal Service.”

“While I believe that their lawsuit against me was meritless and unfair, and while I am spending a lot of money to resolve it, I have since 2013 tried to take full responsibility for my mistakes and inappropriate conduct, and make amends wherever possible,” he said. “I rode my heart out for the Postal cycling team, and was always especially proud to wear the red, white and blue eagle on my chest when competing in the Tour de France. Those memories are very real and mean a lot to me.”

The settlement clears the 46-year-old Armstrong of the most damaging legal issues still facing the cyclist since his downfall. He had already taken huge hits financially, losing all his major sponsors and being forced to pay more than $20 million in damages and settlements in a series of lawsuits. The government’s lawsuit would have been the biggest by far.

Armstrong is still believed to be worth millions based on a vast investment portfolio and homes in Austin, Texas, and Aspen, Colo. He also owns a pair of bicycle shops in Austin and WeDu, an endurance events company. He also hosts a regular podcast in which he interviews other sports figures and celebrities and has provided running commentary on the Tour de France.

Armstrong had built a worldwide following during his career winning races and fighting cancer.

His personal story of recovering from testicular cancer that had spread to his brain, while forcefully denying persistent rumors of doping, had built his Lance Armstrong Foundation cancer charity into a $500 million global brand and turned him into a celebrity. The foundation, which removed him from its board and renamed itself Livestrong, has seen donations and revenue plummet since Armstrong’s confession.

Armstrong’s team was already under the Postal Service sponsorship when he won his first Tour de France in 1999. The media frenzy that followed pushed the agency to sign the team for another five years. Armstrong and his teams dominated cycling’s marquee event, winning every year from 1999-2005.

Armstrong’s cheating was finally uncovered in 2012 when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, armed with sworn testimony from Landis and other former teammates, moved to strip Armstrong of his titles.

One of Armstrong’s fiercest critics was frustrated by the settlement. Betsy Andreu, whose husband Frankie was a former Armstrong teammate, was the first to testify under oath about his performance-enhancing drug use in a 2005 civil lawsuit.

“It’s utterly shocking that the government settled for so little,” Andreu said.

Andreu and her husband were close with Armstrong when the men were teammates before Andreu retired in 2000. Armstrong later strenuously denied Betsy’s claims of drug use and tried to publicly discredit her, which succeeded for years. She wanted the case to go to trial.

“I would have liked to have been questioned under oath. That’s my goal. And whether or not the jury would have convicted him would have been a different story, but it would have been nice to have my say under oath. He tried to destroy me.,” Andreu said.

Landis, himself a former doping cheat who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title, sued Armstrong under the federal False Claims Act, alleging Armstrong and his team committed fraud against the government when they cheated while riding under the Postal Service banner. According to court records, the contract paid the team, which was operated by Tailwind Sports Corp., about $32 million from 2000 to 2004. Armstrong got nearly $13.5 million.

Under the lawsuit, the government could have pursued “treble” damages, which could have reached the $100 million range. As the person who filed the original lawsuit, Landis is eligible for up to 25 percent of the settlement, which will include an additional $1.65 million paid to Landis’ attorneys.

Armstrong had claimed he didn’t owe the Postal Service anything because the agency made far more off the sponsorship than it paid; Armstrong’s lawyers introduced internal studies for the agency that calculated benefits in media exposure topping $100 million. The government countered that Armstrong had been “unjustly enriched” through the sponsorship and that the negative fallout from the doping scandal tainted the agency’s reputation.

Armstrong had been the target of a federal criminal grand jury, but that case was closed without charges in February 2012. Armstrong had previously tried to settle the Landis whistleblower lawsuit, but those talks broke down before the government announced its intention to join the case.

“I am glad to resolve this case and move forward with my life,” Armstrong said. “I’m looking forward to devoting myself to the many great things in my life — my five kids, my wife, my podcast, several exciting writing and film projects, my work as a cancer survivor, and my passion for sports and competition. There is a lot to look forward to.”

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