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Russian skeleton medalists’ ban lifted after appeal

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A ban of Russia’s top skeleton athletes has been lifted due to a lack of evidence from a recent World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report on widespread Russian doping.

On Dec. 30, Russia’s two Sochi Olympic skeleton medalists, including gold medalist Aleksandr Tretiyakov, were among four Russian sliders provisionally suspended through Jan. 19 in response to the investigation into Russian doping at the Sochi Winter Games.

The four skeleton athletes appealed the ban and had a hearing in front of a panel last Tuesday.

On Sunday, the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation said the panel ruled that the WADA-commissioned Russian doping report “provides sufficient reason to conduct further investigation by both the IOC and the IBSF into the role of the athletes in ‘tampering or attempted tampering of any doping control’ … but at the same time it comes to the conclusion that at this very moment there is not (yet) sufficient evidence against the athletes that would justify the provisional suspension.”

In the five days between the hearing and the bans being lifted, the Russian sliders were forced to miss a World Cup stop in Altenberg, Germany.

They are able to compete at next weekend’s World Cup in Winterberg, Germany, which doubles as the European Championships.

Tretiyakov, Sochi women’s bronze medalist Yelena Nikitina and fellow Sochi Olympians Maria Orlova and Olga Potylitsina were all suspended. They made up two-thirds of the Russian Olympic skeleton team in Sochi but have not received sanctions regarding their 2014 Olympic results.

At least 10 Russian Olympians from Sochi were provisionally suspended since the second part of a WADA-commissioned report into Russian doping violations in Sochi was published Dec. 9.

The other six suspended Sochi Olympians known so far were cross-country skiers, including Russia’s top two skiers from those Winter Games.

Two Russian biathletes were also suspended in connection to the WADA-commissioned report. Though their names haven’t been announced by national or international governing bodies, Russian and Italian media have said they were Sochi Olympians.

The skiers and biathletes, like the skeleton sliders, have not received sanctions regarding their Olympic results.

On Dec. 23, the IOC said it opened disciplinary proceedings against 28 Russian Olympians for whom there was “evidence of manipulation of one or more of their urine samples” from the Sochi Winter Games.

The IOC move was in response to the WADA-commissioned report by Richard McLaren that said more than 1,000 Russian athletes were involved in organized doping. Russians who won 15 medals in Sochi had their samples tampered with, according to the report.

This year’s world skeleton championships are in Koenigssee, Germany, in February, after they were moved from Sochi after the McLaren report was published.

MORE: Katie Uhlaender, fourth in Sochi, contacts Russian skeleton bronze medalist

Sweden drops 2026 Winter Olympic bid

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The city of Stockholm says it won’t bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Karin Wanngard, the city official in charge of finances, says the reason is because the International Olympic Committee will not be able to report how big the financial contribution to the host city will be.

She says the figures “will arrive at the earliest in November.”

The Swedish lawmaker, whose Social Democratic Party had been supportive of hosting the event, adds “this means that time will be too short to get enough analysis for the issues raised by several actors.”

The Swedish capital, which hosted the 1912 Summer Olympics, has never staged the Winter Games. The cities of Ostersund, Falun and Goteborg all have mounted failed winter bids.

The news comes six days after the Swedish Olympic Committee named a CEO for the 2026 bid.

In January, the committee said that Stockholm staging the 2026 Winter Olympics was “possible and desirable” and that a formal bid was expected in March 2018.

In 2015, Stockholm pulled out of the race for the 2022 Winter Games after Swedish politicians refused to give financial backing. Swedish politicians were uncomfortable because of concerns over costs, the environment, post-Games use of venues, the environment and other issues.

The early 2026 bid plan called for 80 percent of the events in Stockholm, while most of the Alpine competitions would be in the northern resort of Are, more than 600 kilometers (400 miles) from the capital. A few skiing events would be in Falun, 215 kilometers (130 miles) northwest from there.

The 2026 Winter Olympics have one bidder — Sion, Switzerland.

Cities in Austria, Canada, Japan and have also discussed potential 2026 bids, as has Lillehammer, Norway, the 1994 Winter Olympic host. The U.S. is not expected to bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

The next two Winter Olympics will be in East Asia in PyeongChang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, giving a European or North American city a greater opening to be the 2026 host.

The 2026 Olympic host city is expected to be chosen from an International Olympic Committee members vote in 2019.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: 2026 Olympics coverage

Serena Williams comments on 2020 Olympics during pregnancy

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Two weeks after learning she was pregnant, Serena Williams was unsure of committing to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Williams will be 38 in 2020, older than any previous Olympic singles player.

“I can’t promise that … Tokyo 2020 is a lot,” Williams told Wowow TV of Japan after winning the Australian Open on Jan. 28.

Williams said Tuesday in a Ted Talk that she learned of her pregnancy two days before the Australian Open (video here). She was about two months pregnant at the time.

Williams broke the news publicly last week on Snapchat but deleted the post. A spokesperson later confirmed that Williams was pregnant and planned to return to tennis next season.

“Actually, it was an accident,” Williams said Tuesday of the Snapchat. “I was on vacation, just taking some time for myself. I have this thing where I’ve been checking my status and taking pictures every week to see how far along I’ve been going. … You know how social media is, you press the wrong button and there it was. Thirty minutes later, I missed like four calls. I’m like, that’s weird. Then I picked it up, and I was like, oh no. But it was a good moment. I was going to wait, literally, just five or six more days. That’s OK.”

The four-time Olympic champion has made no public comments since last week about the 2020 Olympics.

Williams confirmed Tuesday that she played the entire Australian Open knowing she was pregnant. She won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, beating older sister Venus in the final.

Williams said she was nervous after finding out she was pregnant two days before the tournament.

“I wasn’t quite sure what to think, but I just knew that at that moment, it was really important me to focus right there at the Australian Open,” she said. “I was definitely not sure what to do. I was like, can I play? I know it’s very dangerous, maybe, sometimes, in the first 12 weeks or so.”

Williams said she didn’t get sick during the tournament. She had heard about people getting tired, or really stressed out.

“I had to really take all that energy, put it in a paper bag, so to say, and throw it away,” she said. “Because I really felt like I didn’t have time to deal with any extra emotions, anything, because, pregnant or not, no one knew, and I was supposed to win that tournament, as I am every tournament that I show up, I am expected to win, and if I don’t win, it’s actually much bigger news.”

Williams is “excited to defy the odds” and return to the WTA Tour next season. She wouldn’t be the first elite player to compete after having a baby.

In January, Williams said Venus, who is 15 months older, is “crazy” and “something special” for targeting the 2020 Olympics.

“I’m really inspired by my sister,” Williams said Tuesday. “If she’s still playing, I know I can play. There’s so many. Roger Federer, he’s a little older than me, and he’s still winning everything, so I’m like, you know, I know I can do that, too. … My story is definitely not over yet. I was talking to my coach about it, and we were talking about. This is just a new part of my life. My baby’s going to be in the stands, and hopefully cheering for me, not crying too much.”

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