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Russian athletes refuse to return stripped Olympic medals

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MOSCOW (AP) — None of the Russian athletes recently stripped of their Olympic titles for doping have returned their medals, the country’s Olympic committee said Thursday.

Russia has had 18 medalists disqualified in doping cases from Olympic retesting from the 2008 and 2012 Games. Ten more Russians are also obliged to return medals they won as part of relay teams containing dopers.

Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said his organization, which would typically handle medal transfers, hasn’t received any, saying it was “not an easy process.”

“So far, we don’t have any reports of (medals being returned),” Zhukov said.

Some Russian athletes have said they want to keep their medals while they prepare an appeal, but others have refused to give them up.

Usain Bolt, meanwhile, said he gave up his 4x100m relay gold from the 2008 Beijing Olympics as soon as teammate Nesta Carter was disqualified last week.

One Russian runner has claimed the government told him he could keep his medal. Maxim Dyldin, a member of the bronze-medal winning Russian team disqualified in the 4×400 relay at the 2008 Games, said in an interview with a local newspaper last month that “our ministry didn’t agree with the decision and told us to keep the medals.”

“I’ve got the medal at home,” Dyldin added. “Let them try to take it.”

Dyldin and the Russian Sports Ministry refused to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.

Russia’s slow response could strain relations with the International Olympic Committee at a time when the country is already under pressure over widespread doping and accusations that drug-test samples were routinely swapped to cover up doping, including at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The current retesting program has largely focused on steroids, the area where testing techniques have seen the biggest leaps since 2008. That has allowed the IOC to catch dozens of cheats in strength and speed-based events like track, weightlifting and wrestling.

Former Soviet countries have been hardest hit.

Kazakhstan, which has had eight medalists disqualified, said it will hand back two gold medals to the IOC on Thursday. They were won by weightlifter Ilya Ilyin, perhaps the country’s biggest sports star, who tested positive for steroids in retests of his 2008 and 2012 samples.

That follows earlier defiance by some Kazakh athletes, but the Central Asian country’s Olympic committee said it has convinced them otherwise.

“The whole situation for all the athletes who (are) obliged to return medals is not an easy one,” spokeswoman Zhuldyz Baimagambet told the AP in an email. “Some of them overreacted at the beginning, but they are ready to do it now and (the) process is ongoing.”

Ukraine and Belarus, two other countries required to return numerous medals, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

If athletes don’t return the medals voluntarily, it’s unclear what steps the IOC could take to force them. Any legal proceedings could be time-consuming, taking in multiple jurisdictions as well as the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Further complicating the issue, many of the athletes are retired and wouldn’t be affected by sports sanctions. In the years which have passed since the 2008 Olympics, medals also may have been lost or sold.

National Olympic committees are responsible for ensuring medals are given back, but there’s little precedent for punishing them if they don’t comply.

The IOC keeps some extra medals in reserve from past Olympics for such cases, but it’s not clear whether it has enough to cover the shortfall if dopers don’t return theirs.

The IOC didn’t respond to a request about how many spare medals it keeps, or what sanctions it could implement on those who keep medals despite a disqualification.

MORE: Russia could bid for 2028 Summer Olympics, mulls 3 cities

Max Aaron retires from figure skating

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Max Aaron, a national champion and Skate America winner, has retired from competitive figure skating.

Aaron, 26, ends his career as the only Skate America men’s winner not to compete in an Olympics. He is one of three U.S. men’s champions in the last 55 years not to compete in an Olympics, along with Ryan Bradley and Rudy Galindo.

“Of course, becoming an Olympian, or having an Olympic medal would have been great to say, ride off on my white horse, but having the ability to say that I have no regrets in my entire career of figure skating, for me that is my gold medal,” Aaron said Thursday night.

Aaron, a former top USA Hockey developmental player, also figure skated growing up to help with his skating skills as one of the smaller players on his team.

He stopped playing hockey at 16 due to a broken vertebra but continued full-time with figure skating. By 2012, Aaron considered quitting figure skating after placing eighth at nationals (one year after being U.S. junior champion) and being told he wasn’t artistic enough.

But Aaron kept with it and completed a remarkable bounce back the next year, winning the U.S. title and setting himself up as a favorite to make the 2014 Olympic team.

But Aaron ended up third at the 2014 U.S. Championships. The two Sochi Olympic spots went to Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown.

Aaron continued, becoming the first U.S. man to win Skate America in six years in 2015 and topping the short program at the 2016 U.S. Championships before ultimately finishing second to Adam Rippon.

Aaron plummeted to ninth at the 2017 U.S. Championships, coming back from offseason hernia surgery, but returned to the Olympic team radar last fall with a personal-best free skate at Cup of China, including three landed quadruple jumps. He went into the 2018 U.S. Championships ranking third among American men for the season.

But Aaron was again ninth at nationals, missing the Olympic team. He was called on to compete at last month’s world championships as the third alternate after Rippon, Ross Miner and Brown all passed.

Aaron had stopped skating and instead was training for a triathlon. He went to worlds in Milan on two weeks of training and finished 11th, a result that helped the U.S. keep three men’s spots for 2019 Worlds. Nathan Chen won the world title, but Vincent Zhou was 14th. The U.S. needed its second man to be 12th or better to go along with Chen’s first place to ensure three spots next year. Aaron reportedly said at worlds that it may have been his last competition.

Aaron said he’s started a job with Merrill Lynch.

“It’s really been a great ride. I have no regrets,” he said. “That’s one thing that I always told myself, in sport, in life, I want to have no regrets, and I can honestly say, with the help from my coaches and friends, that I have no regrets in the sport.”

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Martha, Bela Karolyi speak on Larry Nassar case (video)

Martha Karolyi, Bela Karolyi
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Former USA Gymnastics national team coordinators Martha and Bela Karolyi said they knew nothing about Larry Nassar‘s alleged abuse in an interview that airs on an hourlong NBC News “Dateline” special Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.

Star U.S. gymnasts, among more than 100 who said they were sexually abused by the convicted Nassar, said they were abused at the Karolyi’s ranch in Texas during national-team training camps.

“That’s awful, but I would say even if they have big names or they have no names, any child who was violated by Nassar, it’s a crime and it’s so sad,” Martha Karolyi told Savannah Guthrie in part of the interview that aired on TODAY on Friday.

How could the Karolyis not have known about the alleged abuses committed at their property?

“Yes, but if you couldn’t suspect anything, I heard during the testimonies that some of the parents were in therapy room with their own child and Larry Nassar was performing this — and the parent couldn’t see. How I could see?” Martha Karolyi said.

“The whole thing is just like an explosion, a bomb exploding, boom,” Bela Karolyi said.

Martha Karolyi led the national team for 15 years before retiring after the Rio Olympics. She told Guthrie that in “no way” did she suspect Nassar was sexually abusing athletes.

The Karolyis have been named as co-defendants in several civil lawsuits filed against Nassar and USA Gymnastics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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