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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

USA Gymnastics closes Karolyi Ranch

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USA Gymnastics said it will no longer use the Karolyi Ranch in Texas as its training center, where athletes said Larry Nassar sexually abused gymnasts.

“USA Gymnastics has terminated its agreement with the Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville, Texas,” USA Gymnastics CEO and president Kerry Perry said in a press release Thursday. “It will no longer serve as the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center.

“It has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December. Our most important priority is our athletes, and their training environment must reflect this. We are committed to a culture that empowers and supports our athletes.

“We have cancelled next week’s training camp for the U.S. Women’s National Team. We are exploring alternative sites to host training activities and camps until a permanent location is determined. We thank all those in the gymnastics community assisting in these efforts.”

MORE: Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

World champions Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols said that Nassar sexually abused gymnasts at the ranch.

“When I was 15 I started to have back problems while at a National Team Camp at the Karolyi Ranch,” Nichols wrote in a victim impact statement read at one of Nassar’s sentencing hearings on Wednesday and published last week. “This is when the changes in his medical treatments occurred.

“I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should. He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve my pain.

“He did this ‘treatment’ on me, on numerous occasions.”

Raisman, a three-time Olympic champion, urged USA Gymnastics to close the ranch in a Tuesday interview on ESPN.

“I hope USA Gymnastics listens because they haven’t listened to us so far,” she said. “I hope they listen, and I hope they don’t make any of the girls go back to the ranch. No one should have to go back there after, you know, so many of us were abused there.”

Simone Biles did not specifically name the Karolyi Ranch in her Monday statement, but Raisman said Tuesday that Biles was referring to that site.

“It is impossibly difficult to relive these experiences and it breaks my heart even more to think that as I work towards my dream of competing at Tokyo 2020, I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused,” was posted on Biles’ social media.

Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympian, said Nassar was alone with her in her bed at the ranch.

“There was no one else sent with him,” she said on CBS last year. “The treatment was in the bed, in my bed that I slept on at the ranch.”

USA Gymnastics said in July 2016 that it reached an agreement with former national team coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi to purchase the training facility the couple owned.

The national governing body backed out of the purchase in May “for a variety of reasons” but continued under its current lease agreement while exploring alternative locations for camps. It held national team camps there in September and November.

The Karolyis established the ranch in 1983 after defecting from Romania. It had been a national team training center since 2001.

Larry Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A statement from McKayla Maroney read Thursday repeated that sexual assault by Larry Nassar “left scars” in her mind that may never fade as a judge heard a third day of testimony from victims.

Nassar could be sentenced Friday in Lansing. Since Tuesday, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has been listening to dozens of young women who were molested after seeking his help for injuries.

Aquilina started the hearing Thursday by saying Nassar had written a letter fearing that his mental health wasn’t strong enough to sit and listen to a parade of victims. He called the hearing “a media circus.”

The judge dismissed it as “mumbo jumbo.”

“Spending four or five days listening to them is minor, considering the hours of pleasure you’ve had at their expense, ruining their lives,” Aquilina said.

Nassar, 54, faces a minimum sentence of 25 to 40 years in prison for molesting girls as a doctor for Michigan State University and at his home.

He also was a team doctor at USA Gymnastics for nearly two decades. He’s already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.

“Dr. Nassar was not a doctor,” Maroney said in a statement read by a prosecutor (Maroney’s statement was previously posted in the fall). “He left scars on my psyche that may never go away.”

USA Gymnastics in 2016 reached a financial settlement with Maroney that barred her from making disparaging remarks. But the organization this week said it would not seek any money for her “brave statements.”

A 2000 Olympian, Jamie Dantzscher, looked at Nassar and said, “How dare you ask any of us for forgiveness.”

“Your days of manipulation are over,” she said. “We have a voice. We have the power now.”

Nassar wasn’t the only target. Victims also criticized Michigan State and USA Gymnastics.

Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon attended part of the session Wednesday. The school is being sued by dozens of women, who say campus officials wrote off complaints about the popular doctor.

“Guess what? You’re a coward, too,” current student and former gymnast Lindsey Lemke said Thursday, referring to Simon.

The judge has been praising each speaker and criticizing Nassar.

It’s “about their control over other human beings and feeling like God and they can do anything,” Aquilina said of sex offenders.

On Jan. 31, Nassar will get another sentence for sexual assaults at a Lansing-area gymnastics club in a different county.