Prefontaine Classic

A year into doping ban, Russian track and field inches closer to return

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MOSCOW (AP) More than a year into Russia’s exclusion from international track and field, high jump world champion Maria Kuchina feels like she’s stagnating.

“I need emotion, I need competition, I need rivals,” Kuchina said.

That’s all missing because Russian track and field exists in limbo, banned since November 2015 as a series of investigations revealed widespread doping and alleged government officials helped to cover it up.

Sunday saw Russia’s biggest meet of the year so far, though it featured only Russians, with very mixed quality in many events. Kuchina easily won her event in Moscow, but her result of 1.91 meters was far below her best.

However, after a string of false starts, Russia is inching closer to a return.

On Monday, track’s world governing body, the IAAF, will hold a council meeting with the stated aim of drawing up a road map for Russia’s return though, in some ways, the process has quietly begun.

Over the winter, the IAAF has been accepting applications from top Russian athletes who want to compete in international events as neutral athletes, rather than representatives of Russia’s still-suspended track federation.

As of Wednesday, 33 Russians had applied, sending off forms listing their drug-test history under newly relaxed IAAF rules which no longer insist on Russian athletes training outside their home country. If the IAAF accepts all of them, Russia will have close to a full team at next month’s European indoor championships in Serbia, just without a flag.

That’s good news for Daria Klishina, the long jumper who was allowed to be Russia’s only representative in track and field at last year’s Rio Olympics because she has long trained in Florida, rather than in the Russian system.

“I don’t want to be in that situation again, never,” Klishina said Sunday, recalling how she found it tough to be on her own at the Olympics, where she finished ninth. If more Russians get permission to compete this season, “I’ll feel a lot better, because I didn’t like competing alone with that huge responsibility.”

Competing as neutrals, not Russians, is a sensitive issue.

Many fans support the athletes who have submitted applications to the IAAF, though some Russian nationalists accuse them of betraying their country.

“There’s more support because people who I know understand what sport means to me,” Kuchina said. “I try never to read online comments because they could destroy anyone’s wellbeing.”

Middle-distance runner Elena Korobkina, however, said she’ll refuse a place at major championships if it means competing as a neutral, though she will take part in other meets. “Even if they let me, I won’t compete at the Europeans because I want to race under my own flag,” she said.

Even as Russia nears a return, there have been setbacks.

Documents released in December as part of a World Anti-Doping Agency inquiry showed eight unnamed Russians from the national track and field team had given suspicious samples ahead of the 2014 world indoor championships, but most were recorded as clean. The IAAF is looking into the issue.

In another blow, a German TV channel broadcast footage showing national-team runner Artyom Denmukhametov appearing to train with coach Vladimir Kazarin, who is suspended over alleged steroid use by several of his other athletes. Denmukhametov was in action at Sunday’s meet, coming second in the 400m. He hasn’t applied to the IAAF to compete as a neutral, according to Russian track federation records.

Until the IAAF either reinstates Russia or allows its top athletes to compete as individuals, Russian track will remain in suspended animation. Kuchina doesn’t know if she’ll be able to defend her world title in London in August.

“There’s no information,” she said, criticizing the lack of updates about her application. “We’re all waiting.”

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Gymnastics doctor’s lawyers want trial moved, cite media coverage

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Attorneys for a former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics doctor accused of molesting dozens of athletes are pushing to have his trial moved out of the Lansing area.

The Lansing State Journal reports that attorneys representing Larry Nassar filed a change-of-venue request because of what they called “inflammatory and sustained media coverage” that they say has made it difficult for Nassar to get a fair trial in the area.

The media attention grew more intense this week when 21-year-old 2012 Olympic gold medal gymnast McKayla Maroney wrote on Twitter that Nassar started assaulting her when she was 13.

Nassar has pleaded not guilty to nearly two dozen charges in Michigan. He has pleaded guilty to three child pornography charges in an unrelated case but has not been sentenced.

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Nathan Chen holds off Yuzuru Hanyu to win first Grand Prix

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U.S. champion Nathan Chen opened the Grand Prix season by beating Olympic gold-medal favorite Yuzuru Hanyu.

Chen, 18, held off Hanyu at Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, totaling 293.79 points to win by 3.02 over the Japanese megastar.

Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva easily won the women’s title despite a rare fall in her free skate. Medvedeva is undefeated since 2015 Rostelecom Cup.

Full scores are here.

Chen landed four quadruple jumps in a strong but imperfect free skate for his first Grand Prix title in his second senior international season.

“I got a little tired halfway through the program and started faltering a little bit on the second quad toe – that was a big mistake,” Chen said, according to the International Skating Union .”I can’t let things like that happen in the future. But this is my first Grand Prix win, and I’m very happy with that.”

Hanyu outscored Chen in the free skate, but the American benefited from his 5.69-point lead from Friday’s short program.

Hanyu, the reigning Olympic and world champion, has never won his opening Grand Prix start in eight tries.

He did three quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate rather than the planned five, but did not fall as he did in the short program.

Chen has now outscored Hanyu in three of their last four head-to-head events dating to February. Hanyu got the better of Chen at the most important event — winning the world championships, where the American was sixth.

Also Saturday, two-time world medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani won the ice dance with 189.24 points, sweeping both the short and free programs.

The siblings and U.S. champions have now won four straight Grand Prix titles (not counting the Grand Prix Final).

They won by 4.5 points over Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev.

The world’s top two couples were not in the field — Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

Russia swept the pairs podium, led by world bronze medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

The top pairs teams from the rest of the world — including world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong — were not in the field.

The Rostelecom Cup women’s free skate is later Saturday.

The Grand Prix season continues next weekend with Skate Canada, headlined by three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner and three-time world champion Patrick Chan.

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Rostelecom Cup
Men
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 293.79
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 290.77
3. Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 271.06
11. Grant Hochstein (USA) — 206.09

Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 231.21
2. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 215.98
3. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 207.17
6. Mariah Bell (USA) — 188.56
9. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 178.25

Ice Dance
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 189.24
2. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 184.74
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 179.35
7. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 148.75

Pairs
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 224.25
2. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) — 204.43
3. Kristina Astakhova/Aleksey Rogonov (RUS) — 199.11
7. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran (USA) — 170.53