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Russia track and field ban set to extend through world champs

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MONACO (AP) — The IAAF is upholding its global ban on Russian athletes and freezing all nationality switches.

Following a council meeting in Monaco on Monday, IAAF president Sebastian Coe said Russian athletics should not expect “full reinstatement” before November. The decision rules out Russia competing at the world championships in August in London.

IAAF task force chairman Rune Andersen added that although there have been “productive meetings” with Russian officials, many conditions were yet to be met for full reinstatement.

In December, World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren published the second part of his damning report into state-sponsored doping, listing hundreds of failed drug tests which were allegedly covered up in Russia, including in disability sports. The Russian government and Russian athletics deny any state support for doping.

Andersen presented Russia’s “roadmap” for compliance, and issued firm conditions.

The testing of Russian athletes must take place without any further incidents.

Russian athletics must explain why in the past it has been unable to enforce suspensions imposed on its athletes and how it plans to go about doing this in future. The IAAF also demanded an official Russian response to McLaren’s findings from the sports ministry and the FSB, Russia’s federal security service.

“Our priority is to return clean athletes to competition but we must all have confidence in the process,” Coe said. “Clean Russian athletes have been badly let down by their national system. We must ensure they are protected and that those safeguards give confidence to the rest of the world that there is a level playing field of competition when Russians return.”

At the council meeting in December, the IAAF task force said Russia could not yet be reinstated because of the lack of a functional drug-testing agency there, and a lack of acceptance of the McLaren findings.

The IAAF suspended Russia from all international competition in November 2015 after the first part of the McLaren report alleged mass doping and cover-ups. Since then, senior Russian athletics officials have been banned, and more WADA reports provided details of drug use and the swapping of tainted samples for clean ones.

Since February 2016, testing in Russia has been overseen by the United Kingdom Anti-Doping Agency because its Russian counterpart was banned from handling samples due to corruption claims.

Last month, the IAAF provided new guidelines for Russians hoping to compete in a neutral capacity. The IAAF said 35 Russians have applied, sending in 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 the European indoor championships in Serbia next month, just without a flag.

In a separate issue, the IAAF said it was freezing all nationality switches in athletics after complaints that a rising number of people were switching allegiance to countries where they had no ties, and that some were moving repeatedly.

Coe said middlemen were touting lists of athletes around various countries, describing a form of transfer market similar to soccer.

“I have spoken to many member federations who regularly receive a list of athletes that are out there and available for trade,” he said. “This cannot be a sustainable system.”

Runners from Kenya and Ethiopia were among those who have often moved to represent other countries. Kenya-born Ruth Jebet won the 3000m steeplechase at the Rio Olympics while running for Bahrain, which also won marathon silver through Kenya-born Eunice Kirwa.

The decision did not affect 15 transfers already being processed.

Council member Hamad Kalkaba Malboum compared the situation to a “wholesale market for African talent open to the highest bidder.”

“Our present rules are being manipulated to the detriment of athletics’ credibility,” he said. “Lots of the individual athletes concerned, many of whom are transferred at a young age, do not understand that they are forfeiting their nationality. This must end and a new way forward found which respects the athletes’ rights and the sports’ dignity.”

In other issues:

— Last year, the IAAF designated five other countries whose anti-doping programs were in a critical condition: Ethiopia, Morocco, Belarus, Kenya, and Ukraine. The IAAF says it has received presentations from Morocco and Ukraine on their progress. Belarus, Ethiopia, and Kenya have to report again in three months, and Ukraine will report on a monthly basis.

— The IAAF council approved Coe’s proposal to dispense with the formal bidding process by which the IAAF has traditionally taken applications to host international competitions. Instead, the IAAF will “assess the strategic goals for growing the sport in relation to each IAAF competition, targeting cities from countries and regions which will best assist the delivery of those aims.”

MORE: Russia athletes refuse to return stripped Olympic medals

Chinese lead, star pairs struggle in world championships short program

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China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong recorded the highest pairs short program score in the world since the 2014 Olympics, topping the world championships field in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Two-time defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are well behind in seventh and 13th place, respectively.

Sui and Han, in just their second event this season, tallied a personal-best 81.23 points.

They lead by 1.39 over Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot going into the free skate Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are in third.

The Chinese will go for their first world title after giving up a short-program lead last year and taking silver for a second straight time.

Full worlds short program results are here.

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Sui and Han missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at the Four Continents Championships in February and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

Duhamel and Radford, looking to become the first pair to three-peat in 40 years, came in slowed by Radford’s hip injury suffered in the last week. Radford was off-balance on his triple toe loop landing Wednesday. Duhamel’s hand touched the ice on her throw triple Lutz landing.

They scored 72.67 points, which is 8.56 behind Sui and Han.

Stolbova and Klimov both suffered falls in their short program and scored 65.59, qualifying for the 16-pair free skate by four points. The Russian champions missed the autumn season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury.

The top U.S. pair was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, who posted a personal-best 72.17 points for eighth place. The husband-and-wife pair are competing for the second time this season after Scimeca Knierim’s serious abdominal injury.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier suffered two falls and placed 20th, matching the worst U.S. pairs finish in worlds history. They did not qualify for the 16-pair free skate.

Therefore, the Knierims must finish 10th or better after the free skate to ensure the U.S. earns two pairs places at the 2018 Olympics.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. medal in pairs at worlds came in 2002. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

North Korean pair Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik placed 14th in the short program, the highest of any pair expected to compete for one of four final Olympic quota spots in September.

North Korea sent no athletes to the Sochi Olympics, and it’s not a guarantee it will qualify any athletes for PyeongChang, or if it will send athletes to South Korea in February. But Ryom and Kim’s personal best by nearly 11 points on Wednesday was very encouraging.

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MORE: U.S. pairs skater back from life-threatening condition

Pairs Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 81.23
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 79.84
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 79.37
8. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 72.17
20. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 56.23

Missy Franklin out due to shoulder surgeries

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Missy Franklin is sidelined from swimming competition for an undisclosed period of time to recover from surgeries on both of her shoulders due to bursitis, according to her social media.

“This is what’s best for me to come stronger than ever,” was posted on Franklin’s Instagram. “I’m so far from being done with this sport.”

The five-time Olympic champion was diagnosed in early January following an MRI, underwent surgeries that month and has returned to limited training.

Franklin, who has not raced since the Rio Olympics, will not compete in the next USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., in two weeks.

Her return date is not set.

The U.S. Championships are in June in Indianapolis and serve as a qualifying meet for the world championships in Budapest in July.

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