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Clock ticking on Russia as anti-doping agency meets

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MONTREAL (AP) — The lurid details — dark-of-night swapping of tainted urine samples with clean ones through a hole cut into the wall — have been confirmed by an independent investigator who delivered a 144-page report with the proof.

The reaction of policymakers to the unprecedented level of anti-doping corruption in Olympic sports has been nowhere near as headline-grabbing.

On Thursday, a bit over a year after The New York Times revealed the sordid specifics of a doping scandal that pervaded Russia’s Olympic team, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s governing board meets. The board won’t so much enact drastic measures for Russia or for WADA’s own flawed set of deterrents as it will try to gain fractions along a miles-long road of needed reforms.

The most pressing matter: With nine months until the Winter Olympics, there are few signs of what, if any, price the Russian Olympic team will pay for the corruption that has been unmasked in that country.

Investigator Richard McLaren’s report, released last December, found that more than 1,000 Russian athletes competing in summer, winter and Paralympic sports could have been involved or benefited from manipulations to conceal positive doping tests.

“There’s worry we’ll find ourselves, if we’re not already there, in the very same position as we were in Rio,” said Paul Melia, CEO of Canada’s anti-doping agency.

At last year’s Summer Games, the International Olympic Committee refused to ban the Russians as a whole, instead giving leaders in the individual sports mere days to sort out who should be eligible to compete in Rio de Janeiro. All but one member of Russia’s track team was barred, the result of a decision by that sport’s governing body (IAAF) that came after an investigation — separate from McLaren’s — into doping corruption in athletics. Most Russians in other sports were allowed to compete.

The IOC is conducting its own investigations to follow up on McLaren’s work, which was a fact-finding mission, not one geared toward handing out sanctions.

While that has meandered, the IOC issued a position paper in March saying it supported making WADA independent from both governments and sports organizations, a mighty task that would free the agency from the conflicts that have hindered it at almost every point of the Russia investigations. Despite this call, IOC member Craig Reedie continues to serve as chairman of WADA. Reedie boldly bucked the IOC before the Rio Games and recommended a full suspension of the Russian team. He has been less definite in the lead-up to the Pyeongchang Games.

The IOC also is pushing to create an independent drug-testing authority, which would take responsibility for testing and punishment out of the hands of the sports; it was this conflict that exacerbated the Russian track crisis. The IAAF was as culpable for that scandal as Russia, and the federation still holds Russia’s track team under suspension, having received few indicators that the country’s anti-doping culture is changing.

Exhibit A: Russia appointed, then re-elected, Olympic champion pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who has consistently framed WADA’s investigations as an anti-Russian plot, as chairwoman of a newly remade anti-doping agency (RUSADA). The agency’s status will be discussed Thursday, though WADA leaders already have spoken out against Isinbayeva’s appointment.

“It had to be designed to be inflammatory,” Graeme Steel, CEO of New Zealand’s anti-doping agency, said of the Isinbayeva appointment. “There’s no other reason they’d do that. I don’t foresee a lot of swift action concerning Russia.”

A glimmer of progress came via a recent agreement among the seven federations who oversee Winter Olympic sports to move toward an independent testing agency, much like IAAF and the international cycling federation have done. But it is only an agreement in principle and the individual sports will make the ultimate decisions about who oversees their testing programs.

What to expect at this week’s meetings?

“I hope to hear more about the progress that Russia is making toward becoming compliant,” said Max Cobb, executive director of U.S. Biathlon. “It’s troubling to note the contrasting views, when you hear the IAAF saying absolutely no progress is being made, then you hear (others) saying they’re happy with the progress being made.”

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The Winter Olympics open Feb. 9.

“Athletes have been here before — it’s Groundhog Day,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “But let’s hope this time it ends with decisions being made to ensure fair play and to truly reform the system so that Olympic fans everywhere can have faith that what they are watching is real.”

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Green Bay Packers pull another Olympic sport TD celebration

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We’re halfway to a decathlon of Olympic sport touchdown celebrations over the last two seasons.

After the hurdles, the long jump, the bobsled and the relay came the race walk on Sunday.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, once part of a three-man bobsled team, led three other teammates in a race walk after scoring in Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. (Adams later left the game with a concussion.)

Adams won the race walk, which was much, much shorter than the standard Olympic distances of 20km and 50km, over teammates Jordy NelsonRandall Cobb and Geronimo Allison.

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Canada in control of hockey rivalry going into Olympics

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Four years ago, the U.S. women’s hockey team rode a four-game winning streak over rival Canada into the Olympics, then lost both games in Sochi, including a gut-wrenching overtime final.

This time, Canada goes into the Winter Games having won four straight.

The Canadians beat the Americans 2-1 in overtime in Edmonton on Sunday night, taking their pre-Olympic series 5-3 overall.

“I don’t think it was our best performance,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. “There’s still more work to do.”

The Canadians were led by their stalwarts — captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored in regulation, Sochi gold medalist Jennifer Wakefield scored 26 seconds into overtime and longtime goalie Shannon Szabados stopped 34 of 35 shots.

Hilary Knight netted the U.S. goal, with Maddie Rooney making 24 saves.

“The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said.

The U.S. appeared to be in that kind of form until about two weeks ago.

Before this losing streak, the U.S. had a 12-4 record against Canada since the start of 2015, including taking the last three world championship finals.

At one point, the U.S. won six straight games over a 12-month stretch, its longest streak over Canada since it famously won eight straight going into the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics then lost the gold-medal game.

Canada also beat the U.S. in their last four meetings before the 2006 Olympics and five straight going into the 2010 Olympics.

The U.S. Olympic team will be announced Jan. 1. The national-team roster is at 25 players (22 skaters, three goalies), but the Olympic roster is 23 (20 skaters, three goalies).

“Can’t live in the past, can’t live in the future, so tonight we were worried about this game,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said, according to the Canadian Press. “We weren’t looking ahead to February.”

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