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Russia’s Paralympic ban extended as IPC eyes PyeongChang

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Russia faces a “strong chance” of being banned from the 2018 Paralympics if it does not meet criteria for competition reinstatement by September, the International Paralympic Committee said Monday.

Russia has been banned from IPC-sanctioned competition due to its poor anti-doping record since August. It was left out of the Rio Games in September. An IPC task force of five unanimously voted to extend the ban, it announced Monday.

The task force monitoring Russia’s progress to meeting reinstatement criteria said it “continues to have significant concerns regarding the lack of any material progress on a number of fundamental issues.”

The task force said there has not been meaningful change in Russia’s anti-doping culture. It has not addressed findings of rampant doping problems in the country detailed by World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned reports last year.

“Unless and until these problems are fully addressed … it would be almost impossible for Russian Para athletes to return to IPC-sanctioned competitions without jeopardizing the integrity of those competitions,” IPC task force chair Andy Parkinson said.

IPC president Philip Craven said Monday there is cause for optimism, specifically that Russia’s anti-doping agency could resume drug testing as early as June.

The IPC governing board “is generally pleased and encouraged by the co-operation and steps forward [Russia] is making in various areas toward its reinstatement,” Craven said. “Although we are pleased with the progress to date, a number of key criteria still need to be met. At the moment there are a lot of good plans with timelines on paper, but we now need to see plans in action and delivering concrete results.”

Russia dominated the 2014 Sochi Paralympic medal standings.

It tallied 80 medals, including 30 golds, more than three times as many total medals and golds as the second-place nation. In fact, Russia topped the medal table at each of the last three Winter Paralympics.

If Russia is banned from PyeongChang, the U.S. could be right in the mix. It finished third with 18 medals in Sochi, behind Russia and Ukraine (25), though Americans came home with just two gold medals.

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MORE: Five Paralympic storylines, one year out from PyeongChang

IOC expects decisions on Russian doping cases next month

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Investigators at the International Olympic Committee expect to have “a number” of doping cases involving Russians at the Sochi Olympics resolved by the end of November, but they have no plans to dictate the eligibility of these athletes for next year’s Winter Games in PyeongChang.

The leader of an IOC delegation in charge of reviewing 28 cases involving athletes at Sochi wrote to the head of the IOC Athletes Commission this week to update the timeline of cases stemming from a report detailing a Russian doping scheme at the 2014 Olympics and beforehand.

Denis Oswald said that of the cases his committee is reviewing, priority has been given to those involving athletes looking to compete in PyeongChang. Top priority goes to six cross-country skiers whose provisional suspensions expire Oct. 31.

Oswald also said his committee would rule on these athletes’ results for Sochi, but will not determine their eligibility for PyeongChang, instead handing over evidence to their respective sports federations to decide.

The IOC also appointed a task force to look at the Russian doping scandal as a whole, the results of which could have wider repercussions on the country’s eligibility at next year’s Olympics.

In a separate letter sent to worldwide sports leaders, IOC President Thomas Bach said only that the Schmid Commission is continuing its evaluation and that “I hope that the IOC Executive Board will still be able to take a decision this year because none of us want this serious issue to overshadow” the upcoming Olympics.

The updates come amid a growing chorus of calls for a timely decision and for Russia’s ouster from PyeongChang.

The IOC commissions are operating off information from the McLaren Report, the first part of which was released in July 2016.

In explaining the timeline, Oswald wrote that because the Russian scheme involved exchanging dirty urine samples with clean ones, it took time to adopt methods to verify that samples had been tampered with — in part by finding evidence of scratch marks on collection bottles that had been opened and re-sealed.

“The task has not been easy in both establishing a methodology in an area in which there are no established protocols,” he wrote, “and then moving through the necessary scientific analysis of each individual sample in a way which would withstand legal challenge.”

MORE: USOC boss calls for immediate action on Russian doping

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Two-time Olympian becomes first woman to lead U.S. national swim team

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Two-time Olympian Lindsay Mintenko has been picked to lead the U.S. national swimming team. She is the first woman to hold the title.

USA Swimming made the announcement Wednesday.

Mintenko replaces Frank Busch, who retired Oct. 1 as managing director. She has been a member of the national team staff since 2006.

During her swimming career, Mintenko won gold medals as a U.S. team captain at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics 800m freestyle relay and added a silver in 2004 on the 400m freestyle relay.

USA Swimming also announced an organizational restructuring that will place all technical divisions, including the national team, under the oversight of chief operating officer Mike Unger.

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