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Trey Hardee returns to world stage without Ashton Eaton

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LONDON (AP) — Trey Hardee wants to set the record straight.

No, he’s not retired. Never has been. The thought really never crossed his mind.

The two-time world champion decathlete understands why everyone may have jumped to that conclusion.

He’s 33, has been sidelined by an assortment of injuries and did some broadcasting work for the Rio Olympics.

On top of that, his Wikipedia page actually listed him as retired.

“I still really love what I do,” he said.

With world-record holder and two-time Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton surprisingly announcing his retirement in January, the stage now belongs to the “other” American who, in virtually any other era, wouldn’t have been relegated to such status. Once the top rival of Eaton, Hardee could take his spot atop the medal stand at the world championships in London.

“I consider myself the bread in the Ashton sandwich,” Hardee joked about being around before Eaton’s arrival and still around now. “When we were (competing), we were always like, ‘Let’s finish 1-2.’ Neither of us cared. We were like, ‘Let’s dominate this event and represent the United States, make sure we show what the American decathlon stands for.’”

For years, it was the Eaton and Hardee Show in a 10-event competition spread over two days. At the 2012 London Games, Eaton took gold while Hardee grabbed silver. That despite Hardee having surgery on his throwing elbow a few months before the Olympics.

Another showdown loomed in Brazil. But Hardee was hobbled heading into the Olympic Trials and withdrew from the competition after aggravating his hamstring.

There went Rio for him as a competitor. Instead, he earned his way as an analyst and had a front-row seat for Eaton’s title defense.

“It was a bittersweet moment, watching my countrymen and cheering for them. But really, really in the bottom of your heart, you think, ‘I should be out there,’” Hardee recounted. “It was tough. It gave me more resolve to come back this year.”

A healthy Hardee turned in quite a performance at the USATF Outdoor Championships in June, when he won the decathlon with 8,225 points. He held off the next wave of American decathletes eager to take over — such as 24-year-old Zach Ziemek and Devon Williams. Both will accompany Hardee to London.

“It’s a nice time to be a decathlete in the U.S.,” Hardee said.

Hardee is part of a distinguished list, joining Eaton (2013, 2015), Dan O’Brien (1991, 1993, 1995), Tom Pappas (2003) and Bryan Clay (2005) as the only Americans to win the world decathlon title. Hardee captured his titles in 2009 and ’11.

“Whatever my legacy is, it’s not for me to determine,” said Hardee, who trains in Austin, Texas. “I was just led down the right path. All I needed to do was put in the work.”

His venture into the decathlon was almost by accident. Cut from his high school basketball team, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Hardee turned to pole vaulting and went to Mississippi State hoping to become the next Sergey Bubka. But Hardee was introduced to the decathlon and began to flourish. He transferred to Texas, where he became an NCAA champion.

Ever since, he’s been chasing that “unicorn,” which he calls the mythical perfect score in the competition. His personal-best mark of 8,790 points was set at the 2009 world championships in Berlin. In contrast, Eaton has set the world record twice — 9,039 points at the 2012 Olympic Trials, then 9,045, which he attained at the 2015 world championships in Beijing.

Recently, Hardee added another event to his plate — the getting-his-daughter-to-laugh competition. He scores big numbers in that area.

“She can smile at you, and turn you into a puddle on the floor,” said Hardee, whose wife — a retired pole vaulter — gave birth to their daughter, Frankie, on Dec. 5. “When she’s happy, we’re happy. I’ve never been more heartbroken than when I’m holding her and she’s crying.”

The family won’t be accompanying him to London. This is more of a business trip. He feels confident heading into London, though, even if he’s dealing with a nagging foot ailment.

“I’m dangerous, because I still got some pop,” Hardee said. “I’m the wild card.”

Asked when he might step aside for real, Hardee just laughed.

“If I do retire, it will be a pretty quiet and an uneventful affair,” said Hardee, who dabbles in real estate on the side. “They’ll be like, ‘Did Trey retire?’

“But I still go to bed every night thinking about the decathlon and I wake up each morning ready to practice.”

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Russian skeleton stars banned from World Cups

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The two Russians who had their medals from the Sochi Games stripped because of doping have been barred from competing in World Cup races, at least temporarily.

It’s the latest sanction against Aleksandr Tretiakov and Elena Nikitina, who had their medals — gold for Tretiakov, bronze for Nikitina — taken away Wednesday after it was determined they were part of Russia’s state-sponsored doping program at the 2014 Olympics. They have already been banned from future Olympics, and now may have no place to slide.

The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation handed down the suspensions Thursday, effective immediately. Tretiakov and Nikitina were both planning to compete in World Cup races at Whistler, British Columbia, this weekend.

In all, four Russians have been suspended by the IBSF. Along with Tretiakov and Nikitina, Mariia Orlova and Olga Potylitsyna — who have been racing on the lesser-tier Intercontinental Cup Circuit this season — were also banned, just as they were by the IOC. All four are expected to appeal, and the IBSF said they will be entitled to a hearing if that happens.

“Sport is all about who’s the best on that day and if anything compromises that, like the situations in Sochi, it taints everything and kind of undermines the fundamental belief in the system and the competition itself,” said USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele, also is a vice president with the IBSF. “This is kind of righting the ship.”

The IBSF’s decision is a strong one and is in stark contrast to one made by the International Ski Federation, which is allowing Russian cross-country skiers who were found guilty of doping at the Sochi Olympics to compete in World Cup events this weekend. The FIS wants to see detailed reasons why the IOC disciplinary panel reached its decisions about the Russian athletes.

The IBSF isn’t waiting.

“I understand that it was a difference of culture and that the Russians don’t believe they did anything wrong,” U.S. women’s skeleton veteran Katie Uhlaender said after the IOC decision to strip the medals and issue the Olympic bans was announced Wednesday. “But this was the only way to fix it.”

Uhlaender will be promoted to the bronze medal spot once Nikitina, as the IOC has ordered, surrenders what had been her bronze from Sochi and the IBSF updates the results. Tretiakov was the men’s gold-medalist; the revised order of finish for that event will now have Latvia’s Martins Dukurs getting gold, Matt Antoine of the U.S. bumped up to silver and Latvia’s Tomass Dukurs, Martins’ brother, will become the bronze medalist.

Uhlaender, who was fourth, will soon officially be third behind gold medalist Lizzy Yarnold of Britain and silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace of the U.S.

Sliders have lauded the IOC for doing the right thing, though noted that racers like Uhlaender and Tomass Dukurs — even once they have medals in hand — will never be able to replicate the moment on a podium that they should have had in Sochi.

“Having the physical medal’s cool, but most of it in my opinion is the experience of everything that happens,” Antoine said. “That’s what you cherish the most.”

Not having the top Russians on the World Cup circuit figures to have a major impact on the points standings.

Nikitina was the World Cup women’s points leader after the first two races of the season, and was coming off a victory last weekend in Park City, Utah. Tretiakov was fourth so far in the men’s standings, including a bronze at the season-opening race in Lake Placid, New York.

Russian skiers banned from Olympics allowed to race World Cup opener

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian cross-country skiers found guilty of doping at the Sochi Olympics can compete in World Cup races this weekend because the International Ski Federation (FIS) has been unable to prosecute its own cases in time.

Six Russians, including two Sochi medalists, were retroactively disqualified from the Winter Games this month and banned from the Olympics for life by the IOC.

FIS previously blocked all six from competing with interim suspensions, but those expired on Oct. 31. The International Olympic Committee judging panel then reached its verdicts this month.

However, FIS said Thursday that its own judicial body lacks key IOC documents to process cases.

“Consequently, the FIS Doping Panel is obliged to wait until the IOC Disciplinary Commission reasoned decisions are submitted with details of the evidence relied on,” said the governing body, which is responsible for imposing competition bans.

“As a consequence the active athletes are eligible to compete in FIS including World Cup competitions for the time being,” FIS said.

The World Cup season for men and women begins Friday in Ruka, Finland, with sprint and long-distance racing.

Organizers had not published starting lists Thursday for the three-day meeting and it was unclear which of the six intend to start.

Alexander Legkov and Maxim Vylegzhanin both won multiple medals in Sochi but were stripped by the IOC. The others suspended by the IOC were Evgeny Belov, Alexei Petukhov, Yulia Ivanova and Evgenia Shapovalova.

FIS said rules governed by the World Anti-Doping Agency meant it could not re-impose interim bans without “a specific allegation” plus evidence.

Attempting to assure cross-country skiers they will not be competing against doped rivals, FIS said an additional and independent testing program for Russians has been in operation since June and has taken about 250 blood and urine samples.

The three-man IOC disciplinary panel — chaired by Denis Oswald, a Swiss lawyer and member of the Olympic body’s executive board — has not issued detailed reasons for judgments in 10 cases from Sochi so far completed in cross-country skiing and skeleton.

Without positive doping tests, the panel used evidence of state-backed cover-ups and tampering of sample bottles in the Sochi laboratory first gathered last year by WADA investigator Richard McLaren.

At least 18 more Russian athletes are having their cases prosecuted in an ongoing series of hearings in Lausanne, Switzerland.

On Wednesday, the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation said it would update “within the next days” action against four Russians, including the Sochi gold medalist Alexander Tretiyakov and bronze medalist Elena Nikitina.

Nikitina won a skeleton World Cup race last weekend in Park City, Utah — a result which may soon be overturned by the IBSF.

All the Russian athletes disqualified by the IOC can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

On Dec. 5, IOC President Thomas Bach will announce after a board meeting if the Russian team will be banned from the Olympics, which open Feb. 9 in PyeongChang.

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