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WADA clears 95 Russian doping cases, still pursuing others

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LIMA, Peru (AP) — The World Anti-Doping Agency has dismissed all but one of the first 96 Russian doping cases forwarded its way from sports federations acting on information that exposed cheating in the country.

The cases stem from an investigation by Richard McLaren, who was tasked with detailing evidence of a scheme to hide doping positives at the Sochi Olympics and beforehand.

The 95 dismissed cases, first reported by The New York Times, were described by WADA officials as not containing enough hard evidence to result in solid cases.

“It’s absolutely in line with the process, and frankly, it’s nothing unexpected,” WADA director general Olivier Niggli told The Associated Press on Wednesday at meetings of the International Olympic Committee. “The first ones were the quickest to be dealt with, because they’re the ones with the least evidence.”

McLaren uncovered 1,000 potential cases, however, and a WADA spokesperson told AP it is the agency’s understanding that sports federations are considering bringing some of them forward.

Niggli cautioned that it will be difficult to pursue some cases, because the Russian scheme involved disposing of tainted samples, and the Russians were not cooperative with McLaren in turning over evidence.

“There are a thousand names, and for a number of them, the only thing McLaren’s got is a name on a list,” Niggli said. “If you can prosecute an athlete with a name on a list, perfect. But this is not the reality. There were thousands of samples destroyed in Moscow.”

The revelation of the 95 dropped cases comes with a deadline fast approaching to make a decision on Russia’s participation at next February’s Winter Olympics.

Two IOC committees that will decide the matter — one reviewing individual cases and another looking at the overall corruption in Russia — are due to deliver interim reports at the IOC meetings later this week.

In resolving the case against Russia’s suspended anti-doping agency (RUSADA), WADA has insisted the agency, the country’s Olympic committee and its sports ministry “publically accept the outcomes of the McLaren Investigation.” Track’s governing body put similar conditions in place for the lifting of the track team’s suspension.

The IOC, however, has made no such move. More than 270 Russian athletes were cleared to compete in the Summer Games last year in Rio.

“The best we can do to protect clean athletes is to have a really good, solid anti-doping process in Russia,” said WADA president Craig Reedie, who is also a member of the IOC. “That’s our role and our priority. The rest of it, you have to go and ask the IOC.”

IOC president Thomas Bach said the committees are “working hard all the time.”

Meanwhile, Russian officials are showing no signs of acknowledging they ran a state-sponsored doping program.

This week, the country’s deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, blamed RUSADA and the former head of the Russian anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov, for the corruption, and suggested WADA was at fault, too. Rodchenkov lives in hiding in the United States after revealing details of the plot.

“We are rearranging the system but it should be rearranged so that WADA could also share responsibility,” Mutko said, according to R-Sport. “They should have been responsible for [Rodchenkov] before, as they have issued him a license and given him a work permit. They were in control of him but now the state is blamed for it.”

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Ashley Wagner details dropping ‘La La Land’ free skate

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Ashley Wagner, the pre-eminent U.S. female figure skater of the last decade, changed her mind on one of the most significant decisions a skater can make going into the Olympic season.

Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist and three-time U.S. champion, tossed out the new free skate she had been working on last month.

It was set to music from “La La Land,” which earned a record-tying 14 Academy Award nominations earlier this year and won six Oscars (and, briefly, infamously, a seventh for Best Picture).

Now, she’s back to music from “Moulin Rouge.” It accompanied her free skate in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

Those years, Wagner posted the highest free skate scores in U.S. Championships history and for an American in international competition history.

“I really did love the [‘La La Land’] program,” Wagner said Wednesday, while promoting the Dick’s Sporting Goods Contenders program, which assists 41 Winter Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls with their preparation for the PyeongChang Winter Games.

“I was very passionate about what I was doing,” she continued. “I started training it day to day, and the music is beautiful. But just something wasn’t quite clicking, and the character didn’t really feel as complicated as I wanted her to be. There really didn’t feel like there was much of an emotional range. And I love drama. I love having those moments.”

The return to “Moulin Rouge” came abruptly as Wagner described it. One day at practice in early August, she consulted her steely coach, Armenian Rafael Arutyunyan.

“Is this program good?” Wagner asked.

“Yeah, it’s a really good program,” Arutyunyan responded.

“Is it good enough? Is this going to get me through the Olympics?” she pressed.

Arutyunyan told Wagner to put “Moulin Rouge” music on and skate.

“I made it to the first double Axel in the program,” Wagner said. “He turns off the program, and he goes, this is the program I want you to do.”

Wagner agreed.

“It’s my Olympic moment,” she said Wednesday, “and this is the person I want to be at the Olympics.”

Wagner, who lives and trains in Southern California, said publicly as far back as February that she wanted to skate to “La La Land” at the Olympics. Skaters usually wait until after the preceding season ends in early spring to announce program music for the following season.

But Wagner was so enamored that she texted her choreographer from a movie theater to say she had chosen “La La Land” for her Olympic free skate.

Wagner’s 11-year senior international career is marked by ups and downs, tears and several concussions. She identified with the film’s theme of hope.

“I love the music. I still do,” she said. “I just think that it was very much like an inspirational kind of a setup. I loved that. I loved the choreography. I can’t speak highly enough of the music. But I just know myself, and I know that after a couple of months of just one emotion, I get bored.”

Two weeks after the switch, Wagner performed to “Moulin Rouge” at last month’s U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp. At Champs Camp, skaters receive preseason feedback from officials on programs before debuting them in competition.

“I gave them the opportunity to see ‘La La Land’ if they wanted to, but everyone at U.S. Figure Skating was very supportive of my decision,” Wagner said.

Wagner said she will make her Olympic season debut at a small, local event. She won’t say where or when it will be. Her international season debut is at Skate Canada the last weekend of October.

She’s gearing up for the U.S. Championships in January, after which three women will be named to the Olympic team. That team will be chosen by a committee based on results not only at nationals but also previous top-level competitions.

Wagner is familiar with the selection process.

She was the top U.S. woman in fall 2009 but finished third at the 2010 U.S. Championships and was left off the two-woman Olympic team.

Wagner was fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and placed on the three-woman Olympic team over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu. Wagner earned that spot based on performing the best of all U.S. women nationally and internationally the previous year.

Now 26 years old, Wagner can become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928.

Wagner wants to separate from her own past this season, even as she performs to music associated with some of the biggest triumphs of her career.

Skating to “Moulin Rouge” again last month, “made me feel like the athlete that I was at 2016 Worlds, so that definitely made me feel nostalgic,” she said, referencing moving from fourth to second in the free skate in Boston to become the first U.S. world medalist in a decade. “Maybe that’s why I like this program so much.”

But judges may want to see something new.

So Wagner added professional dancer Benji Schwimmer to her choreography team. Schwimmer has worked with Wagner’s best friend and training partner Adam Rippon.

“This is a new season,” Wagner said, “and hopefully somewhat of a new version of Moulin Rouge.”

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Officer body checks fan at world road cycling championships (video)

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A man dressed as a police officer leveled a fan at the world road cycling championships men’s time trial in Bergen, Norway, on Wednesday.

Spectators often run up close enough to touch riders on mountain stages at the Tour de France.

However, this man in a red hooded sweatshirt was decked while chasing German Tony Martin from two or three strides behind near the summit finish of a 19-mile time trial.

Martin, eyeing his record fifth world title in the time trial, was ninth on a course not suited to his strengths.

A full recap of the race is here.

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