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USOC boss calls for immediate action on Russian doping

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The leader of the U.S. Olympic Committee called on his international counterparts to act immediately on allegations of Russian doping, with now less than four months until the start of the Winter Games.

“The time for action is now,” Scott Blackmun, the CEO of the USOC said in an address Thursday to the USOC Assembly.

In his speech to more than 200 members of the U.S. Olympic community, Blackmun said “it is beyond frustrating” that no action has been taken on the now-15-month-old McLaren Report, which documented a Russian doping system that tainted the Sochi Games in 2014.

International Olympic Committee leaders launched two investigations after the McLaren Report was released and expect results before the end of the year.

But Blackmun noted that U.S. athletes are getting frustrated, with so far not a single Sochi medal forfeited nor a single Winter Olympics-bound athlete sanctioned as a result of the McLaren Report.

The Olympics start Feb. 8.

“I believe the IOC is pursuing the findings of the McLaren Report, both in earnest and in good faith, and I believe the IOC when they say there will be consequences for the bad actors,” Blackmun said. “But at some point, justice delayed is justice denied, and we are fast approaching that point.”

This was one of the strongest statements the USOC has made about the long-running anti-doping scandal in Russia.

It was met with a burst of applause usually reserved at these meetings for announcements about medal counts and other big accomplishments, such as landing the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Several U.S. athletes and sports leaders have expressed frustration with both the IOC’s time-consuming process and with what they had viewed the USOC’s less-than-aggressive push against the IOC’s handling of the Russian investigation.

In one of the assembly meetings Thursday, sports leaders heard from Yulia and Vitaly Stepanov, the first two Russians to blow the whistle on corruption inside the Russian system.

“Obviously, it’s very much welcomed as you could tell by the loud applause,” said Edwin Moses, the chair of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “As the global voices continue to unite and grow to protect clean athletes, having the commitment from a powerful NOC and host of the 2028 Games supporting justice and reform could be a real game-changer.”

While Blackmun took up the anti-doping topic, USOC chairman Larry Probst was equally forceful in denouncing a growing list of IOC corruption scandals.

Most recently, Brazil’s Carlos Nuzman, who spearheaded the effort to stage the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, is in prison during an investigation into a vote-buying scheme to bring the Games to Brazil. The IOC has suspended Nuzman, and he resigned this week as head of the country’s Olympic committee.

Probst said the bad actors have “been tolerated for too long.”

“To be sure, a global movement requires diplomacy and due process. But it also demands an aggressive and timely response to unacceptable behavior,” Probst said.

Blackmun also called on sports leagues and the federal government to help fund the recently opened U.S. Center for SafeSport, which the USOC helped get off the ground. Its mission is collecting reports about and following up on sex-abuse cases inside Olympic sports.

Scandals have resulted in the leaders at both USA Gymnastics and USA Taekwondo being removed from their jobs over the past seven months.

“If we want parents to entrust their children to your care, to encourage them to participate in your sports… we must look at it from the perspective of the couple at the kitchen table; will my child be safe there?” Blackmun said.

The Assembly will close Friday with a USOC board meeting, in which a key topic will be a possible bid for the Winter Olympics in 2026 or 2030.

Probst told the audience the USOC is interested in bringing the Winter Games back to the United States — and has received interest from Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno, Nev.

But no timelines have been set, or decisions have been made, as the IOC is still determining the selection process for 2026.

Also, any bid would have to come with the cooperation of the Los Angeles host committee, which recently agreed to complex financial arrangements with the USOC as part of its deal to stage the 2028 Games.

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MORE: Austria looks into multi-country 2026 Winter Olympic bid

Simone Biles becomes honorary Houston Texans cheerleader

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The NFL’s Houston Texans may not be having the greatest season on the football field, but that hasn’t stopped one famous diehard fan from cheering them on.

On Sunday, Simone Biles took her fandom to the next level by debuting as an honorary Texans cheerleader before the team’s home game against the San Francisco 49ers.

game day feels ❤️ so excited to dance at the Houston Texans Game!

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officially ready for game day now that I got my legendary red boots 🏈

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As an added bonus, she also found time to take a few photos with NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon, a 7-foot center who once starred for the Houston Rockets.

This isn’t the first time that the Olympic gold medalist has teamed up with her hometown Texans. In 2016, Biles had the honor of announcing one of the team’s draft picks, and in 2015, she made this memorable entrance onto the field after a pre-game introduction.

Julia Marino, Jamie Anderson close in on Olympic snowboard team spots after second U.S. qualifier

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Julia Marino is within striking distance of qualifying for her first Olympic team. Sochi gold medalist Jamie Anderson is even closer.

Marino, who won four X Games medals in slopestyle and big air competitions last season, unleashed a frontside 720 and her signature cab double underflip to take second place in big air at the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, the second of five qualifying events for the U.S. snowboard slopestyle and big air team.

Anderson, who received high marks for her cab 900 but lower scores for her frontside 720, finished off the podium in fourth. Because she and Marino were the only Americans to reach the final at Copper though, Anderson still received a valuable haul of Olympic selection points and maintains the lead in the overall rankings.

Although Marino’s cab double underflip received the highest score of the competition, riders in big air are scored on their two best tricks. That enabled Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi to take the win with a pair of solid jumps that included a backside 1080. Silje Norendal of Norway finished on the podium in third behind Iwabuchi and Marino.

In order to be named to the U.S. Olympic slopestyle and big air snowboarding team, riders must have a minimum of one podium finish at the selection events. If more than three riders attain podium finishes, then the tiebreaker will come down each rider’s two best results.

Marino and Anderson have both fulfilled the minimum criteria for automatic selection. Either of them could clinch spots on the Olympic team for both slopestyle and big air by finishing as the top U.S. rider at any of the remaining selection events. The next event will be a slopestyle contest next week in Breckenridge, Colo.

Meanwhile, the men’s big air competition had the potential to shake up the U.S. Olympic rankings, as none of the podium finishers from the first selection event reached the final at Copper.

After a disappointing result in that first qualifier, which was held at Mammoth Mountain last winter, Chris Corning bounced back to finish as the top American in this contest and second place overall. He landed a frontside 1440 and a massive backside triple cork 1440 on his two jumps, putting his own stylish twist on both tricks with melon grabs.

Corning, the 2015/16 World Cup champion in slopestyle, has emerged as perhaps the U.S. team’s top hope for an Olympic medal this year in both men’s slopestyle and big air, events typically dominated by riders from Canada and Norway. Now that he has his first selection event podium under his belt, he can clinch a spot on the Olympic team by finishing as the top American at any of the remaining contests.

Also earning a podium result with a third-place finish was 19-year-old Chandler Hunt, who has suddenly added his name to the U.S. Olympic discussion.

The victory in men’s big air went to Norway’s Mons Roisland, who stomped a switch backside 1620 and a frontside 1440 tail grab on his jumps.

Three more selection events for the slopestyle and big air team still remain, and all three will be slopestyle events. Dew Tour will host a selection event next week in Breckenridge, then there will be a break until Olympic qualifying resumes in January with competitions at Aspen and Mammoth.

U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Results

Men’s Snowboard Big Air
1. Mons Roisland (NOR), 182.75
2. Chris Corning (USA), 177.25
3. Chandler Hunt (USA), 159.00
4. Ryan Stassel (USA), 154.50
5. Max Parrot (CAN), 121.50

Women’s Snowboard Big Air
1. Reira Iwabuchi (JPN), 169.25
2. Julia Marino (USA), 160.25
3. Silje Norendal (NOR), 156.75
4. Jamie Anderson (USA), 151.50
5. Sina Candrian (SUI), 135.50

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings

Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle/Big Air
1. Red Gerard, 1400*
2. Chris Corning, 1200*
3. Chandler Hunt, 1160*
4. Kyle Mack, 1000*
5. Judd Henkes, 1000

Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle/Big Air
1. Jamie Anderson, 1800*
2. Julia Marino, 1600*
3. Hailey Langland, 1300*
4. Jessika Jenson, 1050
5. Nora Healey, 950

*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.