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Russia Winter Olympic hopes damaged by WADA decision

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The World Anti-Doping Agency dealt a blow Thursday to Russia’s hopes of competing at next year’s Winter Olympics by refusing to reinstate the country’s suspended anti-doping operation.

At its meeting in South Korea, WADA said two key requirements for reinstating RUSADA had still not been fulfilled: That Russia publicly accept results of an investigation by Canadian Richard McLaren concluding that Russia ran a state-sponsored doping program, and that the country allow access to urine samples collected during the time of the cheating.

Craig Reedie, the chairman of WADA and a member of the International Olympic Committee, acknowledged that improvements have been made but full compliance had not been achieved.

“Having set a road map for compliance, there are two issues that have to be fulfilled and we can’t walk away from the commitments,” Reedie said.

Reedie refused to be drawn on what the decision meant for the Russian team’s chances of participating in the PyeongChang Winter Games.

“We do not have the right to decide who takes part in international competition,” Reedie said. “I am quite certain that the IOC would prefer that RUSADA was compliant.”

The IOC said it is working to ensure Russian athletes undergo sufficient drug testing before the Olympics.

The IOC said its executive board, due to meet Dec. 5-7, “will take all the circumstances, including all the measures to ensure a level-playing field at the Olympic Winter Games 2018, into consideration when it decides on the participation of the Russian athletes.”

“The past has to be sanctioned,” IOC president Thomas Bach said Tuesday, according to The New York Times. “The question now is about the future, and these are two different things.”

Thursday’s WADA ruling could mean Russia misses a second Paralympics after being excluded from Rio.

The International Paralympic Committee board is due to rule Dec. 19, spokesman Craig Spence told The Associated Press, adding that “clearly” RUSADA reinstatement remains a requirement for Russia to be admitted.

Russia has depicted the doping program that marred the Sochi Olympics as the work of individuals, not the government.

Alexander Zhukov, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee and also a member of the International Olympic Committee, told WADA members at Thursday’s meeting that “We absolutely deny the existence of a state-sponsored doping system.”

“It is clear that an unconditional recognition of the McLaren Report is impossible,” Zhukov said. “Such a requirement cannot, and should not serve as an obstacle to the full compliance of RUSADA.”

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart described the latest development as “another sad moment in this entire sordid affair.”

“There was really no other outcome, based on their unwillingness to admit what the flood of evidence proves,” Tygart said. “Now clean athletes are watching anxiously to see if the IOC similarly will take action to finally stand up for their rights or not.”

The IOC has ultimate say on Russia’s status at next year’s Olympics.

WADA’s decision and Zhukov’s statements will play into decisions the IOC makes at meetings next month, where executive board members will discuss investigations into individual Russian doping cases from Sochi and into the allegations of state-sponsored manipulation of the anti-doping program.

Before Rio, the IOC refused to issue a blanket ban on the Russian team, instead allowing individual sports federations to determine eligibility of the athletes.

In the case of the Winter Games, the IOC already vacated results of six Russian athletes from Sochi and banned them from PyeongChang with several more cases still to be decided.

Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to news of the IOC bans by claiming it is being manipulated by U.S. interests that want to use doping scandals to embarrass his government ahead of next year’s elections in Russia.

In discussing Thursday’s decision, WADA director general Olivier Niggli said RUSADA made improvements but didn’t hit the mark on the most important ones.

“The road map with these conditions were exchanged with the Russians over 25 times in the last 18 months,” Niggli.

RUSADA may not be fully reinstated, but it is already collecting samples from athletes after WADA partly restored its powers in June.

In Moscow, RUSADA head Yuri Ganus said his agency had reformed to WADA standards and was now “completely independent,” but that the key remaining demands were outside his authority.

Ganus wouldn’t say if he personally accepts McLaren’s findings or if the Russian government should do so, though he called the report “a very serious document.”

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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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Yuzuru Hanyu to miss Japan Figure Skating Championships

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning Olympic and world figure skating champion, will miss his national championships this week due to ankle and knee injuries suffered in a Nov. 9 practice fall, according to Japanese media citing the Japan Skating Federation.

Hanyu can (and very likely will) be named to Japan’s three-man Olympic team despite missing nationals.

Hanyu has reportedly been off the ice for more than one month since the fall.

“It is an important selection competition, and the Olympics are a big goal, so with that in mind we would like to think things through together,” Japan Skating Federation director Yoshiko Kobayashi said last week, according to Kyodo News.

Hanyu, who turned 23 on Dec. 7, fell on a quadruple Lutz attempted and then favored his right ankle in a Nov. 9 practice at a Grand Prix event (video here).

He skated the run-through for his free skate, although he elected not to do any more jumps.

“I have been told by the doctor that I need 10 days of complete rest,” Hanyu said in a statement on Nov. 12, according to Kyodo. “Following that, it will take three to four weeks to return and get back to where I was.”

Hanyu and world silver medalist Shoma Uno are favored to lead Japan’s Olympic men’s figure skating team. The third spot is likely to go to Takahito Mura or Keiji Tanaka.

Hanyu competed twice this season.

He posted a world-record short program score in his debut at a small September event in Canada, but struggled to fifth place in the free skate and finished second overall behind two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

He then finished second to U.S. champion Nathan Chen at the first Grand Prix event of the season in Moscow in October.

Chen is the only undefeated male singles skater this season.

Hanyu won four straight national titles before missing last season’s event with the flu.

He was still named to Japan’s team for worlds, where he won his second title in four years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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