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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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New generation of male figure skaters owns spotlight at worlds; preview

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Nobody in the men’s field at figure skating worlds owns an Olympic or world title for the first time since 1985. This could lead to the best U.S. men’s results in years.

Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan combined to win every gold medal since 2011, but all of them ended their seasons at the Olympics.

This week in Milan, the four leading men, who just competed in their first Olympics, are all 20 years or younger. And that includes two Americans.

Nathan Chen can become the first world singles champion from the U.S. since Evan Lysacek in 2009. Chen and Vincent Zhou could be the first U.S. men to finish in the top five together since Lysacek and Johnny Weir in 2005. Chen, Zhou and Max Aaron could make up the best U.S. trio at a worlds in more than 20 years.

Start with Chen. The 18-year-old said he planned to compete this week regardless of what happened at the Olympics, but after his struggles in the team event and individual short programs, the quad master nailed his free skate, came home to California and said he took maybe one day off of training before this event.

Chen is one of three men in the gold-medal hunt, along with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China. While Chen largely struggled at the 2017 Worlds and in PyeongChang, Uno and Jin each made the podium at both events. And each can come close to or equal Chen in quad numbers.

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Zhou, 17, has a chance to become the youngest man to earn a world medal since Hanyu in 2012. Or the first man to win the world junior title one season and make the world senior podium the next since Yevgeny Plushenko in 1997-98.

Zhou is riding momentum. He struggled in the fall and entered nationals in January ranked fifth among Americans for the season. He placed third to make the Olympic team and then landed three clean quads in his Olympic free skate to jump from 12th to sixth.

“I did better there than a lot of people thought I would,” Zhou told NBC Sports research last week. “I knew I was capable of that all season.

“I want to reach my ultimate goal of being Olympic champion, and my best chance is in 2022 … because by 2026 I will probably be old and creaky with four prosthetic limbs.”

Aaron made it to Milan after Olympian Adam Rippon gave up his spot, and the top two alternates (Jason Brown and Ross Miner) both declined. Still, Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, is seeded seventh in the men’s field based on top scores this season.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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Carolina Kostner the sentimental favorite at figure skating worlds

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova is without question the favorite at this week’s world figure skating championships, especially after the sprightly Russian’s training partner and rival Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrew because of injury.

She won’t be the sentimental favorite, though.

That would be Carolina Kostner, the ageless Italian star who could be competing at worlds for the last time on home soil. The 2012 champion and six-time world medalist seemed to indicate that retirement could be looming after she finished fifth at the PyeongChang Games, where she was chosen to carry the Italian flag at the Closing Ceremony.

Kostner will have a huge home crowd behind her when the event begins Wednesday in Milan.

“Decisions like that should never be taken in a hot moment. It will come naturally,” said Kostner, who no longer can compete with the sport’s high-fliers when it comes to technical marks, but whose elegant artistry and presentation often make up the difference.

“She is an example of perseverance, of a long-lasting athlete,” Medvedeva said. “I have trouble imagining how someone can stay in that shape for a very long time. When you see people like Carolina, you understand that if she can do something, then that something is possible. If you love what you do, you put all of yourself into it, like Carolina Kostner.”

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When asked about retirement, Kostner brought up her cousin, Isolde Kostner, who won three Olympic Alpine skiing medals before deciding to step away from competition.

“She stopped skiing shortly before the (2006) Olympics in Italy,” Caroline Kostner said. “Many did not understand why she wouldn’t pull through because it was her home country, and she said, ‘You will feel strongly when it is time to stop.’ And I haven’t felt it yet.”

The biggest story at the world championships in an Olympic year tends to be who is missing rather than who shows up. The grind of competing for an entire season builds toward the quadrennial event, and athletes who medal or intend to retire rarely press on to worlds. Then there are the injuries, which accumulate during the year.

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