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Russia track and field ban extended by IAAF

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MONACO (AP) — Russia’s ban from international track and field was extended Sunday by the IAAF as key Russian sports and political figures continue to deny operating any doping system.

Track’s world governing body unanimously accepted a recommendation from its Russia taskforce not to reinstate Russia.

That is a blow to Russia’s chances of competing under its own flag at March’s world indoor championships in Birmingham, Great Britain.

“It is our responsibility to create that landscape where there is trust,” IAAF president Seb Coe said.

The current IAAF position of allowing some Russians to compete as so-called neutral athletes after reviews of their drug-testing history, allows “separation where possible of the clean athletes from a tainted system,” Coe said.

While the IAAF has been cautiously optimistic about reforms to the Russian track federation, a key obstacle is the refusal of Russia’s sports and political leadership to admit any kind of doping program existed. Russia’s national anti-doping agency also remains suspended.

While reforms are under way within Russian sports bodies, “the broader question … is whether they will be able to operate in a system which we can trust, and I think that is what needs to be addressed by Russian authorities,” IAAF Russia taskforce head Rune Andersen said.

The taskforce’s latest report on Russia, published Sunday, notes “extreme disappointment” at what it says is insufficient communication from the Russian authorities.

The Russian government has repeatedly denied having any involvement in doping, and says there was only a smaller-scale plot by a group of rogue anti-doping employees.

Russia was suspended in November 2015 after the World Anti-Doping Agency found evidence of widespread doping. Nineteen Russians were allowed to compete as neutrals at August’s world championships, winning one gold and five silver medals.

Russia is the only nation under IAAF suspension, though five more — Belarus, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco and Ukraine — have been on a watch list amid concerns about drug use in the countries.

Coe said Sunday that Morocco had been taken off that list following a recommendation from the IAAF’s Athletics Integrity Unit. “They will be taken off that watch list and be monitored,” he said.

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Laurie Hernandez plans on competing in 2019, agent says

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Olympic gymnastics champion Laurie Hernandez plans on competing in 2019, her agent said.

Hernandez has not competed since taking team gold and vault silver at the Rio Olympics, followed by winning “Dancing with the Stars” later that fall.

She said in October that she hoped to compete in 2018 but would not rush a comeback. Hernandez since decided not to compete at the U.S. Championships this August.

No member of the Final Five has competed at the elite level since Rio, though Madison Kocian is in her sophomore season at UCLA and Simone Biles plans to return this summer.

Aly Raisman said in September 2016 that she planned to take one year off, then return to training for a Tokyo 2020 run. But her focus shifted in the last year to something more important — taking on USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee after Larry Nassar sexual-abuse crimes.

The last member of the Final Five, 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas, has not said in widely reported comments if or when she will return to competition.

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Sonja Henie record at stake; figure skating worlds pairs preview

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When Aljona Savchenko won her first gold medal at her fifth Olympics with her third different partner in PyeongChang, she said she “wrote history.”

She can write some more this week.

Savchenko, who at 34 became the oldest female figure skating champion in Winter Olympic history, and partner Bruno Massot are the only pairs medalists from PyeongChang who are back for the world championships in Milan.

The Germans headline the field for the short program Wednesday and free skate Friday.

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Savchenko can tie Norwegian Sonja Henie for the female record of 11 world championships medals. She can grab a share of second on the all-time pairs list with a sixth world title, four shy of Soviet Irina Rodnina‘s record.

Savchenko, who won four crowns with now-retired Robin Szolkowy, goes for her first world title with Massot. They’re clear favorites.

Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong withdrew from worlds due to Sui’s foot injury. Olympic bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford retired.

It’s arguably a surprise that Savchenko and Massot chose to compete in Milan. They’re the first Olympic pairs champions to compete at a post-Olympic worlds since 1992.

Their top challengers are Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who outscored Savchenko and Massot in the Olympic short program but dropped off the podium in the free skate with a fall on their throw.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, 15th at the Olympics, made the top 10 in all of their four world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh. The last U.S. pairs medal came in 2002, the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline.

The Knierims were the only U.S. pair in PyeongChang, but in Milan they’re joined by Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay.

Stellato earned singles silver at the 2000 World Junior Championships, then retired at age 17 due to hip injuries. She came back at age 32 in 2016 in pairs and, with the Sochi Olympian Bartholomay, took bronze at this year’s nationals.

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