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IOC weighs Russia Olympic ban; how, when decision will be made

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Russia could be banned from competing at the PyeongChang Olympics, a prospect that President Vladimir Putin has already warned would be humiliating for his country.

The decision will come Tuesday when the International Olympic Committee’s executive board meets in Lausanne, less than nine weeks before the Olympics open Feb. 9 in South Korea.

The 14-member board, which includes two Americans, has received a so-far confidential report from an IOC-appointed panel. That panel was asked to assess if Russian state agencies did organize the doping program used at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

IOC President Thomas Bach, a German lawyer long seen as an ally of Russia, is scheduled to announce the decision at 1:30 p.m. ET. A press conference will stream live here.

It might not be the last word, however. Russia can challenge any IOC sanction by appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Here is a look at the case and the possible results:

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PUNISHMENT OPTIONS

— A total ban on Russia competing in PyeongChang.

— Some Russian athletes compete, if judged to be clean under long-term doping controls operating to international standards. They would be classed as neutral athletes competing under the Olympic flag, and would be denied hearing the Russian anthem if they win. Those rules were imposed on Russians at the world track and field championships in August.

Putin has said either of those outcomes would be humiliating and could provoke a Russian boycott.

— The IOC board could ask the seven governing bodies for Winter Olympic sports to decide on individual athlete eligibility. That compromise applied to the Rio Olympics.

— Impose a fine on the Russian Olympic Committee. Tens of millions of dollars could go toward anti-doping work worldwide.

A financial penalty would be “grossly inappropriate,” said Joseph de Pencier, chief executive of iNADO, a global group of national anti-doping agencies.

“It would send exactly the wrong message,” de Pencier said. “It’s pay to play.”

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TIMELINE

A big red flag regarding Russian doping went up in July 2013, weeks before Moscow hosted the world track and field championships.

British newspaper the Mail on Sunday reported wrongdoing by Grigory Rodchenkov and the Moscow laboratory he directed, but its claims were mostly ignored.

In December 2014, 10 months after the Sochi Olympics, German network ARD broadcast a film by journalist Hajo Seppelt about extensive doping in Russian track and field using footage secretly filmed by whistleblowers.

The World Anti-Doping Agency later appointed an investigation panel chaired by Richard Pound, a long-serving IOC member. That panel also included Richard McLaren.

Their reports in November 2015 and January 2016 led to the suspension of Russia’s track and field federation, anti-doping agency and the Moscow lab.

The Pound team interviewed Rodchenkov and concluded he was a key part of a conspiracy of supplying banned drugs, covering up doping cases and extorting athletes.

Rodchenkov fled to the United States. May 2016 reports detailed how, as lab director for the Sochi Olympics, he helped Russian athletes cheat. He said 15 of Russia’s 33 medals were tainted.

WADA appointed McLaren to verify the fresh allegations. Within two months, he delivered an interim report before the Rio Olympics which upheld Rodchenkov’s evidence.

“It can’t possibly be done by a couple of rogue individuals, or even a rogue department of an organization,” McLaren said last week of Russia’s doping program.

The IOC then set up two commissions. One chaired by IOC member Denis Oswald verified McLaren’s evidence to prosecute cases of Russian athletes from Sochi.

A second, now chaired by a former president of Switzerland, Samuel Schmid, was to assess if an “institutional conspiracy” existed.

The Oswald judging panel began giving verdicts last month.

By Monday, 25 Russians have been disqualified from Sochi and banned from the Olympics for life, and 11 medals were stripped. One Russian was cleared — figure skating champion Adelina Sotnikova.

Schmid has received a 50-page sworn affidavit from Rodchenkov for his report. It was set to be delivered to IOC board members Monday.

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SOCHI PROGRAM

Rodchenkov said some Russian athletes at the Sochi Olympics used a fast-acting “Duchess” cocktail of performance-enhancing steroids dissolved in alcohol.

During the Winter Games, the athletes were protected by a urine-swapping scheme to replace dirty samples with clean urine stored months earlier.

The late-night swaps went via a “mouse hole” into a secured room at the Sochi testing laboratory.

Secret service agents had found a way to break into tamper-proof sample bottles and return them with clean urine, Rodchenkov claimed.

Cleaned-up samples could further be tampered with by adding salt to make them more credible. In cases of some players in Russia’s women’s hockey team who did not have stored urine, male DNA was found in retesting of samples that are routinely stored by the IOC for 10 years in Lausanne.

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RUSSIAN DENIALS

Russia denies a state-sponsored doping program existed. It blames Rodchenkov, calling him a rogue employee, and wants the scientist extradited from the United States, where he is a protected witness.

“There has never been and will never be any state programs related to doping,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko said Friday ahead of the soccer World Cup draw in Moscow.

Mutko, as sports minister in 2014, was implicated in the Pound and McLaren investigations, and also in Rodchenkov’s hand-written diaries which were made available to the IOC.

Oswald’s panel called them “significant” evidence before The New York Times published extracts last week.

Mutko said Friday he met “a number of times” with IOC commissions, and risks being banned from the Olympics. The IOC board blocked his accreditation for Rio last year.

Still, Mutko remains president of Russia’s soccer federation and head of the World Cup organizing committee.

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RIO PRECEDENT?

Bach’s executive board did not impose a blanket ban on Russia before the Rio Olympics, passing on decision-making power to sports governing bodies. More than 100 Russian athletes were removed from a nearly 400-strong team.

Then, Bach was seen as an ally of Russia and a personal friend of Putin.

The “important difference” this time, Bach said last month, was that accused Russian athletes have now had due legal process and a fair hearing from the IOC.

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WHO WILL DECIDE

The IOC board will meet at a five-star hotel in Lausanne. It is chaired by Bach and includes two members of the Oswald Commission — Oswald and Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr.

The board also includes a member of the Schmid Commission, Robin Mitchell, and two Americans: Anita De Frantz and Angela Ruggiero, a four-time Olympic hockey medalist.

International Ski Federation president Gian-Franco Kasper represents the winter sports, which mostly oppose a blanket ban.

They will meet with world figure skating champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, who joined a Russian delegation that will argue for a lighter sanction.

Rodchenkov’s lawyer, Jim Walden, told The Associated Press his client hopes “Russia would recognize the severity and confess, and work itself quickly back into the world sports community.”

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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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