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Hein Verbruggen, cycling chief during Lance Armstrong era, dies

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Hein Verbruggen, the former president of the International Cycling Union who oversaw the worldwide spread of a sport often tainted by doping, has died. He was 75.

The UCI and the International Olympic Committee both reacted to the news on Wednesday, underscoring the Dutchman’s clout within both organizations.

The IOC flew its flag at half staff and Dutch King Willem-Alexander, a former IOC member, called him “a man with a big heart for the Olympic movement, for cycling and those close to him.”

Dutch cycling association spokesman Kevin Leenheers confirmed the death, saying Verbruggen died on Tuesday night.

Critics said Verbruggen was too close to those involved in doping. He was often confronted for his relationship with Lance Armstrong, the American rider who was the face of cycling with his seven Tour de France victories before he came to embody the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs.

Time and again Verbruggen faced accusers saying he was colluding with dopers instead of countering them. Just as often, he fought back to save his tarnished reputation. He proclaimed his innocence until his death.

Verbruggen was a consummate businessman all his life, yet he was never able to shake the doping scandals during his reign.

The reason for his opposition to doping was simple, he said.

“I want to get rid of doping because it prevents me from selling the sport,” Verbruggen said three decades ago, as he was making his way up the ladder in the cycling world.

As a sales manager at Mars food, he got into cycling and found a sport which was totally antiquated when others like tennis were developing with the times and becoming successful professional enterprises.

When cycling still centered mainly on France, Belgium and Italy for major races, Verbruggen was already dreaming about the world at large, driven by such ideas as World Cup rankings to get a more global appeal.

“Protect in Europe what we have, and then afterwards comes America,” he said.

And no one was bigger in America than Armstrong. With his fightback from cancer to become the dominant rider of his age, the storybook saga was cut out for Verbruggen to push the internationalization of the sport.

The two thrived together until the rumors of doping became overpowering. The strongest claims were that the UCI helped cover up an Armstrong positive test at the 1999 Tour de France, the Texan’s first victory, and at another race two years later. Verbruggen denied it.

Verbruggen served as UCI president for 14 years and stepped down after Armstrong’s seventh straight Tour win. Afterward, those years came to be defined as the doping era.

Two years ago, a year-long investigation found no proof that a payment Armstrong made to the UCI was to cover up a positive test even though it said the Verbruggen era was marked by “inadequate” policies on doping.

Beyond cycling, Verbruggen was also a major presence in the Olympic movement and was instrumental in the preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“For this, he will be always remembered,” IOC President Thomas Bach said.

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Olympics add 3-on-3 basketball, mixed-gender swimming, track events

FIBA 3-on-3
FIBA
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Three-on-three basketball will make its Olympic debut in 2020. Swimming, track and field and triathlon will also debut mixed-gender relays.

The IOC executive board finalized the Tokyo Olympic program, announced on Friday. It added 15 more medal events, including doubling mixed-gender events from nine to 18. The Olympic program for 2020 will be 339 medal events, up from 306 in Rio.

The IOC called the changes more youthful, urban and female focused. The IOC hopes to one day have an even split of 50 percent male and 50 percent female athletes. There were about 45 percent female athletes in Rio.

The IOC previously added five sports to the 2020 Olympics in August — baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing.

There are three new swimming events — a mixed 4x100m medley relay, men’s 800m freestyle and women’s 1500m freestyle, all of which are held at the world championships.

Katie Ledecky, who swept the 200m, 400m and 800m frees in Rio, also swept the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees at the 2015 Worlds. This boosts her bid to potentially tie the female record of six gold medals at a single Olympics (Kristin Otto, 1988), when including relays.

There is one new track and field event — a mixed 4x400m relay, which is held at the IAAF World Relays.

Three-on-three basketball was on the Youth Olympic program in 2010 and 2014. FIBA has held World Championships (also called World Cups) in the discipline since 2012.

It’s unknown if NBA players would take part in Olympic 3-on-3. IOC sports director Kit McConnell said 3-on-3 players will be “specialists” without providing more specifics Friday.

No U.S. 3-on-3 players at worlds or the Youth Olympics has played an NBA game. Some played at Division I programs such as Connecticut and Gonzaga.

Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, the UConn women’s top two scorers last season, earned 3-on-3 gold at the 2014 Youth Olympics.

Three-on-three is a half-court, one-basket game with two teams of four players (one sub). Typically, game time is 10 minutes or first team to 21 points.

The 2020 Olympic 3-on-3 tournaments will include eight men’s teams and eight women’s teams.

FIBA said it will announce qualification procedures and a competition format at a later date.

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EVENTS – Additions unless specified
Events
Sport Event #
Aquatics (Swimming) 800m (M) & 1500m (W) +2
4x100m Medley Mixed Relay +1
Archery Mixed Team Event +1
Athletics 4x400m Mixed Relay +1
Basketball 3×3 (M/W) +2
Boxing Transfer of two men’s events to two women’s events 0
Canoe Transfer of three men’s events to three women’s events 0
Cycling (BMX) BMX Freestyle Park (M/W) +2
Cycling (Track) Madison (M/W) +2
Fencing Team Events (M/W) +2
Judo Mixed Team Event +1
Rowing Transfer of one men’s event to one women’s event 0
Sailing Transfer of Mixed Multihull to Mixed Foiling Multihull 0
Shooting Transfer of three men’s events to mixed events 0
Table Tennis Mixed Doubles +1
Triathlon Mixed Team Relay +1
Weightlifting Reduction of one  men’s weight category -1

‘Next Olympic Hopeful’ searches for new crossover Olympians

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DENVER (AP) — America’s got talent, and the leaders at the U.S. Olympic Committee are turning on the TV cameras to find it.

The quest for gold and America’s insatiable appetite for reality television are merging this summer with an Olympic scouting camp — titled “The Next Olympic Hopeful” — that will ultimately be packaged as part of a two-hour broadcast on NBCSN in August.

Instead of earning a final rose, eight athletes from an original cast of 100 will find themselves competing for spots on future U.S. Olympic teams.

“For a few years, we’ve been thinking a lot about talent transfer. High-level athletes around the country playing one sport or another who may not make it to the top of that sport,” said Alan Ashley, the USOC’s chief of sport performance. “This is a chance for them to look at Olympic sports, to transfer over and get involved.”

Lest we all start jumping off the couch and warming up, there are a few caveats:

— In the first phase of the project, the USOC is looking only for athletes for cycling, rugby and the sliding sports of bobsled and skeleton.

— The USOC is in search of “elite” athletes, and is focusing much of its attention toward college rosters.

— The individual sports have lofty requirements to even be considered for the initial tryout roster of 50 men and 50 women: For example, a rugby hopeful would need to squat around two times his or her weight for three repetitions; a man trying out for bobsled or skeleton would need to broad jump nearly 11 feet (at most NFL scouting combines, about a dozen players reach that distance).

The idea of crossover athletes at the Olympics nothing new, of course.

Patriots special teamer Nate Ebner is one of three players to wear NFL uniforms who went on to earn a spot on the U.S. rugby team in the reintroduction of that sport to the Olympics last year.

And track stars (see Lolo Jones), football players (see Herschel Walker) and people who do both (see Willie Gault) have long been crossing from their original sports to ride bobsled in the Winter Olympics.

But where the individual sports organizations and athletes were often left to discover each other on their own in the past, now they’ll get some institutional help from the USOC, which will host the 100 candidates at the Olympic Training Center in July for a week’s worth of workouts. They’ll be searching for eight athletes — one man and one woman for each of the four sports — to become eligible for financial, training and medical services as they prepare to compete for their spot on the Olympic team in their sport.

“It’s great the USOC is jumping into this,” said Darrin Steele, the CEO of USA Bobsled and Skeleton. “From Day 1, we said, ‘Hey, we’re perfect for it.’ We know it’s not a golden ticket onto the team. It’s a screening process. It’s throwing a very wide net and trying to appeal to athletes who might not realize what the possibilities are.”

Make it or not, they will get air time.

Team USA will feature the camps on its social websites. Then, NBCSN will swoop in with a two-hour recap of the action, complete with — of course — an announcement of the eight winners.

Steele says he’s not against using a bit of showbiz in the name of success.

“I don’t see it as an issue,” he said, “because the only way you make our team is if you’re able to help us win.”

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