J.R. Celski

Key information as short track speedskating World Cup season starts

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The World Cup short track speedskating season kicks off in Shanghai on Thursday, beginning a stretch that will determine the makeup of Olympic short track teams.

A nation earns Olympic berths via results at the third and fourth World Cup stops (Nov. 7-10 in Turin, Italy, and Nov. 14-17 in Kolomna, Russia).

So, the first two World Cup stops — Thursday through Sunday in Shanghai and Oct. 3-6 in Seoul — will provide a good prediction of what to expect but have no impact on Olympic quotas.

The U.S. men and women should have no problem qualifying a full Olympic team of five men and five women. All the U.S. must do is have top-eight ranked relay teams (top seven if Russia is outside the top eight) from the November World Cup stops. The U.S. entered men’s and women’s relays into each of the last five Olympics, winning bronze medals in each in 2010.

The skaters who will comprise the U.S. Olympic Team will be determined at Jan. 2-5 trials in Kearns, Utah.

For Shanghai, the entire U.S. teams that qualified from the National Championships are on the entry list: J.R. CelskiChris CrevelingJordan MaloneJohn-Henry KruegerEddy Alvarez and Jeff Simon for the men; Jessica SmithAlyson DudekEmily ScottSarah ChenLana Gehring and You Young “Sally” Chea for the women.

The biggest U.S. stars from the 2010 Olympics, Apolo Ohno and Katherine Reutter, are retired. Celski, who broke the world record in the 500 meters last season, is considered the top U.S. medal threat for Sochi.

Canada, a traditional power in short track, already named its Olympic team. Every member of its expected men’s team for Sochi is on the entry list for Shanghai, including its star, Charles Hamelin. One member of its women’s Olympic team is not on the entry list, Marie-Eve Drolet, but its top medal threats are (Marianne St-Gelais, Valerie Maltais, Jessica Gregg).

South Korea and China remain the most dominant men’s and women’s nations.

South Korea is particularly stacked on the men’s side, but the 2012 overall world champion, Kwak Yoon-Gy, is not on the Shanghai entry list. (UPDATE: Kwak did not make the Olympic team for South Korea, which had its trials in April).

Russia’s best hope is Viktor Ahn, who won triple gold as Ahn Hyun-Soo for South Korea at the 2006 Olympics before switching countries. He is entered in Shanghai.

The most decorated women’s Olympic short track speedskater of all time, China’s Wang Meng, is on the Shanghai entry list as she bids for her third Games. Wang, who won the 500, 1,000 and 3,000 relay at the most recent Olympics and World Championships and was suspended after fighting a coach in between, can make history in Sochi.

With one gold, she will break the tie for most Olympic golds won by a short track speedskater. With two medals of any color, she will tie Ohno for most Olympic medals won by a short track speedskater.

The biggest threats to Wang, 28, are South Koreans Park Seung-Hi, 21, and Shim Suk-Hee, 16. They are both entered in Shanghai.

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Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping