Russia has systematic doping problem, reports say

Maria Savinova

Russia has a systematic doping problem involving athletes, coaches and officials covering up performance-enhancing drug use, including bribes and extortion involving hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to two reports Wednesday.

Athletes and a former Russian anti-doping agency official detailed widespread doping in a one-hour German TV documentary.

“You cannot achieve the results that you are getting, at least in Russia, without doping,” said Vitaly Stepanov, who formerly worked for Russia’s anti-doping agency (RUSADA) for three years, according to ARD TV. “You must dope. That’s how it is done in Russia. The officials and coaches clearly say by using natural ability you can only do so well. To get medals you need help. And the help is doping, prohibited substances.

“There were times in RUSADA when I heard people from the ministry, from anti-doping department, would call to RUSADA and wanted to see who the athlete is, who has the positive sample and if it’s a no-name, then the sample is positive, if it is someone famous or someone young and medal-hopeful, then it is a mistake and it is not reported,” Stepanov said, according to ARD. “I clearly could see that officials try to make sure that some athletes are not being tested.”

Stepanov cited track and field, swimming, cycling, biathlon and weightlifting. His wife is Yulia Stepanova, a Russian 800m runner who was banned two years for doping in 2013.

“The coaches take any girl, feed her with tablets and then she runs,”  Stepanova, whose eighth-place finish from the 2011 World Championships was wiped out because of her doping ban, told ARD. “And tomorrow she will be suspended and then they say, we’ll find a new one. They feed them and say: ‘Yes, take that, everyone takes it. Take these substances.’ And when one is caught, they throw the athlete away and pick up a new one.”

Stepanova also said Russian athletes once trained in Portugal under false names to avoid foreign doping-control officers.

The documentary implicated Olympic 800m champion Maria Savinova for taking a banned steroid. Savinova won gold in London ahead of South African Caster Semenya, famous for a gender-testing controversy before the Olympics.

“Should there be anything affecting the International Olympic Committee and our code of ethics, we will not hesitate take any and all action necessary,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams told the AP.

RUSADA’s director general rejected the allegations to ARD. The head of Russia’s track and field federation declined comment to ARD.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said it had already received some of the information and evidence shown in the documentary.

“All of that information has been passed to the appropriate independent body within the international federation, the IAAF,” WADA said in a statement. “We will await the outcome of that independent body’s deliberations.”

Also Wednesday, the agent for Russian Liliya Shobukhova, who ran the second fastest women’s marathon ever as part of Chicago Marathon wins in 2009, 2010 and 2011, said the runner paid the Russian track and field federation more than $500,000 to avoid a doping suspension, according to the TV documentary and L’Equipe.

The IAAF, track and field’s international governing body, said it has an independent ethics commission investigating the L’Equipe allegations, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Shobukhova was eventually suspended in April due to abnormalities on her biological passport that indicated doping, wiping out all her results since 2009, including the three Chicago titles.

The German documentary linked a requested refund of over $350,000 to Shobukhova’s husband, after she was banned, from Russian track and field president Valentin Balakhnichev, who is also the IAAF’s treasurer.

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U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup

The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new uptempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach

GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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