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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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi

Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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Mo Farah likely to retire this year

Mo Farah

British track legend Mo Farah will likely retire by the end of this year.

“I’m not going to go to the Olympics, and I think 2023 will probably be my last year,” the 39-year-old Farah said, according to multiple British media reports.

Farah, who swept the 5000m and 10,000m golds at the Olympics in 2012 and 2016, was announced Tuesday as part of the field for the London Marathon on April 23.

Last May, Farah reportedly said he believed his career on the track was over, but not the roads.

London might not be his last marathon. Farah also said that if, toward the end of this year, he was capable of being picked to run for Britain again, he would “never turn that down,” according to Tuesday’s reports.

It’s not clear if Farah was referencing the world track and field championships, which include a marathon and are in Budapest in August. Or selection for the 2024 British Olympic marathon team.

The fastest British male marathoner last year ran 2:10:46, ranking outside the top 300 in the world. Farah broke 2:10 in all five marathons that he’s finished, but he hasn’t run one since October 2019 (aside from pacing the 2020 London Marathon).

Farah withdrew four days before the last London Marathon on Oct. 2, citing a right hip injury.

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah’s best London Marathon finish in four starts was third place in 2018.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

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