Russia should be banned from track and field, WADA panel says

Maria Savinova, Ekaterina Poistogova
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian track and field athletes could be banned from next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after a devastatingly critical report accused the country’s government of complicity in widespread doping and cover-ups.

The World Anti-Doping Agency commission set up to investigate doping in Russia said even the country’s intelligence service, the FSB, was involved, spying on Moscow’s anti-doping lab, including during last year’s Olympics in Sochi.

The commission chaired by Dick Pound recommended that WADA immediately declare the Russian athletics federation “non-compliant” with the global anti-doping code, and that the IAAF suspend the federation from competition.

“It’s worse than we thought,” Pound said. “It may be a residue of the old Soviet Union system.”

The IAAF responded immediately, saying it will consider sanctions against Russia, including a possible suspension of the athletics federation that would ban Russian track and field athletes from international competition, including the Olympics.

“If they are suspended — and it sounds like the IAAF is moving in that direction already — and they are still suspended, at the time of Rio there will be no Russian track and field athletes there,” Pound said in an interview with The Associated Press after the release of his commission’s findings.

He said Russia’s doping could be called state-sponsored.

“They would certainly have known,” he said of Russian officials.

To the AP, he added: “We have finally identified one of the major powers as being involved in this. It’s not just small countries or little pockets. This is a major sporting country. It’s got to be a huge embarrassment.”

The gold and bronze-medal winners at 800 meters at the London Olympics are among five Russian runners targeted for lifetime bans.

The commission recommended lifetime bans for Olympic champion Mariya Savinova-Farnosova and bronze medalist Ekaterina Poistogova.

South African Caster Semenya, she of the gender-testing controversy, took silver between the Russians in the 2012 Olympic 800m. American Alysia Montaño was fifth.

“I don’t have any medals in my hands still yet, but with the findings it looks promising, and I’m very, very hopeful,” Montaño said on Periscope, crossing her fingers during a nine-minute video. “Here’s to retribution and to justice being served.”

MORE: Read the full WADA report

Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, whose ministry was accused by the WADA probe of giving orders to cover up doping violations, insisted Russia’s problems are no worse than in other countries and said Russia is being persecuted, telling the Interfax news agency: “Whatever we do, everything is bad.”

He threatened to cut all government funding for anti-doping work, saying “if we have to close this whole system, we would be happy to” because “we will only save money.”

The acting president of the Russian athletics federation, Vadim Zelichenok, said he does not believe doping there is systematic or that the government or security services helped to cover up cases.

The WADA commission said the International Olympic Committee should not accept any entries from the Russian athletics federation until the body has been declared complaint with WADA’s doping code and a suspension has been lifted.

Pound said there may still be time for Russia to avoid the “nuclear weapon” of a ban from the Olympics, if it starts reforming immediately. That work that will take at least “several months” and “there are a lot of people who are going to have to walk the plank before this happens,” he said.

“I think they can do it. I hope they can,” he added.

More damaging revelations are to come. The WADA commission is also looking at the role senior officials at the IAAF allegedly played in bribery and extortion involving Russian athletes. French authorities last week detained and later charged former IAAF President Lamine Diack with corruption and money laundering. The WADA commission’s findings on that angle could come before the end of the year.

As it was, the WADA report on Monday said “widespread inaction” by the IAAF and Russian authorities allowed athletes suspected of doping to continue competing.

“(The) Olympic Games in London were, in a sense, sabotaged by the admission of athletes who should have not been competing, and could have been prevented from competing,” it said.

The commission accused the Russian state of complicity. It said its months-long probe found no written evidence of government involvement, but it added: “It would be naive in the extreme to conclude that activities on the scale discovered could have occurred without the explicit or tacit approval of Russian governmental authorities.”

The findings prompted a damning response from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that brought down Lance Armstrong, another case that shattered public faith in sports.

“If Russia has created an organized scheme of state-supported doping, then they have no business being allowed to compete on the world stage,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said.

The WADA probe found that agents from the FSB even infiltrated Russia’s anti-doping work at the Sochi Olympics. One witness told the inquiry that “in Sochi, we had some guys pretending to be engineers in the lab but actually they were from the federal security service.”

Staff at Russia’s anti-doping lab in Moscow believed their offices were bugged by the FSB and an FSB agent, thought to be Evgeniy Blotkin or Blokhin, regularly visited.

This was part of a wider pattern of “direct intimidation and interference by the Russian state with the Moscow laboratory operations,” the report said.

Pound said Mutko, the sports minister, must also have known.

“It was not possible for him to be unaware of it,” Pound said.

Mutko, who is also a FIFA executive committee member and leads the 2018 World Cup organizing committee, denied wrongdoing to the WADA inquiry panel, including knowledge of athletes being blackmailed and FSB intelligence agents interfering in lab work.

The WADA report also said Moscow testing laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov ordered 1,417 doping control samples to be destroyed to deny evidence for the inquiry.

It said Rodchenkov “personally instructed and authorized” the destruction of evidence three days before a WADA audit team arrived in Moscow last December.

The WADA panel said it wanted to send the Russian athletes’ samples to labs in other countries to detect banned drugs and doping methods.

The panel also raised suspicions that Russia may have has been using an obscure laboratory on the outskirts of Moscow to help cover up doping, possibly by pre-screening athletes’ samples and ditching those that test positive.

It said whistleblowers and confidential witnesses “corroborated that this second laboratory is involved in the destruction and the cover-up of what would otherwise be positive doping tests.”

The panel also said it does not believe that the doping problem is limited to athletics or to Russian sports. Pound singled out Kenya, saying it seems the East African powerhouse of long-distance running “has a real problem.”

“In its considered view,” the commission said, “Russia is not the only country, nor athletics the only sport, facing the problem of orchestrated doping.”

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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin
Atomic
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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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