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Russia reacts to doping report as Moscow drug-testing lab suspended

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MOSCOW (AP) — The World Anti-Doping Agency has suspended the accreditation of Moscow’s drug-testing laboratory in the wake of a damning report on Russian doping.

WADA says it acted “immediately” on the recommendation in the report by its independent commission to shut the Russian lab.

The suspension takes effect immediately and bars the Moscow lab from carrying out any testing of urine and blood samples.

Meanwhile, all samples for the Moscow lab will be transported “securely, promptly and with a demonstrable chain of custody” to an alternative WADA-accredited lab.

The Moscow lab has the right to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport within 21 days.

WADA says a disciplinary committee will be formed to review the case.

The accusations of state-sponsored doping in Russian track and field appear to be unfounded, President Vladimir Putin‘s spokesman said Tuesday.

Dmitry Peskov told journalists that whenever any charges are made, they must be based on some evidence.

“As long as there is no evidence, it is difficult to consider the accusations, which appear rather unfounded,” Peskov said.

In Russian newspapers, many followed the government’s lead in playing down the accusations from the World Anti-Doping Agency commission. The scandal was typically confined to a small item in the sports pages, with only two business papers and the sports dailies giving it front-page space.

“Are they taking Rio away from us?!” read the headline on the front page of Sport Express, referring to calls to ban Russia’s track and field team from next year’s Olympics.

Russia has for years reveled in its re-emergence as a sports superpower, the pinnacle coming when it topped the medals table at the last year’s Sochi Olympics. That prestige is again in jeopardy, with the country’s internal intelligence service, the FSB, accused of running surveillance on the Olympic doping lab.

Worse, it comes at a time when the country is already under pressure over its hosting of the 2018 World Cup amid the scandals rocking FIFA.

The reaction to Monday’s track and field revelations among Russian officials was disjointed, with sentiments ranging from denial to suggestions of a Western political conspiracy.

Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, whose ministry is implicated in the report, even threatened to withdraw all government financial support for anti-doping work in protest at the report’s accusations.

On state television, Mutko argued that the report presented “no serious objective evidence” of state involvement in doping and that its focus on Russia was unfair.

“Doping is not the problem of Russia,” Mutko said. “Russia shouldn’t be singled out. It’s a world problem.”

The head of Russia’s medical agency, Vladimir Uiba, told Interfax he believed the report to be “politically motivated” and linked to international sanctions against Russia.

The Russian athletics federation denies the main charges in the report. Acting president Vadim Zelichenok told The Associated Press on Monday that calls to ban Russia’s track and field team from next year’s Olympics are not “objective” because the federation leadership changed earlier this year, meaning some of the key figures identified in the WADA report are no longer employed.

Regardless of whether its team is banned from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the report is a blow to Russian athletics.

The WADA commission recommended a lifetime ban for several athletes, including Olympic 800m champion Maria Savinova, who was filmed discussing doping methods. That follows a string of positive tests and doping bans that have caught dozens of Russian athletes, including five Olympic track and field gold medalists in the last two years.

MORE: Alysia Montaño hopeful medals will be redistributed

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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