USA Swimming, USADA to press FINA on doping issues

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Actively seeking to avoid the kind of doping scandal engulfing track and field, USA Swimming is teaming up with the man who brought down Lance Armstrong.

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart will join former USA Swimming president Jim Wood for a meeting with FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu in Lausanne, Switzerland, next month to check in on the anti-doping actions of the sport’s governing body.

“This is an effort to see if we can understand what’s going on and maybe why certain decisions were made the way they were,” USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus told The Associated Press on Wednesday in a telephone interview from his office in Colorado.

Unlike with the IAAF and the ongoing corruption scandal at FIFA, though, there is no explicit concern about the people in charge.

“We’ve been extremely supportive of FINA’s leadership,” Wielgus said. “(Marculescu) was very quick to agree to a meeting so we were very pleased by that. We saw that as a very positive response.”

The concern lies with the way doping cases involving China’s Sun Yang, Australia’s Kylie Palmer and Russia’s Yuliya Efimova were handled.

USA Swimming wants to ensure the likes of Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky compete against only clean athletes at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“There are two great concerns we have about the Rio Games. One is that there is clean competition. And No. 2 is that the water is clean for open water swimmers,” Wielgus said, adding that water quality will not be discussed in the meeting with Marculescu.

Sun, the gold medalist in the 400- and 1,500-meter freestyle at the London Olympics, served a three-month doping suspension last year for using a banned stimulant. His punishment began immediately after he tested positive in May 2014, but Chinese officials kept the test quiet for six months and FINA also waited until late November to announce the sanction.

Sun was then named male swimmer of the meet at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August.

Palmer, a member of the Australian 4×200-meter freestyle relay team which won gold at the 2008 Beijing Games, tested positive for low levels of a banned masking agent at the 2013 worlds in Barcelona, but she was not notified of the failed test until earlier this year.

Palmer denied taking performance-enhancing drugs but she accepted a provisional suspension, ruling her out of the Kazan worlds. Then FINA’s doping tribunal issued Palmer with only a reprimand and warning in September, allowing her to resume her bid to compete in Rio.

Efimova, meanwhile, returned in March from a 16-month ban after testing positive for the banned steroid DHEA. She maintained that she ingested the steroid in a nutritional supplement. The Los Angeles-based swimmer said her English was poor enough that she didn’t notice that the banned substance was written on the package of the supplement.

FINA accepted that Efimova wasn’t intending to gain a performance boost and decided not to give her the standard ban of two years, which would have ruled her out of her home worlds. She won the 100 breaststroke in Kazan.

Tygart, whose detailed report led to Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, has been reviewing these and other cases.

“It’s fair to say that those things got our attention and we wondered what went wrong in some of the decision-making,” Wielgus said. “Those are things we’ll talk about with Cornel but more important than that is pushing forward. Understanding some of the past mistakes is important but making sure the system is in place so those things don’t happen again is even more important.”

John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association and its American member organization ASCA, has been severely critical of FINA’s anti-doping efforts.

“USA Swimming does not share John’s view,” Wielgus said.

Following the World Anti-Doping Agency commission’s report of Russia’s state-sponsored doping in track and field last month, FINA announced that it was transferring all 645 drug samples taken at the Kazan worlds from Moscow’s laboratory to the WADA facility in Barcelona.

No positives have been detected from Kazan and there are no plans to re-test the samples.

“Unless there is some special issue there is no reason to re-test,” Marculescu told the AP, adding that the initial tests were carried out before observers from labs in Barcelona and London.

USA Swimming’s top request for FINA is to explore establishing an independent body to control anti-doping efforts — along the lines of IOC President Thomas Bach‘s proposal last month that testing be turned over to an independent unit within WADA.

But when pressed for details on how an independent anti-doping body could operate, Wielgus did not have an immediate answer.

“It always gets back to money,” he said. “Doesn’t it?”

MORE: Sun Yang afraid of losing to me, rival says

Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in another tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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