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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

Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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