Ex-IAAF president tells police of Russian political donation, report says

Lamine Diack
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PARIS (AP) — The Russian doping scandal took a new twist Friday when a French newspaper reported that former IAAF President Lamine Diack asked Russia for more than $1 million to fund the political opposition in his native Senegal.

Diack told French police that he asked for 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) from Russia in 2011 to help finance the opposition ahead of Senegal’s presidential election, Le Monde reported.

The request came at a time when the International Association of Athletics Federations was dealing with a slew of suspected Russian doping cases.

French police took Diack into custody in November for questioning. He was subsequently placed under formal investigation on corruption and money-laundering charges. Le Monde said it has seen transcripts of his hearings.

France’s national office for financial prosecutions has alleged that Diack, who presided for nearly 16 years at track and field’s governing body, pocketed more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) in what prosecutors suspect was a corrupt scheme to blackmail athletes in exchange for hushing up suspected doping.

The IAAF has suspended Russia from international competition. Its athletes could miss the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August if their federation doesn’t take remedial steps against widespread, systematic and allegedly state-sanctioned doping detailed in a damning report last month from a World Anti-Doping Agency investigative committee.

According to Le Monde, Diack told his questioners that he asked for the money from Valentin Balakhnichev, then president of the Russian track federation. The paper reported that Diack said he wanted to finance the Senegalese political opposition against then-President Abdoulaye Wade.

“I told him that to win the elections, I needed about 1.5 million euros,” Diack said, according to Le Monde. “He said to me, ‘We’ll try to find it, no problem.'”

Contacted by Le Monde, Balakhnichev denied having had such a conversation with Diack.

Without saying directly that Russia paid him to look the other way, Diack drew a link between Russian political financing and Russian doping cases, according to excerpts in Le Monde.

“At that time there was these problems of suspending Russian athletes a few months ahead of the world championships in Russia,” the paper quoted Diack as telling the police. “We came to an agreement. Russia paid. Balakhnichev organized all of that.”

Contacted Friday by The Associated Press, Balakhnichev said: “My position on Diack’s statement is in the Le Monde newspaper.” Diack’s lawyer, Christian Charriere-Bournazel, would have no comment before Saturday morning, his offce told the AP.

Le Monde quoted Balakhnichev as saying: “Neither I nor my federation was implicated in such a discussion or affair with Mr. Diack. This type of business is not in our interest or within our power. We cannot interfere in the internal affairs of Senegal.”

Dick Pound, head of the WADA committee that investigated doping in Russia, said Friday that his panel has not turned up the Senegalese political angle in its own probe.

“I have no idea what that is meant to do, whether it’s the truth or whether it’s an attempt (by Diack) to try to demonstrate that he wasn’t doing this for personal gain,” Pound told the AP.

The French prosecutor’s office said Friday that it had no comment on Le Monde‘s report.

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Chicago Marathon features Emily Sisson’s return, Conner Mantz’s debut, live on Peacock

Emily Sisson
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At Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, Emily Sisson makes her return, nearly three years after Olympic Trials disappointment. Conner Mantz makes one of the most anticipated U.S. men’s debuts in 26.2-mile racing.

It is not the norm, but an American will be one of the spotlight runners in both the men’s and women’s elite races at a major marathon. Peacock airs live coverage at 8 a.m. ET.

Sisson, 30, starts her first mass marathon since dropping out of the Olympic Trials on Feb. 29, 2020, her legs “destroyed” on the hilly Atlanta course where she started as arguably the favorite. She ran the virtual New York City Marathon later in 2020, but that was solo (and not in New York City). Her 2:38:00 isn’t recorded in her official results on her World Athletics bio.

Since, Sisson won the Olympic Trials 10,000m on the track and was the top American in Tokyo in 10th place. She moved back to the roads, winning national titles at 15km and the half marathon and breaking the American record in the latter.

Sisson vaulted into the elite group of U.S. female marathoners in 2019, when she clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in American history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow.

At the time, it was the 12th-best U.S. performance all-time. In the last two years, Keira D’Amato, 37, and Sara Hall, 39, combined to run seven faster marathons. At Chicago, a flat course that produced a world record three years ago, Sisson can answer them and perhaps get close to D’Amato’s American record 2:19:12.

“I’m hoping sub-2:20,” coach Ray Treacy said, according to LetsRun.com. “With the [super] shoes and the training behind her, I would think that’s [worth] at least three minutes.”

It is less likely that Sisson can challenge for the win on Sunday given the presence of Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 World champion and defending champion in the Windy City. The 28-year-old mom is the fifth-fastest woman in history with a personal best of 2:17:08. And Ethiopian Ruti Aga, a podium finisher in Berlin, New York City and Tokyo with a best time of 2:18:34, though she has one marathon finish since the pandemic (a seventh place).

Like Sisson, Mantz has shown strong recent road racing form. The American men’s debut marathon record of 2:07:56 (Leonard Korir) is in play. If he can break that, Mantz will be among the five fastest U.S. marathoners in history.

Rarely has a U.S. male distance runner as accomplished as Mantz moved up to the marathon at such a young age (25). At BYU, he won NCAA cross-country titles in 2020 and 2021 and placed fifth in the Olympic Trials 10,000m, then turned pro and won the U.S. Half Marathon Championships last December.

“If everything goes as planned, I think sub-2:08 is realistic,” Mantz said in a Citius Mag video interview last month. “If everything goes perfect on the day, I think a sub-2:07, that’s a big stretch goal.”

The men’s field doesn’t have the singular star power of Chepngetich, but a large group of East Africans with personal bests around 2:05. The most notable: defending champion Seifu Tura of Ethiopia and 2021 Boston Marathon winner Benson Kipruto of Kenya.

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Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

Alpine Skiing Combined
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Alpine skiing officials will test a new format for the combined event, a race that is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the International Ski Federation (FIS) will test a new team format for the combined, which has been an individual event on the Olympic program since 1988. L’Equipe reported that a nation can use a different skier for the downhill and slalom in the new setup, quoting FIS secretary general Michel Vion.

For example, the U.S. could use Breezy Johnson in the downhill run and sub her out for Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom run, should the format be adopted into senior competition.

The format will be tested at the world junior championships in January in St. Anton, Austria, according to the report.

In response to the report, a FIS spokesperson said, “Regarding the new format of the combined is correct, and our directors are working on the rules so for the moment the only thing we can confirm is that there will be this new format for the Alpine combined that has been proposed by the athletes’ commission.”

Some version of the combined event has been provisionally included on the 2026 Olympic program, with a final IOC decision on its place coming by April.

This will be the third consecutive World Cup season with no combined events. Instead, FIS has included more parallel races in recent years. The individual combined remains on the biennial world championships program.

L’Equipe also reported that the mixed team parallel event, which is being dropped from the Olympics, will also be dropped from the biennial world championships after this season.

“There is nothing definitive about that yet, but it is a project in the making,” a FIS spokesperson said in commenting on the report.

Vion said the mixed team event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2018, was not a hit at the Beijing Games and did not draw a strong audience, according to L’Equipe.

The World Cup season starts in two weeks with the traditional opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.

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