IAAF officials explored covering up Russia track and field bans


PARIS (AP) — Six years before the IAAF banned Russia, track and field’s governing body knew of doping so out of control it feared Russian athletes could die from abuse of blood-boosting drugs and transfusions, and officials considered collaborating with Russians to hide the full extent of the cheating before the 2012 London Olympics, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press.

When the massive scandal of state-sponsored doping and cover-ups in Russia finally erupted with full force in 2015, IAAF leaders acted as though blindsided. “This has been a shameful wake-up call,” Sebastian Coe, the British Olympian and newly elected president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, said.

But in 2009, as a sophisticated new blood-testing program was launched, IAAF tests were already providing shocking insight into the scale and gravity of Russian doping, according to a six-year span of emails, letters and reports the AP received from a person intimately involved in the workings of the IAAF’s anti-doping program. The person requested anonymity because he wasn’t given permission to release the documents.

At that stage, the test results weren’t enough on their own to sanction athletes, but they provided an early warning of the crisis and raise questions about why the organization entrusted with the safekeeping of one of the world’s major sports waited six years before suspending Russia, which could see its athletes miss the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.

“This matter of the Russian athletes’ blood levels is now so serious and is not getting any better (in fact possibly getting worse) that immediate and drastic action is needed,” Pierre Weiss, then the IAAF general secretary, wrote in an Oct. 14, 2009, hand-delivered letter to Valentin Balakhnichev, the Russian athletics president banned last week for life from the sport.

“Not only are these athletes cheating their fellow competitors but at these levels are putting their health and even their own lives in very serious danger,” Weiss wrote, telling Balakhnichev that blood results from Russian athletes “recorded some of the highest values ever seen since the IAAF started testing.”

Tests conducted at the 2009 World Championships, where Russia won 13 medals, “strongly suggest a systematic abuse of blood doping or EPO-related products,” Weiss added.

EPO was also one of Lance Armstrong‘s drugs of choice. The injectable hormone and blood transfusions, both banned in sports, are used by cheats to boost their levels of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, artificially improving performance. Over-abused, they can make blood go sludgy, with increased risk of clots, strokes and heart attacks.

The documents reveal how the IAAF wrestled with Russia — nudging and cajoling its leaders to act, but also using scientific advances in blood testing to try to catch offenders. They shed light on key junctures in the crisis, which has been muddied by allegations that IAAF and Russian officials took bribes from athletes to hide their doping so they could continue competing.

Other key findings:

—Internal IAAF papers before the 2012 London Olympics proposed hiding doping sanctions for less well-known Russian athletes from public view. An April 2012 note said this hush-hush approach couldn’t be granted to Russia’s best athletes because that would allow them to keep “11 world titles and numerous European titles acquired under the influence of doping.” It added: “It is impossible to ‘discreetly’ remove from competition for two years athletes who are multiple world and/or Olympic champions. Their absence from major competitions will inevitably prompt questions and investigations from experts and the media.”

—A Sept. 28, 2012, internal brief for then-IAAF President Lamine Diack estimated that 42 percent of tested Russian elite athletes doped. Suspected doping in Turkey, Spain, Morocco and Ukraine also “is particularly worrying,” the brief said.

—After the 2009 Worlds in Berlin, Weiss told Balakhnichev that seven Russian athletes — including two gold medalists — would have been forced to sit out the competition if the IAAF had had the same “no start” rules as some other sports, which can forcibly sideline competitors with abnormal blood readings.

—Before the 2009 Worlds, Weiss also alerted Balakhnichev that athletes were evading tests by saying they were serving in the Russian military and couldn’t tell testers where they were. “These difficulties … effectively prevent the IAAF from conducting sufficient testing on Russian elite athletes compared to other major nations,” Weiss wrote.

The IAAF confirmed to AP that the letters were genuine. Spokesman Chris Turner said they were a “clear, open warning” to Russia and insisted the IAAF has been “very strong” in dealing with the sports powerhouse.

By 2011, two years after its launch, the IAAF’s new “blood passport” testing regime was starting to flag so many suspected Russian dopers that officials explored the idea of breaking their own rules and those of the World Anti-Doping Agency by dealing with some cases privately, two notes show.

The notes proposed a two-track approach: strictly by-the-book sanctions for the best-known elite Russians likely to win medals at the London Games, but “rapid and discreet” handling of second-tier cases, working “in close collaboration” with the Russian athletics federation, for less well-known athletes whose sudden and unexplained disappearance from competition would likely pass unnoticed.

For those athletes who agreed to the deal, the IAAF would in turn “undertake not to publish the sanction,” which would be shortened to two years from four, according to a Dec. 5, 2011, brief.

“These measures concern athletes without titles or major results. Their withdrawal from competition wouldn’t necessarily attract attention,” said a follow-up April 10, 2012, briefing note for Diack, marked “STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL.”

The IAAF says the proposals were never put into practice. Balakhnichev told the AP they also never reached him.

“There were no secret bans. At least I didn’t know and didn’t hear about there being any,” Balakhnichev said in a telephone interview.

Turner said the December 2011 note was sent by the IAAF’s anti-doping director at the time, Gabriel Dolle, to Habib Cisse, who was Diack’s legal counsel. The follow-up note in 2012 was from Dolle to Diack, Turner said.

Turner said a colleague of Dolle’s in the anti-doping department objected at the time to the proposed non-disclosure of bans and was assured by Dolle that sanctions would be published, “which they were.”

“Every athlete was investigated and has either been sanctioned or is currently going through a legal process as part of being sanctioned,” Turner said. He said the IAAF has successfully brought 33 blood-passport cases against Russian athletes “and more are pending.”

“In 2011 there was a huge influx of suspicious profiles coming through,” Turner said in a statement to the AP. Blood passport cases take 8-18 months on average from investigation to sanction, he said, adding: “There was a need to prioritize, and in particular to expedite those cases which involved potential medal winners ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games. No cases were concealed or suppressed, the IAAF simply tackled them in order of importance.”

The IAAF’s ethics commission last week banned Dolle from the sport for five years for what it called an “inexcusable lack of due care and diligence” in the case of Liliya Shobukhova, a Russian marathoner who blew the whistle on blackmail, bribery and doping cover-ups involving Balakhnichev and others.

The 2011 note named 10 second-tier athletes, in race walking, middle-distance running and marathon, eligible for “rapid and discreet” treatment.

Six were subsequently banned for two years, mostly in 2012 and 2013, after the London Games. The odd one out of those six was Tatyana Andrianova, an 800m runner whose ban for a positive test for the steroid stanozolol dating back to 2005 was just announced in December. Still, in each of those six cases, the IAAF did publish the sanction.

Four others named in the 2011 note have not been banned.

One of those, middle-distance competitor Yevgenia Zolotova, was subsequently flagged as “suspicious” by a WADA-ordered probe, in its first wave of findings last November. It urged WADA to follow up with the IAAF. But the IAAF says it found nothing fishy about Zolotova’s case, and that external blood experts who must be consulted in such instances simply didn’t agree on whether the athlete’s abnormal readings proved doping.

Another of the four is Lydia Grigoryeva, the Boston Marathon winner in 2007.

Turner said the IAAF has pursued a blood-passport case against her and her sanction “is about to be concluded and will be published accordingly.”

“Every suspicious ABP profile was investigated in full accordance with IAAF rules and the World Anti-Doping Code. All confirmed doping cases were publicly sanctioned. Nothing was covered-up,” he said.

The IAAF faces more questions this week, with the second round of findings due Thursday from the WADA probe led by International Olympic Committee veteran Dick Pound.

Pound told the AP that documents indicating that IAAF officials contemplated not disclosing doping bans were surprising and “not exactly in line with our rules.”

“It’s clear that there were deals,” he said in an AP telephone interview. “There didn’t seem to be any political will to take on Russia.”

IAAF officials may have been thinking expediently, he added, aiming to get cheats out of competition quickly and “protect clean athletes that way.”

Weiss, the IAAF general secretary from 2006-2011, said the governing body couldn’t have suspended Russia earlier than last year, after Pound’s commission concluded in November that President Vladimir Putin‘s government was complicit in a “deeply rooted culture of cheating” in Russian sports that is “widespread and of long standing.”

“We always said we had problems with Russia,” Weiss said in an AP phone interview. “We didn’t have not any proof that the (athletics) federation was on the side of the doping.”

“WADA found out more than we could ever find ourselves,” he said. “Suspicion is not enough to suspend people.”

Still, the documents show the IAAF long worked behind the scenes with Russia before its Nov. 13 about-face, when IAAF Council members led by Coe voted 22-1 to suspend all Russian athletes. Russia needs to convince the IAAF it is changing to be reinstated. An IAAF team was in Moscow this week.

The documents provide no evidence of clear criminal activity. Diack is facing corruption and money laundering charges in France, accused of taking more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) in a scheme to blackmail athletes and cover up their doping positives. French magistrates also are investigating Cisse and Dolle for suspected corruption.

Last week, the IAAF’s ethics commission issued a lifetime ban for Papa Massata Diack, one of Diack’s sons, for his role in the blackmail of Shobukhova. Also banned for life were Balakhnichev and Alexei Melnikov, former head coach of Russia’s race-walking and long-distance running programs.

Here, in greater detail, are more findings:



The two briefs which Turner said Dolle sent to Diack and his legal counsel, Cisse, before the London Games centered on some two dozen Russian cases flagged by the blood passport program.

They proposed dividing the athletes into two groups: likely medal winners so well-known their sanctions had to be managed “in strict conformity with IAAF anti-doping rules” and others whose punishments could be kept quiet and for whom rules could be broken.

“It has been proposed to distinguish the elite athletes from other athletes, especially taking account of the arrival of the Olympic Games,” the April 2012 brief said.

Not only did the notes say lower-level athletes could get two-year bans instead of four years, but the 2012 brief also proposed that the IAAF “exceptionally” allow them to keep their competition results, even though this was “contrary to what is laid down in Rule 40.8.”



Weiss alerted Balakhnichev in a July 2009 email that blood screening “results show there is still a problem with many of your athletes, in particular in the race walking events.”

Seven suspicious samples were collected at the 2009 European Team Championships in Portugal and “five of these were from Russian athletes,” Weiss wrote. And eight of nine suspicious samples at the European Race Walking Cup in 2009 also were from Russians.

“We make you aware of the suspicious samples from Russian athletes, particularly the walkers, and ask you to investigate and propose solutions in this discipline, to ensure that the athletes will be under control and competing clean,” he wrote.

Of Russia’s 13 medals the following month at the World Championships, three — all gold — were won by race walkers Valery Borchin, Olga Kaniskina and Sergei Kirdyapkin. Kaniskina and Kirdyapkin were subsequently banned for three years and two months in October 2012, while Borchin got an eight-year ban. The IAAF has appealed Russia’s handling of their cases as too lenient. They are now before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.



After the 2009 Worlds in Berlin, Weiss wrote to Balakhnichev that Russian competitors’ blood readings “were extremely high, and again much more so than any other country competing.”

Unlike others sports, the IAAF did not have so-called “no-start” rules that could have kept athletes from competing with abnormal readings.

“However I can tell you that if it was in place … seven of your Russian athletes would not have been allowed to start in Berlin,” including two gold medalists, Weiss wrote, underlining the part about the medalists.

Weiss added that other tests at world half-marathon championships in 2009 also found “very suspicious values.”

“In fact two of these athletes actually recorded some of the highest values ever seen since the IAAF started testing for blood,” he wrote. “These results are startling because not only are these athletes cheating their fellow competitors but at these levels are putting their health and even their own lives in very serious danger.”

World figure skating championships the latest chapter of Deanna Stellato-Dudek’s comeback


There are so many improbabilities in the story of how Canadian pair team Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps got to this week’s world figure skating championships that the whole thing reads like a flight of fancy.

You start with a talented junior singles skater from suburban Chicago named Deanna Stellato, whose skates had sat in a closet at her mother’s home for 16 years after injuries pushed her from the sport.

You bring her back to the skating world in 2016 as a married woman of 33 with a different name, Deanna Stellato-Dudek, and in a different event, pairs, making the switch on the recommendation of U.S. Figure Skating high performance director Mitch Moyer.

You have Moyer able to make that suggestion because he coincidentally was visiting a Florida rink the day Stellato-Dudek went there to sound out her old singles coach, Cindy Caprel, about the idea of a comeback.

You end her 12-year career as an aesthetician in a plastic surgery practice and have her go back to the ice, keeping her apart for long stretches from her husband of nine years, Michael Dudek, a Chicago-based turnover management specialist.

You have her begin a pairs’ career in summer 2016 as the partner of a 2014 Olympian, Nathan Bartholomay, with whom she would win bronze medals at the 2018 and 2019 U.S. Championships before the partnership ended when a bum knee made Bartholomay’s competitive future uncertain.

“I was still gung-ho on continuing until 2022,” Stellato-Dudek said.


You hear her talk of having messaged everyone she ever had met in skating to see if they knew of a possible new partner and have one reply, from 2018 Olympic pairs’ bronze medalist Meagan Duhamel and her husband, Bruno Marcotte, a pairs’ coach, tell Stellato-Dudek they had the perfect guy for her.

You have it be a guy she had never heard of, Maxime Deschamps, a French-Canadian from suburban Montreal who had skated with eight previous partners, finished no higher than fifth at the senior level at the Canadian Championships with any of them and thought of ending his competitive career many times.

“Yes, it’s kind of an unusual pairing,” said their coach, Josée Picard.

You have their tryout in June 2019 be the skating version of love at first sight, leading Stellato-Dudek to cancel scheduled sessions with other potential partners.

You have their getting-to-know-you workouts in Montreal stopped cold by the Covid pandemic, forcing them to train outside whenever there was ice for much of a year.

“We made the best of what we could do,” Deschamps said. “It was a really hard time. We questioned ourselves a lot. The goals we were setting up as markers keep us going and able to pass through those hard times.”

You have them begin this season after the first extensive offseason training of their partnership and watch them win a silver medal at Skate America that makes Stellato-Dudek, 39, the oldest medalist in the 25-season history of the Grand Prix Series.

You have them win their second Grand Prix event before Stellato-Dudek comes down with a respiratory virus (RSV, not Covid) that has her coughing, feverish and listless and eventually paralyzes her left vocal cord, inhibiting her swallowing, breathing and speech to the point she needs ongoing work with a speech pathologist to relearn how to talk.

“It was a big setback,” Picard said of the lingering sickness. “It was three months, and we had to adjust a lot of things and diminish the amount of training and do everything very, very carefully.”

You have doctors tell her there is no risk in continuing to train and compete (other than the risks that come with pairs’ skating, in which the woman is flung across the rink and carried some seven feet above a hard and slippery surface), but it isn’t easy training while constantly out of breath and having difficulty swallowing water. That Stellato-Dudek would keep at it impressed her coach.

“Just to come back at 30-some years old and do a totally different discipline in the first place shows that somebody has a lot of ambitions and a lot of goals and a lot of guts,” Picard said. “This just amplifies it, you know, to show that she’s not giving up, and she has all the willpower, and she wants to succeed.”

You have her fight through the Canadian national championships out of her desire to give Deschamps, 31, a shot at his first national title – and have them win.

“I really had a strong will,” Stellato-Dudek said. “I thought to myself, ‘If this was the Olympic Games, I would be skating.’

“Max really stepped up in our partnership during that time. Often, it’s not both partners who are able to give 100 percent. For those three months, I was able to give 80 percent, and Max was making up for that 20 percent and still giving his 100 percent, so he was giving 120.”

You have her healthy as they go to the world championships beginning Wednesday in Saitama, Japan, with a decent chance for Stellato-Dudek, now 39, to win her second world medal, the other a silver from the world junior championships 23 years ago.

And, finally, you have them looking toward the 2026 Olympics where she could, at the age of 42 years and 229 days, be the oldest woman to compete in Olympic figure skating since 1928 and the third oldest in history, according to Olympedia.org. (That’s assuming Stellato-Dudek gets Canadian citizenship in time for a chance at the team; it is required for her to represent Canada at the Olympics, but not at other international competitions after U.S. Figure Skating granted her a release.)

“I think I’ve lasted a lot longer than anybody thought I could — even now,” Stellato-Dudek said.

How prophetic it seems that her mother, Ann, told me in an interview for a 2000 Chicago Tribune story, “Deanna is a worker, not a child prodigy.”

Among all the unlikely parts of this tale, Stellato-Dudek’s age has attracted the most attention. The subject has become amusing to her, so much so that when Canadian figure skating press officer Karine Bedard tells Stellato-Dudek about an interview request, she will answer lightheartedly, “What do they want to interview me about? Skating while old?”

The truth is Stellato-Dudek has come to embrace such questions after a family member told her, “I think what you are doing is bigger than you.”

Stellato-Dudek began to gain that perspective in reading the hundreds of messages she said she has received from people who say they have been encouraged by her comeback to return to something they also loved.

“They will say, ‘I’ve always wanted to go back, but I’ve been too busy or too afraid to kind of step foot back in the rink, but I know that you started from somewhere so I can start from somewhere, too,’” Stellato-Dudek said. “And I thought maybe what I’m doing has a bigger meaning than even just what I’m doing for myself. It takes myself out of it a little bit and brings it back to something even bigger than just my personal goals.”

A similar desire to keep doing something he loved – and the dream of getting to the Olympics – is what led Deschamps to continue skating when progress was elusive and push came to shove, forcing him to interrupt his studies for a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology after two years because he couldn’t afford both the sport and school.

When asked to give more than 100 percent this season, which is impossible physically, he found the extra contribution by remaining upbeat as his partner struggled to train.

“It was mostly the mental part, (giving extra) to keep it positive because it was way harder (without) the physical capacity for the things,” Deschamps said. “And that’s how we were able to keep going.”

The interruptions caused by the pandemic mean that their four years together have included just two full competitive seasons. That has dramatically reduced the time each has had to learn the nuances of a new partner – and for Stellato-Dudek to master different techniques she has learned in Canada, like her hand placement on throws, in which she used to place both hands on her right shoulder but now has her left arm wrapped around the front of her body and the right arm around the back.

“There was a lot I had to do control-alt-delete and restart for,” she said.

“(Our skating) has just been evolving and evolving,” Deschamps said. “And we’re just trying to push our limits every single time, trying new elements, trying to even improve the sport by doing new stuff.”

One such element is the forward outside death spiral, hardest of the four types of death spirals (with the highest base value.) According to skatingscores.com, only 11 pair teams have done it internationally over the 19 seasons of the current judging system, including two Olympic champions: Chinese pairs Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo and Sui Wenjing and Han Cong. Only one other team, Alisa Efimova and Ruben Blommaert of Germany, has done it internationally this season.

In the absence of the long-dominant Russian pairs, barred from international competition since their country’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine 13 months ago, Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps have the fourth-best score this season of the 23 teams in the world championships field.

From last season to now, their personal bests in the short program, free skate and total have improved by 28 percent, 12 percent, and 16 percent, respectively. They have won medals at four of their five international events this season, finishing fourth at the Grand Prix Final, when Stellato-Dudek began to feel the effects of the virus.

“We always believed that (the success) was a possibility, but this season has surprised both of us,” she said. “When it began, we were getting a lot of positive feedback from everyone who had seen us, but you know, you don’t really believe that until you go to an event, and you get a new high score you’ve never received before.”

The high international scores and medals would send them to the Canadian Championships in the unexpected and potentially discomfiting position of being heavy favorites. They overcame the psychological and physical burdens to win the national title, a crowning achievement for many elite skaters.

“That was a brand-new place for us to be,” Stellato-Dudek said. “We’ve never been chased. We’ve always been chasing.

“We’re gaining a lot of very valuable experience. Because it’s a very new place to be mentally.”

It’s the place she always wanted to be. And there, truth be told, you have the plot of a neverending story that is no longer a fantasy.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Kanak Jha, U.S.’ top table tennis player, banned for missed drug tests

Kanak Jha

Kanak Jha, the U.S.’ highest-ranked singles table tennis player, was given a backdated one-year ban for missing drug tests.

Jha, No. 23 in the world, was banned for missing three drug tests last year: March 18, June 2 and Sept. 4.

Athletes in Olympic sports face bans if they miss three drug tests in a 12-month span.

Jha, a two-time Olympian who has never tested positive for a banned substance, was given a reduced ban of one year, backdated to last Dec. 1, the date his provisional suspension was imposed.

First-time bans for missed drug tests can be as long as two years, but Jha was deemed by an arbitrator to have a light amount of fault and wasn’t trying to evade testing.

Jha disputed his third missed test, hoping it would be thrown out to avoid a ban.

During his one-hour testing window on Sept. 4, he was not present at the German address he listed on his doping-control forms, though he was at a nearby address.

The drug tester attempted to call Jha before his one-hour testing window was up, but the call did not go through as the tester did not dial the “+1” country code for a U.S. phone. Jha did not include the country code on his contact information and testified that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency never informed that he had to list a country code.

However, drug testers are not required to call athletes who do not answer their doors for random, out-of-competition tests.

Jha, who in 2016 became the first American born in the 2000s to qualify for an Olympics, lost his opening match in singles at the Rio and Tokyo Games.

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