‘Time really shrinking’ for Russia track and field to be cleared for Olympics

Dick Pound
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LONDON (AP) — The man who headed the doping investigation that led to Russia’s suspension from global track and field sees little evidence that the country is doing enough to win reinstatement in time for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Former World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Russia is running out of time to clean up its drug-testing program in order for its athletes to able to compete at the games in August.

“There has been a lot of bluster and blanket denial and saying, ‘You are picking on Russia,’ that sort of thing,” Pound said. “I can’t tell for sure whether they are taking this really seriously or they assume the problem will go away.”

The Russian track federation was suspended in November after a report by Pound’s independent WADA commission detailed systematic corruption and doping cover-ups in Russia. The International Association of Athletics Federations has laid down a series of criteria for the Russians to meet before they can be eligible for readmission.

“We thought at the time when we released the report that if they dropped everything and went full speed ahead on genuine reform they could probably get enough done to get back into Rio, but they have been dithering and procrastinating and I think that time is really shrinking,” Pound said in an interview on the sidelines of the Tackling Doping in Sport conference at Twickenham Stadium.

The IAAF’s governing council holds a two-day meeting beginning Thursday in Monaco, where officials will examine Russia’s efforts to reform. In addition, WADA still needs to declare Russia’s national anti-doping agency and anti-doping lab compliant with its rules before the country can return to the international fold.

“They’re aware of the amount of work that is necessary,” WADA president Craig Reedie said. “A big priority for us is the appointment of two independent experts to be in Moscow to help build the new RUSADA, and they are also aware of the timelines.”

Pound also cast doubt on Russia’s commitment in his speech to the conference.

“I don’t think they are devoting all their time and energy to getting where they ought to be,” he said. “There seems to be some evidence of changing the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

“It’s not just showing intent to change that’s going to get them readmitted,” Pound added. “There’s going to have to be verified action. It’s a considerable hurdle. If they haven’t put enough into it, and the IAAF and WADA are not satisfied, my guess is they may not make it back for Rio.”

Pound also reiterated his backing for Sebastian Coe, who became IAAF president in August. Coe has been under scrutiny because he served as a vice president under former president Lamine Diack, who is under criminal investigation in France on corruption charges related to doping cover-ups.

“I never thought it was fair to blame one person on the IAAF council for that,” Pound said, referring to Coe. ‘I think he’s had a very rough ride, mostly from (the media in) this country. That’s fair enough. The press is entitled to do that. I can think of nobody likely to do a better job in the present difficult circumstances.”

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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