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How U.S. athletes are informed about WADA banned substances list

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Maria Sharapova‘s failure to check the new substances added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list for 2016, and then testing positive for one of those new substances on Jan. 26, left some U.S. Olympians shaking their heads.

“I’ve seen people I know test positive. I’ve seen people I know where it could be intentional drug use, or it could be people who naively didn’t check the list,” said Kristin Armstrong, a two-time Olympic road cycling gold medalist. “It’s unfortunate they have to learn the hard way.”

Every Jan. 1, WADA updates its list of prohibited substances for the calendar year.

WADA announced the 2016 list last September, ample time for athletes to adjust if they were taking substances that would be changed from legal to illegal starting Jan. 1.

U.S. athletes were additionally informed of the updated banned list by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in the fall and by their national governing bodies.

“[USADA and USA Swimming] are constantly sending us lists of updated substances that have either been approved or disapproved,” two-time Olympic swimmer Elizabeth Beisel said. “We are constantly in the know.”

Meldonium, the newly banned heart medication that Sharapova and other Russian and non-Russian Olympic medalists have tested positive for this year, was specifically mentioned in another early January reminder to U.S. athletes from USADA.

“As an example of a 2016 update, it is important to note that there have been new substances or clarifications added to the Prohibited List in various categories, including, but not limited to, meldonium (Mildronate) and insulin-mimetics, including all insulin-receptor agonists,” the January USADA message said.

Of all the athletes announced as testing positive for meldonium this year, none are American.

“Education is a key component of any effective anti-doping program and that includes updating athletes on new inclusions to the prohibited list,” USADA said in a statement. “It’s really important to us that every athlete has the tools and knowledge they need to make smart decisions about their career, their health, and their legacy.”

Meldonium is not FDA approved.

“As soon as you hear that anything’s dropped [onto the prohibited list], your agent, your coach also keeps you in mind with what’s going on,” said Dawn Harper-Nelson, a two-time Olympic 100m hurdles medalist. “When you find out those things, you immediately go to your medicine cabinet. You have to go through the list and even plug it into Google search. Just say what medicines have this in it. And then you make your adjustment from there.”

Athletes across all sports in the USADA registered drug-testing pool must also complete an online tutorial called Athlete’s Advantage before Dec. 31.

“You have to watch, and you have to take a test at the end to say that you watched this and you actually learned,” Harper-Nelson said. “They’ll ask you certain things, like what’s the new drug on the list, when do you have to register by and those types of things. So they try and have a really good regimen.”

Olympic 200m champion Allyson Felix is so confident that she takes zero substances that could be added to the banned list that she doesn’t “really pay attention to” alerts and notices with WADA banned list updates.

Athletes can apply for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) to take meldonium for required medical reasons without it being a doping violation. USADA declined to say if any U.S. athlete has done so, and if so, if it had been granted.

U.S. Olympians and Olympic hopefuls in badminton, cycling, shooting, swimming and track and field said this week they hadn’t heard of meldonium before Sharapova’s admission Monday.

“Sounds like it’s on the periodic table, though,” Olympic 800m runner Alysia Montaño said.

Four-time U.S. Olympic diver Troy Dumais said he had heard of meldonium before this week, as he has studied medicine when not training.

“I don’t know enough about it, but I’ve heard about it,” he said.

MORE: What is meldonium?

Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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