Arkady Vyatchanin
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Russian Olympic medalist swimmer caught in country limbo

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Arkady Vyatchanin loves his country.

He just doesn’t want to represent Russia at the Olympics.

That stance has left the swimmer in legal limbo with the Rio Games less than five months away, the pawn in a political tug-of-war that again shows just how little the guys in charge actually care about the athletes.

“I guess I underestimated the burden that I’ll carry,” said Vyatchanin, who lives and trains in the United States and wants to swim for Serbia in what very well could be his last shot at the Olympics.

Vyatchanin has an impressive resume. At the 2008 Beijing Games, he captured a pair of bronze medals, finishing behind American winners Aaron Peirsol in the 100-meter backstroke and Ryan Lochte in the 200 back. He also has four medals from the world championships – three silvers and a bronze.

After a disappointing performance at the London Olympics, where Vyatchanin failed to qualify for the final in either backstroke event, he had a falling-out with the Russian swimming federation over his decision to begin training in Gainesville, Florida, under renowned coach and longtime Lochte mentor Gregg Troy.

More troubling, Vyatchanin had serious concerns about just how committed his country was to the battle against doping, a stance that turned out to be very well-founded given the almost daily revelations of ramping cheating throughout Russian sports.

Tennis star Maria Sharapova acknowledged this week that she had tested positive for a banned substance, while the country’s track and field athletes remain barred from international competition – including, possibly, the Olympics – after a ruling Friday found “significant work” was still required to clean up a major doping scandal.

“It is pretty wide open right now with all the doping cases,” Vyatchanin said, a sadness in his voice. “I was afraid that I could get caught up with that stuff just for raising my voice.”

He began searching for a new country, sending letters to virtually every European nation with a swimming team. He also made inquiries with the United States, but learned the process for becoming a citizen might not be completed in time for Rio.

Knowing he would be 32 by the time of the Olympics, Vyatchanin couldn’t afford to let another quadrennial pass him by.

A year ago, he received his Serbian passport, which should’ve been enough to lock up his trip to South America.

Not so fast, said international governing body FINA, which invoked an onerous residency rule to hold up Vyatchanin’s bid to switch countries, according to Vyatchanin.

“The bottom line in my case is that I did not break any rules,” he said. “All I want to do is swim.”

When FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu was questioned in an email about Vyatchanin’s status, the organization’s legal team came back with a vague reply that merely said, “Thank you for your email and interest in the sports of aquatics. Please note that the request for changing the sport nationality of Mr. Arkady Vyatchanin is under consideration in FINA.”

Granted, FINA has some well-founded concerns about athletes hopping from country to country, sometimes merely looking to find a team better suited to their Olympic goals.

But Vyatchanin hasn’t competed for Russia in more than three years, skipping the last two world championships, and the doping scandal in his country would seem reason enough to allow him – and any other clean athlete, for that matter – to move on.

“I love my country,” he said. “I don’t like the government, though.”

This has been a poignant ordeal for Vyatchanin, who would certainly prefer to race for his home country at the Olympics. While he would be incredibly proud to win a medal for sports-mad Serbia, which is giving him a chance to fulfill his dreams, there would surely be mixed emotions about having a banner other than Russia’s raised in his name.

“It is not right that a person should have to leave his country because of fear,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t think the Olympics or any other major sporting event should be about countries. It’s about who’s the fastest swimmer. It’s about the competition.”

There are no regrets about moving to the U.S. to train in 2011. If anything, Vyatchanin only wishes he had started the process to find a new country even sooner.

“I didn’t feel like I needed permission,” he said. “I’m a grown-up man. I felt I could make the decision that is better for me.”

Vyatchanin, who is getting sponsorship help from the New York Athletic Club, remains hopeful that everything will work out in the end. As he says on his Twitter profile: “Never give up!”

There is only one thing for FINA to do when it finally rules on Vyatchanin’s case:

Let him swim.

MORE: Russia Olympic track and field decision expected in May

Anna van der Breggen is first cyclist to sweep road world titles in 25 years

Anna van der Breggen
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Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen added the road race crown to her time trial victory at the world road cycling championships, becoming the second rider in history to win both events at the same edition.

“This is, for me, pretty good so far,” she said.

Van der Breggen, the Rio Olympic road race champion, won after a solo attack with more than 25 miles left of an 89-mile course in Imola, Italy, on Saturday.

She prevailed after more than four hours of racing by 80 seconds over countrywoman Annemiek van Vleuten, the 2019 champion. Van Vleuten raced nine days after breaking her left wrist in a Giro Rosa crash.

Italian Elisa Longo Borghini took bronze in the same time as van Vleuten after losing a photo-finish sprint. Lauren Stephens was the top American in 11th.

Full results are here.

The race lacked American standout Chloé Dygert, who crashed out of the time trial while leading on Thursday and required leg surgery.

Van der Breggen joined Frenchwoman Jeannie Longo as the only male or female cyclists to sweep the time trial and road race at a single worlds. Longo did so in 1995 at age 36.

Van der Breggen, 30, said in May that she will retire after the 2021 Olympic season.

It will be the end of one of the great cycling careers. She is now a three-time world champion and nine-time world medalist to go along with her road race gold and time trial bronze in her Olympic debut in Rio.

Worlds conclude Sunday with the men’s road race. A TV and stream schedule is here.

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MORE: A more equal future for women’s cycling? Lizzie Deignan has high hopes

2020 French Open TV, live stream schedule

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Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams can each tie Grand Slam singles titles records at the French Open, with daily live coverage among NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel.

NBC coverage starts Sunday with first-round action at Roland Garros, its 38th straight year covering the event. Tennis Channel airs the majority of weekday coverage. Peacock, NBC Universal’s new streaming service, has middle weekend broadcasts.

All NBC TV coverage alo streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Nadal is the primary men’s storyline, favored to tie Roger Federer‘s male record of 20 major titles and extend his own record of 12 French Open crowns. Federer is absent after knee operations earlier this year.

The Spaniard’s primary competition is top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the 2016 French Open champion whose only defeat in 2020 was a U.S. Open default for hitting a ball that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Williams bids again to match the overall Grand Slam singles mark of 24 held by Australian Margaret Court. Williams, a three-time French Open champion, lost in the third and fourth round the last two years and is coming off a U.S. Open semifinal exit.

The women’s field is led by 2018 champion Simona Halep but lacks defending champion Ash Barty of Australia, not traveling due to the coronavirus pandemic. Also out: U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, citing a sore hamstring and tight turnaround from prevailing in New York two weeks ago.

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MORE: How Jay-Z, Beyonce helped Naomi Osaka come out of her shell

French Open TV Schedule

Date Time (ET) Network Round
Sunday, Sept. 27 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
12-3 p.m. NBC
Monday, Sept. 28 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
Tuesday, Sept. 29 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
Wednesday, Sept. 30 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Second Round
Thursday, Oct. 1 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Second Round
Friday, Oct. 2 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Third Round
Saturday, Oct. 3 5 a.m.-12 p.m. Tennis Channel Third Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Sunday, Oct. 4 5 a.m.-12 p.m. Tennis Channel Fourth Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Monday, Oct. 5 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Fourth Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Tuesday, Oct. 6 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tennis Channel Quarterfinals
Wednesday, Oct. 7 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tennis Channel Quarterfinals
Thursday, Oct. 8 5 a.m.-2 p.m. Tennis Channel Women’s Semis
11 a.m. NBC, NBCSN
Friday, Oct. 9 5 a.m.-4 p.m. Tennis Channel Men’s Semis
11 a.m. NBC, NBCSN
Saturday, Oct. 10 9 a.m. NBC Women’s Final
Sunday, Oct. 11 9 a.m. NBC Men’s Final