Yulia Efimova
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Yuliya Efimova, Russian Olympic medalist swimmer, may face lifetime ban

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Olympic swimming medalist Yuliya Efimova of Russia faces a possible lifetime ban after being provisionally suspended for a second doping violation. Her U.S.-based coach said Efimova has indicated she wants to fight the accusation.

The 23-year-old breaststroke specialist who has won four world titles and an Olympic bronze medal is the latest high-profile name caught up in the series of doping scandals that have dogged Russia over the past two years. She owns the world’s fastest time in the 100-meter breaststroke and the second quickest in the 200 breast this year, and is considered one of Russia’s top medal hopes for the Rio Olympics in August.

In a brief statement, the Russian Swimming Federation said it had received documents from international governing body FINA stating that Efimova was suspended “in connection with a possible breach of anti-doping rules.”

The federation did not confirm reports in the Russian media that Efimova tested positive for meldonium, the same substance found in tennis star Maria Sharapova’s sample at the Australian Open in January.

If Efimova’s case is confirmed to be a positive test for meldonium, her earlier medals would not be affected because the substance has only been banned since Jan. 1.

Efimova trains in Los Angeles under Dave Salo, who coaches at the University of Southern California.

“Yulia stopped taking it [meldonium] in December when it became evident it was going to be on the banned list,” Salo told The Associated Press by phone Thursday from Atlanta, where he is coaching at the NCAA Championships. “She sent me a text almost immediately yesterday and tried to assure me that she hadn’t done anything since December.”

Salo said any athlete training under him is subject to drug testing by WADA and USADA, which visit his pool weekly, unlike some other countries where testing is less stringent.

“It’s not coming from me, it never has come from me,” Salo said. “I don’t think kids need supplementation of any sort. I’ve never counseled kids to take anything. They know my stance on it.”

Salo said his role in Efimova’s career involves only training and coaching in the pool, and she has others who oversee her physical therapy, weight training and nutrition.

“I don’t know who’s counseling her in Russia,” he said. “She’s a great kid, she’s a hard-working person. She’s tremendously talented, she doesn’t need these things to be successful.”

Salo said the larger problem in swimming is athletes seeking an edge who listen to outside influences such as doctors, yoga instructors and other swimmers, as well as some coaches who suggest supplements.

“We’ve created an environment where there’s an expectation that these kids have to take something,” he said.

Efimova, who won bronze in the 200-meter breaststroke at the 2012 London Olympics, could be banned for life if found guilty of a second career doping offense.

She was stripped of five European Championship medals after testing positive for the banned steroid DHEA in 2013. Efimova’s ban on that occasion was reduced from two years to 16 months after she argued that she had taken the substance by accident while trying to buy a legal supplement.

Efimova returned from that ban to win gold in the 100m breaststroke at last year’s world championships in Kazan, Russia.

Salo said he would speak to Efimova when he returns to Los Angeles next week.

“Her text was, ‘Please believe me. I didn’t do this on purpose,'” he said. “I believe her. She’s culpable to the extent that she has a lot of other people in her ear.”

Efimova is in the U.S. as part of a program in which the Russian swimming federation sends top athletes abroad for specialized coaching. Federation coach Sergei Ilin told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that none of the other top Russians based in the United States was under suspicion of doping.

“If we’re talking about the group of athletes in the U.S., then so far this case is just about Efimova,” he said.

MORE: Vladimir Putin calls for Russia to up fight against doping

Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir retire from ice dance competition

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Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the most decorated Olympic figure skaters in history, announced their retirement late Tuesday. They’re done competing in ice dance, and their upcoming Canadian tour will be their last together.

“After 22 years, it feels like the right time to step away from the sport,” Virtue said in a video. “This is so personal and emotional for both of us. … We still can’t believe people care.”

“It just feels for us like it’s the right time to say goodbye while we’re still loving and enjoying the sport as much as we always have been,” Moir said. “This is my first selfie video, and I’m not going to cry. What a beautiful ride it’s been.”

The news was expected.

Virtue and Moir last competed in PyeongChang, earning golds in ice dance and the team event to bring their total to five medals (three golds) and break the record for most Olympic medals in the sport (buoyed by the addition of the team event in 2014).

“It definitely feels like [this is our last Olympics],” Moir said on TODAY in PyeongChang, hours after their ice dance gold. “If it is, this is a great way for us to go out. … It feels right. It feels like a good end.”

Virtue, 30, and Moir 32, teamed up in elementary school. Moir, a childhood hockey player, followed brother Danny into dance, pairing with his first partner at 8 and then with Virtue and 9.

Virtue hit the ice at age 6 because she didn’t want to be the only one in her class who couldn’t skate during a field trip. When she was 7, she was paired with Moir through Moir’s aunt Carol, who coached both as singles skaters. Two years in, Virtue attended Canada’s National Ballet School for a summer before choosing to stick with skating.

That decision ultimately led to one of the greatest careers in Canadian sports history.

They earned a junior world title in 2006, the first of eight Canadian titles in 2008 and, in 2010, the biggest of all — home gold at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games despite Moir messing up the steps at the end of their free dance. They faced the wrong way in their final pose.

“Scott just said thank you to me and just said look around us, take this in,” Virtue said on NBC as the final couples skated.

“I had to be positive because I messed up,” Moir later joked.

Virtue and Moir developed a rivalry with American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White, with whom they traded world titles in the Sochi Olympic cycle. In Russia, the Americans edged the Canadians for the title by 4.53 points.

Moir waited until the arena emptied, returned to the rink and kissed the ice. Many thought it was a goodbye to the Olympics.

Two years later, they announced a comeback, saying they still had the fire and wanted to take advantage of one more chance to go to the Games. They won all but one of their competitions in those last two seasons, including the Olympics by a slim .79 of a point over French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

Now they join the other Canadian champions of their generation — Patrick ChanKaetlyn Osmond and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford — in leaving the competitive arena for good.

“We spent 22 years coasting around the outside of the rink, hanging out together, making programs, trying to just soak up our sporting experiences,” Virtue said. “We still can’t believe people care.”

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MORE: Keegan Messing explains decision to hold up Japanese flag

Keegan Messing ‘glad’ to have held Japanese flag for Yuzuru Hanyu

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Yuzuru Hanyu heard Japan’s national anthem at the medal ceremony for his season-debut event on Saturday. But didn’t see a flag.

That’s when the bronze medalist, Keegan Messing of Canada, “took initiative” and unfurled the Japanese flag so Hanyu could honor it at the Autumn Classic in Ontario.

While there were plenty of fans of the Japanese skater in the crowd holding their own flags, none were hoisted above the ice like in some competitions.

Messing took it upon himself to hold up the Japanese flag that was hanging from a flagpole behind the medal podium.

Messing explained his decision following the interaction:

That was just actually instinct, honestly. When they said that we’re gonna play the anthem for the winner, I looked out and I realized there was no flag ready. A couple of the spectators had a flag but so I decided to hold up a flag because if I were in that place, I would’ve liked to have a flag presented at that time. That’s why I did it. I felt like that’s what I would’ve wanted so I went ahead and took initiative and I did it. I’m very happy I did. It felt good to do. I’m glad.

Hanyu is next expected to compete on the Grand Prix circuit, again in Canada in October and at NHK Trophy in Japan in November.

Messing’s assignments are Skate America in October and Cup of China in November.

The next time Hanyu’s and Messing’s paths could cross is at December’s Grand Prix Final, should they both qualify.

MORE: Yuzuru Hanyu wins Autumn Classic

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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