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

Too early to say whether virus threatens Olympics, WHO says

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GENEVA (AP) — Despite a virus outbreak spreading from China, a top World Health Organization official said Tuesday it’s much too soon to say whether the Tokyo Olympics are at risk of being cancelled or moved.

Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee have repeatedly said they have no contingency plans for the July 24-Aug. 9 Summer Games since the WHO declared a global health emergency last month.

The U.N. agency’s emergencies program director, Michael Ryan, said Tuesday the sporting event was “way too far” away to consider giving advice that would affect Tokyo’s hosting of the Olympics.

“We are not there to make a decision for that,” Ryan told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a news conference at WHO headquarters.

Geneva-based WHO has been in regular contact with the IOC in nearby Lausanne since the virus known as COVID-19 emerged in December.

“We don’t give them judgments,” Ryan said. “We assist them with their risk assessment. We will be working closely with them in the coming weeks and months.”

The death toll in mainland China due to the virus rose to almost 1,900 on Tuesday, with more than 72,000 confirmed cases.

The outbreak has caused numerous sports events in China to be canceled, postponed, or moved, including qualifying events for the Tokyo Olympics.

Chinese athletes and teams have also been unable to travel for some competitions. China sent a team of more than 400 athletes to the Rio Olympics. It won 70 medals, including 26 gold, to place second in total medal standings.

Around 11,000 athletes and many more team coaches and officials from more than 200 national teams are expected in Japan for the Olympics.

Japan has experienced the most significant outbreak of the virus outside of China, on the cruise ship Diamond Princess docked in quarantine at Yokohama in Tokyo Bay.

During a 14-day isolation that ends Wednesday, 542 cases have been identified among more than 3,700 passengers and crew.

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For Mike Eruzione, Al Michaels, it’s no miracle that 1980 Olympics endure

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Mike Eruzione has been reminded on a daily basis about the Miracle on Ice for nearly four decades. While playing celebrity golf tournaments. At speaking engagements. Or that time he auctioned his jersey and stick from the Soviet game to a 9-year-old boy named Seven.

Eruzione, now 65, likes to open conversations with one anecdote about meeting strangers, which he repeated in a call with reporters last week.

“The stories I hear, 40 years later, it’s depending on their age — I remember where I was when Kennedy was assassinated, I remember where I was on 9/11. I remember where I was when the Challenger blew up. And I remember where I was when we won,” Eruzione said. “And I always say, ‘We? I didn’t know you were on the team.’

“But people felt a part of it. … It’s nice to know that people remember and share some great stories about what we did so long ago.”

The captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team owns a last name that means “eruption” in Italian. Eruzione scored the decisive goal in the U.S.’ 4-3 win over the Soviet Union en route to a shock gold medal during the Cold War in Lake Placid, N.Y.

NBCSN airs a 30-minute special marking the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice on Wednesday at 11:30 p.m. ET. It will feature a conversation between Olympic primetime host Mike Tirico and Al Michaels, the play-by-play voice of the game dubbed by Sports Illustrated the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.

Eruzione has grandchildren now. Three of them skate at the Mike Eruzione Center in his hometown of Winthrop, Mass.

“They don’t even know who Mike Eruzione is,” Eruzione said of the 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds, “but they know about the Miracle.”

All credit to the U.S. Olympic team of 20 players between ages 19 and 25, back when the NHL did not participate in the Olympics. The Soviets were essentially a team of professionals. The nation won the previous four Olympics and throttled the U.S. 10-3 in a pre-Olympic exhibition at Madison Square Garden.

Enter Michaels, calling hockey at the Lake Placid Winter Games alongside Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden. Michaels, then 35, said he was assigned the sport because he had the most hockey experience on the ABC Olympic talent roster — one game. He called the 1972 Olympic hockey final by himself.

Feb. 22, 1980: As the U.S. led the Soviet Union 4-3 and the final seconds ticked down, one word came to mind: miraculous.

“It got morphed into a question and quick answer, and away we went,” Michaels said.

Eruzione said he didn’t learn of Michaels’ call — “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!” — until two weeks after the Olympics. He didn’t watch the game broadcast until years later.

“I never thought it was a miracle, but it was a catchy phrase and it sounded right,” Eruzione said, noting he preferred Michaels’ call in the final comeback win over Finland to clinch the gold: “This impossible dream comes true.”

Team members since gathered often — to light the 2002 Olympic cauldron in Salt Lake City, for fantasy camps in Lake Placid and for coach Herb Brooks‘ 2003 funeral. Eighteen of the 20 players are scheduled to reunite this weekend in Las Vegas.

Absent will be Mark Pavelich, who was jailed last year on assault charges and ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial. And Bob Suter, who died in 2014 of a heart attack at age 57.

It was Suter’s death that motivated Eruzione and others to commemorate the 35th anniversary together in Lake Placid. It was believed to be the first time all living players were together in Lake Placid since the 1980 Winter Games.

Eruzione said that the 2004 film “Miracle” introduced the team to a new generation. Now at many of his speeches, the majority of Eruzione’s audience was born after 1980.

“I’ll say, how many people watched the movie ‘Miracle,’ and almost everybody raises their hand,” he said. “So I think what the movie did for us as a team was kind of rejuvenated our team as far as people knowing who we were and what we are and what we were about.”

NFL coaches set up “Miracle” viewings for their teams before games. Michael Phelps watched it for motivation at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Phelps told relay teammates, “This is our time,” before they beat rival Australia. An ode to Brooks’ pregame speech before the Soviet game.

Michaels, whose 13-year-old grandson won an October hockey tournament in Lake Placid, said he watched “Miracle” last week for the first time in about a decade. He helped do voiceovers in production more than 15 years ago, though the original Lake Placid audio was used for his signature call.

“The great thing is, in a way, when you watch it back or you watch highlights back, you almost become like in the third person, like somebody else is doing this and announcing this game,” Michaels said. “I exult the way I think most of the country did and do when they see highlights of it. So it’s kind of an out-of-body experience in a way, but it’s a beautiful thing.”

After Eruzione shared his tale of strangers’ memories, Michaels added one of his own.

“One of my favorite stories is Mike Eruzione calling me maybe eight to 10 years ago and saying, ‘The greatest thing about this is every time I come home and maybe I’m a little down, I need a little pick-me-up, I’ll put the tape in,'” Michaels said. “‘Every time I shoot, the puck goes in. It will forever.'”

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