Sergei Kirdyapkin
Reuters

Russians set to lose Olympic, World gold medals in doping case

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MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian race walker stands to lose his gold medal from the 2012 London Olympics after the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Thursday rejected the selective punishments imposed by Russian authorities in six doping cases.

The Switzerland-based court ruled that the Russian anti-doping agency, known as RUSADA, had wrongly imposed bans which were timed in a way that the six athletes’ results were not annulled and allowed them to keep major titles.

Russia will also lose an Olympic silver medal and two world championship gold medals as a result of the CAS decision.

Track and field’s world governing body, the IAAF, said it “will immediately proceed to the effective disqualification of results” from its competitions and ask the IOC to reallocate Olympic medals. The ruling was “in the interest of clean athletes and sport justice,” the IAAF added.

Sergei Kirdyapkin is set to be stripped of his Olympic gold medal in the 50-kilometer walk. The medal stands to go to Australia’s Jared Tallent, subject to ratification by track and field’s governing body and the International Olympic Committee.

“I’m just very, very happy to know that I am rightfully and will be officially named as the Olympic champion from London,” Tallent told The Associated Press by telephone. “It’s something that I felt on the day and ever since when I raced. This is a victory for clean athletes.”

Tallent said the Australian Olympic Committee had told him it expects the IOC to formally change the result in June. He said he has been promised his own medal ceremony, four years late.

China’s Si Tianfeng would move up to silver, with bronze for Ireland’s Rob Heffernan.

The six cases before CAS were based on the biological passport system, which tracks unusual blood values for signs of doping.

RUSADA had argued that its suspensions applied only to times when the athletes’ blood values were extreme, but the IAAF appealed, saying that the timing of the bans was “selective.”

In Kirdyapkin’s case, RUSADA had allowed him a window of four months in 2012 which meant he kept an Olympic gold medal which he would otherwise have lost.

CAS, however, ruled that all of Kirdkyapkin’s results from August 20, 2009, to Oct. 15, 2012, were now disqualified. That covers the London Olympics, which took place in July-August 2012.

Also affected by the CAS ruling is Olga Kaniskina, who stands to lose her silver medal in the 20K walk from the London Olympics. China’s Qieyang Shenjie would move up to silver.

Russia is also set to lose two gold medals from the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea – Yulia Zaripova in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and Sergei Bakulin in the 50K walk. Zaripova’s gold would go to Tunisia’s Habiba Ghribi; Bakulin’s medal to fellow Russian Denis Nizhegorodov.

CAS said reallocation of medals is up to the IAAF. CAS also imposed disqualifications on walkers Valery Borchin and Vladimir Kanaikin.

Russian reaction to the decision was muted. Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said the CAS ruling was “an issue from last year already, a closed issue” in comments to R-Sport.

Maxim Saushkin, a spokesman for the Russian state-run training center where five of the six walkers were based, said there would be no comments from the athletes or their representatives until they received “the relevant documents” confirming the ruling.

The acting head of RUSADA, Anna Antseliovich, told the AP that she stood by her agency’s original decision to allow the six athletes to keep certain results, but that she would respect the CAS verdict.

“We presented our experts’ opinions at CAS. We believe the decision had been imposed properly, but the CAS arbiters found that the IAAF position was stronger and more convincing,” she said. “We’ll take it into account when RUSADA takes decisions, but each case is individual.”

RUSADA was suspended from conducting any testing in November 2015 after a World Anti-Doping Agency commission accused it of covering up doping among leading Russian athletes.

Of the six athletes in the case, four have since become eligible to compete again, and some say they want to compete at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August. However, Russia remains suspended from all international track and field, including the Olympics, after the WADA commission’s report detailed state-sponsored, systematic drug use. Doping in race-walking is a particular concern for the IAAF, after more than 30 cases in Russia in recent years.

“The Russian athletes are definitely getting what they deserved,” Tallent said, adding that “it’ll be a dark day for the sport” if Kirdyapkin is allowed to race in Rio.

“Once you’re a cheat and you’re caught, you should never be allowed to compete again. You should be banned for life,” Tallent said. “I hope that Russia is still excluded.”

Kirdyapkin and Bakulin face possible further charges over allegations that they continued to race while they were supposed to be suspended. Kaniskina also worked as director of a major training center while serving a suspension.

MORE: FINA asks newspaper for Russia swimming doping evidence

Michael Phelps qualifies for first Olympics at age 15 in 2000

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In the biggest race of his young life, a 15-year-old Michael Phelps turned for the last 50 meters in fourth place of the U.S. Olympic Trials 200m butterfly final on Aug. 12, 2000.

His mom, Debbie, couldn’t watch. She turned away from the Indianapolis Natatorium pool and stared at the scoreboard. Both Debbie and Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, mentally prepared their consolation speeches for the rising Towson High School sophomore outside Baltimore.

Then Phelps, fueled by nightly Adam’s Mark chicken sandwich-and-cheesecake room service and amped by pre-race DMX on his CD player, turned it on. He zoomed into second place, becoming the youngest U.S. male swimmer to qualify for an Olympics since 1932.

Phelps had “come out of nowhere in the last six months” to become an Olympic hopeful, NBC Sports swimming commentator Dan Hicks said on the broadcast. True, Phelps chopped five and a half seconds off his personal best that March.

“He doesn’t know what it means to go to the Olympics and how it’s going to change his life,” Tom Malchow, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist who held off Phelps in that trials final, said that night, according to The Associated Press. “He’s going to find out soon.”

Phelps, who did his trademark arm flaps before the trials final, made Bowman look like a prophet. Four years earlier, the coach sat Debbie down for a conversation she would not soon forget.

“Told me what he projected for Michael,” Debbie said, according to the Baltimore Sun‘s front-page story on a local 15-year-old qualifying for the Sydney Games. “He said that in 2004, he would definitely be a factor in the Olympics. He also said that he could be there in 2000, to watch out for him. At the time, he was only 11.”

The trials were bittersweet for the Phelps family. Whitney, one of Phelps’ older sisters, withdrew before the meet with herniated discs in her back that kept her from making an Olympics after competing in the 1994 World Championships at age 14.

After Phelps qualified for the Olympics, one of the first people to embrace him was Whitney on the pool deck.

The next week, Phelps, still with bottom-teeth braces, did his first live TV sitdown on CNN, swiveling in his chair the whole time, according to his autobiography, “Beneath the Surface.”

The next month, Phelps finished fifth in his Olympic debut, clocking a then-personal-best time that would have earned gold or silver at every previous Olympics.

Following the Olympic race, gold medalist Malchow patted Phelps on the back, according to “No Limits,” another Phelps autobiography. What did Malchow say?

“The best is ahead of you.”

MORE: Meet Arnie the Terminator, Katie Ledecky’s top rival

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Arnie the Terminator: Aussie rival to Katie Ledecky an unlikely swim story

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In August 2016, a 15-year-old Australian swimmer named Ariarne Titmus followed the Rio Olympics as she prepared to fly to Maui for the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

Titmus paid special attention to her best events, the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles. Katie Ledecky swept them, breaking two of her own world records.

“I remember watching her races thinking, like, this chick is nuts,” Titmus told NBC Sports in Australia early this year. “She’s just doing stuff that no one’s gonna get near.”

Three years later, Titmus stunned Ledecky at the world championships, chasing down the American in the last 50 meters of the 400m freestyle. She became the first woman to beat Ledecky in a distance race in seven years and a bona fide rival one year from the Tokyo Games.

Ledecky at first attributed her late fade to tight and tired legs. Then she spent seven hours the next day in a South Korean emergency room with what she believed was a stomach virus.

“She was sick,” said Dean Boxall, Titmus’ South African-born coach, “and we happened to pounce.”

Titmus’ time — 3:58.76, a personal best by .59 — was slower than Ledecky’s wins at her previous three major international meets — Rio Olympics, 2017 Worlds and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships.

“It wasn’t a good swim by Arnie,” said Boxall, a vocal coach known to shout Ledecky’s name in practices. “And I know it wasn’t a good swim by Katie. Definitely not. But there was things that Arnie did in that race I was pleased with, and there was a lot of things that she did that I was not happy with at all.”

The Olympic postponement to 2021 gives Titmus and Boxall another year to work on those inefficiencies down in Brisbane. Another year to mature, to turn 20 years old before the Games.

“I try not to dwell on that [beating Ledecky] too much,” Titmus, sometimes called “the Terminator” by Australian press, said of the world championships, where she also out-split Ledecky in the 4x200m free relay and took bronze behind the American in the 800m free. “Next year’s the big one at the Olympics.”

Nowhere is swimming closer to a national sport than in Australia, but none of its Olympic champion Dolphins hail from Tasmania, an island 150 miles south of the mainland.

Notable Tasmanian sports persons include cricketer Ricky Ponting, retired NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose and woodchopping world champion David Foster, but no listed swimmers.

Stephanie Rice, the last Australian female swimmer to win an individual Olympic title in 2008, visited “Tassie,” the state a little bigger than West Virginia, nearly a decade ago. She met a young Titmus, who still remembers what Rice scribbled: “Be the best you can be.”

“I say it’s my favorite quote,” Titmus said. “She wrote it on my shirt, so it has to be my favorite quote.”

Titmus was born a week before the Sydney Olympics — “She loved watching Thorpie,” her mom said — and grew up on 16 acres of country land. The family — parents Steve and Robyn and younger sister Mia — had horses, a trampoline and a swimming club just down the road in Launceston.

They also had an indoor pool (areas of Tasmania approach freezing in the winter). One evening more than 15 years ago, Robyn was chopping vegetables and peered to see her elder daughter, then a toddler without formal swim lessons, doing the breaststroke.

“We didn’t know anybody at the swimming club,” said Steve, a longtime TV journalist. “And we turned up and said, hi, we’re the Titmuses. We’ve got a daughter called Ariarne, and she wants to race. Tuesday nights they had club night, and she jumped in the water, and away she went.”

Titmus wasn’t the fastest at first, but by the time she won a third Australian junior title, she became too big for the Apple Isle.

“[My coach] said, look, you can’t really do anything else down here,” Titmus remembered. “There’s no one for you to train with. There’s no one for you to race. It’s all up in Queensland. And he said, if you really want a shot at this, you should really move.”

The family relocated to Brisbane when she was 14 or 15, following Titmus’ coach.

We packed up the car, got on the boat, sailed to Melbourne,” said Robyn, a former national-level track sprinter. “We even stopped at Albury on the way for a training session because the coach she had at the time was a hard task master.”

Right around that time, she first met Boxall while with the Australian junior national team.

“I originally thought this guy is nuts,” Titmus said. “He gave us this speech about the New Zealanders or something were trying to be better than us. His veins were popping. It was crazy. I was like, I’m never ever going to have a coach like him.”

Boxall became her coach about a year later.

“I’ve got great athletes here that hurt themselves, and they enjoy going through the pain,” he said, “but you want to try and get that little bit extra from someone. You have to actually go there with them a little bit.”

In a sitdown, on-camera interview, Boxall first told how he met Titmus, his first impression of her and a bit about their relationship. He first mentioned Ledecky, umprompted, when asked the fourth question, about Titmus’ progression.

Boxall noted that Titmus swam the 400m freestyle in 4:09.81 at the August 2016 Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

“Ledecky went 3:56:46,” Boxall said, correctly noting Ledecky’s Rio Olympic world record to the hundredth, “so we’re 13 seconds off [at] that stage.”

Titmus raced Ledecky for the first time at the 2017 Worlds and finished fourth in the 400m, closing the gap to six seconds. In 2018, she took second to Ledecky at Pan Pacs, 1.16 seconds behind, becoming the first Australian to break four minutes in the event.

At 2019 Worlds, Boxall needed to be alone during the 400m free final. He left the Australian team box and snuck into a VIP area. As Titmus reeled Ledecky in, Boxall stood up and ran.

“Like a shot of adrenaline,” he said. “I couldn’t contain myself, but I was calmer as I’d ever been as well.

“That’s the first race that Arnie has raced Katie and actually was in the race. … Prior to that, it was just Katie.”

Titmus swam 10 seconds faster than when Boxall first compared her to Ledecky in August 2016.

“She’s 2.4 seconds off [Ledecky’s] world record,” Boxall said. “We know what the benchmark is, and we’re still a long way off.”

Titmus recorded the eighth-fastest 400m freestyle in history. Ledecky owns the top seven times.

“The greatest thing apart from obviously winning, I think, [is] being able to actually race someone who has been on her own for so long,” Titmus said. “I find it so crazy that now I’m in this situation where she’s my main rival.”

Scroll down the list, and you’ll see that the top 27 times in history (aside from the now-banned suit era) are shared by Ledecky (23) and Titmus (four).

“She’s certainly special,” Boxall said of his pupil. “Special enough? We’ll see.”

MORE: Simone Manuel’s experiences shape her voice for change today

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