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Russia track, anti-doping changes ‘just fake’ so far, whistleblower says

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MONTREAL (AP) — In the opinion of a whistleblower who uncovered Russia’s doping scourge, most of the changes in the country’s track and anti-doping programs are “just fake,” and not nearly extensive enough to allow the team into the Olympics this summer.

Vitaly Stepanov, who along with his wife, Yulia, blew the lid off systemic doping in Russia, told The Associated Press that he estimated 80 percent of coaches in high-level Russian track had used doping to prepare athletes for the London Olympics. A decision on the track team’s eligibility for the Rio de Janeiro Games is coming next month from the sport’s international federation.

But Stepanov told the AP he hasn’t seen enough reform or penalties to make him believe the team could be clean by the time the Olympics start in August.

“Those 80 percent of coaches must be sanctioned,” he said. “I’ve seen a few coaches facing lifetime bans, but others, they still prefer to hide everything. All the changes being shown are just fake ones.”

The World Anti-Doping Agency is meeting this week in Montreal, where Russia’s issues will be discussed.

An AP review of news reports and official documents announcing sanctions estimates fewer than a dozen high-level athletics coaches and other support personnel have been suspended since the German documentary about the scandal in Russia’s track team aired in December 2014.

Britian’s Sky News television reported that the number of doping tests being conducted in Russia, which have been overseen by Britain’s anti-doping agency since Russia’s was suspended, has fallen dramatically. But Russian sport minister Vitaly Mutko told Sky News the Russians have been cooperating with testers and “there is no basis for our team to not be participating in the Olympic Games.”

Stepanov disagrees. He also has long been flustered by WADA’s slow pace.

The former high-level employee at the Russian anti-doping agency spent four years sending dozens of emails to WADA that laid out precise details about schemes to load up athletes with illegal drugs, then make sure they wouldn’t get caught.

Stepanov said he commonly received nothing more than a simple, three-word response to those emails: “Confirmed. Message received.”

WADA officials say they did not have the authority to act until the anti-doping code was revised in 2015, and they didn’t think turning the information over to Russian authorities would produce results. There are passages in the old code, however, that can be interpreted differently, including one that says WADA’s roles and responsibilities include cooperating with “relevant national and international organizations and agencies, including but not limited to, facilitating inquiries and investigations.”

“WADA continues to obfuscate the issue,” U.S. Biathlon president Max Cobb said. “They keep saying, ‘Show us the evidence.’ But evidence is what you get when you investigate.”

It wasn’t until Stepanov went to the media with his information that WADA finally called for an investigation, leaving a four-year gap — new evidence shows that gap may also include the Sochi Olympics — during which the world’s highest authority on anti-doping knew there was trouble throughout the Russian system but did little.

“I was thinking, there’s this huge structure that’s been there since 2000 and they’ve dealt with this kind of case many times and they have investigators,” said Stepanov, who lives in the United States in a location he does not reveal. “So, I thought it was something that was usual for them. But I guess I was wrong on this one.”

Last year, WADA appointed an independent commission chaired by its former president, Dick Pound. Since Pound issued his first of two reports in November, WADA and track’s governing body, the IAAF, have taken a number of steps, including:

— Suspending the Russian track team and declaring both Russia’s anti-doping agency and the Moscow testing lab out of compliance.

— Putting the British anti-doping agency in charge of testing in Russia.

— Naming international experts to help rebuild Russia’s anti-doping agency.

— Proposing that TV networks pay a portion of their Olympic rights fees into an anti-doping fund, in part to improve WADA’s ability to conduct investigations.

— Naming an independent commission that set a comprehensive list of milestones the Russian track team must meet to have its suspension lifted.

But efforts to clean up Russia’s doping scourge was complicated this week by Stepanov’s latest revelation — that four Russian gold-medal winners at the Sochi Games were using performance-enhancing drugs.

It’s not all that surprising. Pound made clear in his report: “There is no reason to believe that athletics is the only sport in Russia to have been affected by the identified systemic failures.”

WADA announced Tuesday it was investigating the new claims, first by trying to access conversations Stepanov secretly recorded with Grigory Rodchenkov, who resigned as head of Moscow’s anti-doping lab after Pound’s commission issued its first report.

Stepanov said Rodchenkov told him there was a “Sochi List” of Russian athletes who had doped.

“That was really frustrating to learn, that this is what happened in competition that billions of people watch around the world,” Stepanov said. “Some of the competitions are decided not on the field, but in the lab. Obviously, I’m really concerned.”

MORE: WADA probes report of Russia doping at Sochi Olympics

Collin Morikawa jumps into projected Olympic golf field

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Collin Morikawa would not have qualified outright for the Tokyo Olympics had they been held this summer. Now, after winning the PGA Championship, he is third overall in global qualifying for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Morikawa, a 23-year-old who took the same number of PGA Tour starts to win his maiden major as Tiger Woods (29), went from an alternate for the expected four-man U.S. Olympic team to No. 2 among Americans in the early qualifying standings, according to golf rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the other Americans in qualifying position, according to @VC606.

Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, turned professional in June 2019 and made his first 22 cuts, a feat bettered only by Woods.

The 23-year-old could become the youngest U.S. Olympic male golfer since 1904 (important note: golf was not part of the Olympic program from 1908 through 2012). Come next summer, he will still be younger than all but seven men from the Rio Olympic golf field of 60, according to Olympedia.org.

Olympic golf qualifying standings will fluctuate significantly. There are five major championships left in the qualifying window, starting with the U.S. Open in September and finishing with next summer’s U.S. Open, both airing on NBC Sports.

How tough will it be to make the U.S. Olympic team? Consider that the three Americans to win majors in 2019 — Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland — are currently not in Olympic qualifying position.

The U.S. has seven of the top nine in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is calculated differently than Olympic qualifying.

MORE: Nosferatu is golf’s Olympic rankings guru. Who is he?

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He controversially beat Roy Jones Jr. for Olympic gold. He wishes he had silver.

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The last South Korean boxer to win an Olympic gold medal has spent the past 32 years wishing it was a silver.

Entering the men’s light-middleweight final against an American teenager named Roy Jones Jr. on the last day of the 1988 Games in Seoul, Park Si-Hun fantasized about etching his name in the pantheon of South Korean sports legends in front of a delirious home crowd.

He did get his gold three rounds later, but not the way he envisioned.

Park’s win by a 3-2 decision remains as one of the most controversial moments in boxing history, as Jones had seemed to dominate the fight from start to finish.

The outcome drew instant criticism and disdain, even from South Koreans, who heckled Park at the podium and bombarded local TV stations with phone calls protesting that the country’s home advantage had gone too far.

Jones went on to have a phenomenal professional career, retiring in 2018 with a 66-9 record that cemented him as one of the sport’s all-time greats. He is now a boxing commentator and is planning to fight Mike Tyson in an exhibition of retired greats later this year.

Deeply shaken and scarred, Park quietly retired at the end of the Seoul Games and spent the next 13 years as a middle- and high-school teacher in a rural seaside town before making a return to competitive boxing as a coach.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Park said his dream was to see one of his boxers pull off a convincing gold-winning performance in a future Olympics, which he said would possibly give him some sense of redemption and closure.

After three decades, it still stings that his gold is seen as a smudge on the image of the Games his country still glorifies as its coming-out party to the world.

“There’s hardened resentment built up in me that I will probably carry for the rest of my life,” said Park, 54, who now coaches the small municipal boxing team of Seogwipo City in the island province of Jeju.

“I didn’t want my hand to be raised (after the fight with Jones), but it did go up, and my life became gloomy because of that.”

Park still grimaces when talking about his match with Jones.

Desperate for Olympic glory, Park had gutted out the tournament with a broken right hand he suffered during training. He said it didn’t really matter until he met Jones, the one opponent in Seoul who was quicker than him.

With the injury taking away his right-hand, Park simply had no chance at slowing Jones, who was coming at him with “excellent speed, power and technique.”

“I was pretty quick for a middleweight, but Jones was at a different level,” Park recalled. “A boxer just knows whether he had won or lost a match. I thought I lost because I didn’t put up a fight deserving of a win.”

Park said he felt “confused” when the referee raised his hand. Wearing a stunned look on his face, Park awkwardly embraced and held up an expressionless Jones into the air.

He said he couldn’t wait to get off the podium, where he smiled weakly and slowly waved a bouquet of flowers toward the stands as fans let out hesitant cheers and scattered boos.

An even more humiliating moment came when a South Korean national broadcaster invited all of the country’s 12 gold medalists to a live TV celebration shortly after the Games. The host treated Park like he wasn’t there while interviewing each of the other 11.

There was an outpouring of media criticism and what Park described as “unspeakable” insults, which included derisive public calls for him to forfeit his medal.

The emotional distress “was like being hit with a hammer on the back of your head, again and again.”

“I keep thinking how my life would have been happier had I finished second,” Park said. “A gold medal is important, but isn’t any Olympic medal satisfying and glorious?”

Park said the sense of defeat and depression sometimes led to suicidal urges. He credits his wife for helping him navigate out of his darkest moods. The couple contemplated moving to a different country before deciding to stay after they had children.

Their youngest child, Rei, now a 20-year-old college student in Louisiana, has his own athletic ambitions, training as a javelin thrower with dreams of competing in the 2024 Olympics.

Park said he keeps his Olympic gold framed on a wall at his home in mainland South Korea, along with other awards he won in amateur competition. He doesn’t recall ever bringing it out of the house.

While Park doesn’t have many regrets about never going pro, saying he probably wouldn’t have gone far with an evasive style built for efficiency and avoiding hits but not for initiating pain, he still watched Jones’ post-Olympic triumphs with envy.

He wondered whether the public would ever forget the fiasco surrounding his gold medal, which the South Korean media brought up after almost every Jones fight or whenever there was controversy in any Olympic sport. He would try to laugh it off whenever students asked about his gold at school.

After overlooking him for years, South Korea’s boxing association reached back to Park in 2001, asking him to coach the national team following years of disappointing performances in international events, which reflected a dearth of talent in the sport.

During his on-and-off coaching stints with the national team since then, Park trained several boxers who performed decently in various events, but they never came close to an Olympic gold.

Park had the highest hopes for Lee Ok-Song, who won the men’s 51kg division in the 2005 World Championships. But Lee failed to reach the quarterfinals of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and retired after the Games.

Park said he had occasionally kept in touch with Jones, including a brief telephone conversation with him in 2004 while visiting Atlanta for an international event.

The International Olympic Committee in 1997 concluded it had found no evidence to support bribery allegations against the judges who voted in favor of Park in the Seoul Games.

The U.S. Olympic Committee had called for an investigation in 1996 after documents belonging to East Germany’s Stasi secret police revealed reports of judges being paid to vote for South Korean boxers.

While Park left South Korea’s national team after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, he hasn’t given up on his goal of winning an Olympic gold as a coach.

Among the four boxers he trains in Seogwipo, Park is most impressed with Kang Hyeon-Bin, who competes in the men’s 64kg division, and Cho Hye-Bin, a woman in the 51kg category.

“I am constantly looking for a raw stone I could polish into a jewel,” he said. “I want to sculpt a true Olympic gold medalist with my own hands and see that fighter take the highest spot on the podium. That would restore my honor and allow me to leave the boxing ring for good.”

MORE: Top U.S. Olympic boxing hopeful cleared of doping violations caused by sex

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