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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

Brigid Kosgei, Eliud Kipchoge herald new era of fast marathons

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Eliud Kipchoge‘s success in breaking the two-hour mark (final time: 1:59:40) for the marathon on Saturday was expected. He had come close before, and like Alex Honnold‘s unprecedented climb of El Capitan documented in the film Free Solo, the feat required meticulous planning — the ideal mix of pace-setters, course conditions and weather — to steer a once-in-a-lifetime talent to a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.

Brigid Kosgei‘s world record at the Chicago Marathon on Sunday was a far greater surprise. Kosgei had run fast times before, but her time of 2:14:04 took more than four minutes off her personal best earlier this year in London, which is typically a faster race than Chicago.

MORE: Chicago Marathon results

The two feats had some common threads. Both runners are Kenyan, no surprise in an event in which the top 100 men’s performances of all time are almost exclusively Kenyan and Ethiopian and the top of the women’s all-time list is similarly homogeneous aside from the presence of British runner Paula Radcliffe, whose time of 2:15:25 had stood as the world record for 16 1/2 years until Sunday. Radcliffe was present in Chicago to greet Kosgei when her record fell.

Kipchoge and Kosgei also wore the same shoes, Nike’s ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%, thanks to Kosgei’s last-minute decision to switch. Earlier versions of those shoes, like the high-tech swimsuits that were eventually banned from competition or golf equipment whose advertising revels in their alleged illegality,

Both marathoners also had pace-setters running with them. Kipchoge’s effort took the concept to an extreme, with an all-star cast running pieces of the course in front of him, and will not be considered an official world record because it didn’t happen under race conditions. (The Atlantic ran a piece on the Kipchoge run with the headline “The Greatest, Fakest World Record,” though the piece itself was more inquisitive than judgmental.)

MORE: Kipchoge shakes off nerves to break barrier

Kosgei was running in an actual race and has already had her time touted as a world record by the international organizer IAAF, but because she was running in a mixed-gender race, she was able to run behind two hired guns, Geoffrey Pyego and Daniel Limo. They were easily distinguished from men’s race contenders by the singlets with the word “PACE” written in the space where a number or name would usually go.

But in general, marathoners are simply getting faster and faster. Perhaps it’s scientific, with specifically engineered shoes, pace-setters and refined training methods, or perhaps all the tinkering and lab experiments are simply a sign of increased focus on the race that traces its history to the myth of the Greek soldier Pheidippides running such a great distance to herald a momentous military victory before falling over dead.

Of the top 20 women’s times on the IAAF list, only five were run before 2012 — one by Catherine Ndereba, four by Radcliffe. Three were run in 2017, then six in 2018 (three in Berlin) and four this year. All 20 of the fastest men’s times have been posted this decade, eight of them in 2019 alone. Kipchoge, in addition to his unofficial best from this weekend, has the official record of 2:01:39 from the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

The all-time list also reminds us that, for all the controversy over the context of Kipchoge’s run, marathons aren’t really standard, anyway. Some courses are more difficult than others. Some races, like the Boston Marathon, aren’t eligible for record consideration for a variety of technical reasons. (Boston’s hilly course doesn’t lend itself to fast times, anyway — the men’s course record of 2:03:02, set by Geoffrey Mutai in 2011, would rank seventh all-time, but no other time would crack the top 100. The women’s course record is nowhere near the best ever.) London, Berlin and Dubai are the places to go for assaults on the record book.

No matter where the race takes place or how it was run, fast times in the marathon capture the imagination.

Purists may cling to romantic notions of long-haired, bearded runners pounding the Boston or New York pavement in shoes that didn’t even have a basic level of air cushioning. But the modern marathon era is built for speed.

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Danielle Perkins is first U.S. boxer to win world title in 3 years

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Danielle Perkins became the U.S.’ first world champion boxer in this Olympic cycle, taking the heavyweight crown in Russia on Sunday.

Perkins, a 37-year-old who played college basketball at George Mason and St. John’s, improved from bronze in 2018 to earn her first world title, blanking defending world champion Yang Xiaoli of China 5-0 in Sunday’s final.

Video of the bout is here.

Perkins was slated to fight Yang in the 2018 World semifinals but withdrew due to medical reasons, according to USA Boxing.

The heavyweight division is 81+kg, but the heaviest Olympic weight division is capped at 75kg.

The last American to earn a world title was Claressa Shields in 2016, before she repeated as Olympic champion in Rio and moved to the professional ranks.

The Olympic trials are in December in Louisiana, after which winners will fight internationally in early 2020 in bids to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

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