Alexander Zubkov, Vladimir Putin, Thomas Bach
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Vladimir Putin spokesman calls Russia doping allegations ‘turncoat’s libel’

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Two Olympic gold medalists from Russia denied doping Friday, a day after they were named in a newspaper report detailing state-sponsored cheating at the 2014 Sochi Games.

Bobsled champion Alexander Zubkov and cross-country skier Alexander Legkov were among the athletes accused in a New York Times article of doping by the former head of the Russian national drug-testing laboratory.

“What’s written now in this article is baseless libel,” Zubkov told Russian state TV, adding that he regularly gave doping samples in his career.

“I’m a person who has worked for many years in sport, competed at the Olympics, and I know how much responsibility each athlete bears when they compete at such a high level.”

The article also brought a strong response from the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s spokesman denounced the allegations as “a turncoat’s libel.”

Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Russian lab now living in Los Angeles, told the Times that he was given a spreadsheet of doping athletes by the Sports Ministry ahead of the games. It allegedly bore the names of 15 athletes who later won medals, including Zubkov and Legkov.

The spreadsheet was not published and The Associated Press could not verify it.

Rodchenkov said he then switched out tainted urine samples for clean ones at the doping lab used for the games in Sochi, with help from people he believed to be officers of the Russian security services.

Legkov defended his “honest medals” and said Rodchenkov, who resigned as lab director last year following separate allegations that he covered up doping in track and field, was not a credible source.

“I don’t understand why a person like this should be believed, trusted or anything else,” Legkov said in televised comments.

Zubkov and Legkov are two of Russia’s most prominent winter sports athletes.

Zubkov carried the Russian flag at the Opening Ceremony for the Sochi Olympics and won gold in the two-man and four-man bobsled events at the age of 39, becoming one of the oldest pilots to win an Olympic event.

Legkov won gold in the men’s 50km cross-country mass start on the last day of the Games and was given his gold medal at the Closing Ceremony.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin rejects the accusations that the Russian government oversaw a state-sponsored doping program and subsequent cover-up.

“It just seems like, you know, some kind of a turncoat’s libel,” Peskov said, without mentioning Rodchenkov by name. “I wouldn’t put trust in such unfounded claims.”

The government continues to back Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, Peskov added.

The World Anti-Doping Agency is set to investigate Rodchenkov’s allegations, and Rodchenkov himself has volunteered to identify which samples he tampered with.

The International Olympic Committee on Thursday said that the “allegations are very detailed and very worrying and we ask the World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate immediately.”

The IOC said, based on the result of the WADA inquiry, that it “will not hesitate to act with its usual policy of zero tolerance for doping and defending the clean athletes.”

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

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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