Vladimir Putin spokesman calls Russia doping allegations ‘turncoat’s libel’

Alexander Zubkov, Vladimir Putin, Thomas Bach
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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

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

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Elena Fanchini, an Italian Alpine skier whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini, the 2005 World downhill silver medalist at age 19, passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in the combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her World Cup win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won her world downhill silver medal in Italy in 2005, exactly one month after her World Cup debut, an astonishing breakout.

Ten months later, she won a World Cup downhill in Canada with “Ciao Mamma” scribbled on face tape to guard against 1-degree temperatures. She was 20. Nobody younger than 21 has won a World Cup downhill since. Her second and final World Cup win, also a downhill, came more than nine years later.

In between her two World Cup wins, Fanchini raced at three Olympics with a best finish of 12th in the downhill in 2014. She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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