Questions and answers on Olympic doping retests

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The IOC announced Tuesday that 31 athletes in six sports and from 12 countries could be banned from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after their doping samples from the 2008 Beijing Games came back positive in retests.

Some questions and answers about the latest doping scandal in sports:

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Q: How can athletes be caught for doping so many years later?

A: The International Olympic Committee keeps all Olympic doping samples for possible retesting. Samples are frozen and stored at the anti-doping laboratory in Lausanne,Switzerland. The original statute of limitations for retesting was eight years, but that was extended to 10 years in 2015. The IOC can retest samples with new and improved techniques to catch cheats who escaped detection at the time. Normally, the IOC prefers to wait until near the deadline so that it can make use of the very latest testing methods. In this case, the IOC decided to test selected samples from Beijing to weed out any cheats before they got to Rio, using “the very latest scientific analysis methods.”

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Q: Which athletes were caught in the Beijing retests?

A: We don’t know yet. The IOC did not identify the athletes, their sports or their nationalities, citing legal reasons. It said it will notify the 12 National Olympic Committees involved “in the coming days” and that details “will follow in due course.” The IOC said it retested 454 samples and targeted athletes who “could potentially” compete in Rio. It’s possible names could start leaking out once the various national Olympic bodies and the athletes are informed. In the meantime, some athletes will be getting nervous.

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Q: What action can the IOC take against the athletes?

A: If athletes are found guilty of doping, they will be banned from competing in Rio. In addition, they could be retroactively disqualified from the Beijing Games and stripped of their results and any medals. Any longer-term punishments and suspensions are up to the individual sports federations.

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Q: What’s the process now?

A: The IOC has not yet laid out how the procedures will work. Normally, if athletes are accused of a doping violation at the Olympics, they are entitled to ask for testing of the backup “B” sample and a hearing is held. With the Rio Olympics starting on Aug. 5, the process will have to take place swiftly.

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Q: What about samples from the 2012 London Olympics?

A: The IOC has also been reanalyzing some London samples, with results of 250 retests “to come shortly.” Those tests, too, focused on athletes planning to compete in Rio. The IOC is also conducting a wider retesting of samples of medalists from Beijing and London, so there is the potential for a major reallocation of medals to come from both those games.

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Q: Is this the first time this has happened?

A: No. The IOC has retested Olympic samples several times in the past. Five athletes were caught in retests of samples from the 2004 Athens Olympics, including men’s shot put winner Yuriy Bilonog of Ukraine. A few months after Beijing, the IOC reanalyzed nearly 1,000 samples with a new test for the blood-boosting drug CERA. Five athletes were caught, including 1500m gold medalist Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain. Nearly 500 doping samples from the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin have been retested. The IOC has not disclosed whether those retests had produced any positive cases. However, these latest retests have produced by far the highest number of positive cases.

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Q: Will samples from the 2014 Sochi Winter Games be retested?

A: Yes. While the IOC could wait until 2024, it said it is taking “swift and decisive action” following allegations by former Russian lab director Grigory Rodchenkov that he was involved in state-sponsored doping in Sochi and manipulated samples to cover up cheating by Russian athletes, including 15 medalists. The IOC said it will work with the World Anti-Doping Agency to analyze Sochi samples “in the most sophisticated and efficient way possible.” It’s unclear what they might find, however, as Rodchenkov said he substituted tainted samples for clean ones.

MORE: Steven Holcomb reacts to Russia bobsled doping report

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

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

Fanchini 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 combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her 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 a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

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

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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