More Russian sports could be banned, IOC president says

Thomas Bach
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LONDON (AP) — The latest allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia could lead to suspension of entire national federations, heavy fines and lifetime Olympic bans, IOC President Thomas Bach said Wednesday.

Bach declined to say whether the IOC would consider banning Russia entirely from this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, maintaining such a move hinges on a choice between “collective responsibility” and “individual justice.”

“We are waiting for the facts,” Bach said. “We need a fair procedure for everybody. Should the allegations be proven true, we will apply our zero tolerance policy, not only with the athletes, but also with regards to everyone implicated within our reach.”

Bach also said the final results of retests of doping samples from the 2008 and 2012 Games – which have caught 31 athletes so far – will be known early next month, in time for drug cheats to be barred from going to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.

Bach said allegations that Russian officials subverted the drug-testing system at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi “represent a shocking new dimension in doping” and an “unimaginable level of criminality.”

Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Russian lab now living in Los Angeles, told The New York Times last week that he ran an organized doping program for Russian athletes and helped switch tainted samples for clean ones. Rodchenkov said he was helped by people he believed to be Russian security officers.

The IOC has asked the World Anti-Doping Agency to carry out a full-fledged investigation and plans to retest Sochi samples stored at the lab in Lausanne, Switzerland. Bach urged anyone with information about the allegations to come forward immediately to WADA and the IOC.

“If these allegations are true, we will hold everybody responsible who is implicated,” Bach said in a conference call with reporters.

He said sanctions could include lifetime Olympic bans on individuals, financial penalties on organizations and “suspensions or exclusion of entire national federations” – in line with the IAAF’s current suspension of the Russia’s track and field body.

The IAAF suspended Russia from global competition following an investigation by an independent WADA panel that detailed state-sponsored doping, corruption and cover-ups in the country’s track and field program.

The IAAF is scheduled to decide on June 17 whether to maintain or lift the ban on the Russians for the Rio Games.

Bach was asked whether, in light of the Sochi allegations, the entire Russian Olympic Committee could be banned from Rio.

“I will not speculate on the result because there comes a decision we have to make between collective responsibility and individual justice,” he said.

The IOC would have to consider “whether in such contaminated federations the presumption of innocence for athletes could still be applied, whether the burden of proof could be reversed,” he added.

Bach said decisions also have to be made taking into account “the clean athletes around the globe.”

“Whatever the results will be, we will do everything to provide a level playing field for all the athletes around the globe and in this way to protect the integrity of the competition of the Olympic Games in Rio,” he said.

The Russian sports ministry said Wednesday it supports banning drug cheats but claimed it would be unfair to keep a blanket ban on all track athletes for the games.

“We strongly believe that clean athletes, who have spent years of their lives training for the games, should not be deprived of the right to participate,” the ministry said.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told the state news agency TASS that Russia was prepared to appoint a foreigner to head its anti-doping agency.

Bach said he had no knowledge of a reported investigation by U.S. federal prosecutors into allegations of state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes. The probe was launched by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, The New York Times reported.

“We have no information on this,” Bach said. “I don’t even know what it is. I don’t know about any legal grounds for this. I don’t know about the scope. I cannot comment on something I do not know.”

Mutko said Russia was surprised by the reported U.S. investigation and suggested the United States should investigate its own national team, because “things are not so rosy there either.”

Bach spoke a day after the IOC announced that 31 unidentified athletes in six sports could be barred from Rio after their Beijing doping samples tested positive. The IOC stores samples for 10 years to allow for retesting with improved techniques.

IOC medical director Dr. Richard Budgett said the athletes’ “B” samples will be analyzed in early June and the results available a few days later.

The IOC has also retested 250 samples from the 2012 London Olympics. Budgett said provisional results from those tests will be available within a week, with testing of the “B” samples to take place “a couple of weeks later.”

Budgett said athletes will be invited to be present for the testing of the “B” samples. If those tests also come back positive, the IOC can issue provisional suspensions. That would be followed by a disciplinary procedure that could bar athletes from Rio and strip them of their previous Olympic results, including any medals.

Budgett declined to say which substances were detected in the retests, but said the process involved improved methods for detecting steroids and EPO.

Budgett added that a test for gene doping developed by Australian scientists was in the final stages of approval and could be ready for use at the Rio Games.

MORE: Russian official: Rio ban would ‘risk tearing Olympic unity apart’

Ilia Malinin’s quadruple Axel sheds light on first figure skater to land triple Axel

Vern Taylor
Vern Taylor, the first figure skater to land a triple Axel in competition. (Getty Images)
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Vern Taylor arrived at the Riverside Skating Club in Windsor, Ontario, on Sept. 15 to do what he has done at that rink for the last three decades: coach figure skaters. But this day was different.

Taylor, who in 1978 became the first man to land a ratified triple Axel in competition, was told that 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin performed the first quadruple Axel the previous night.

“When we heard that he landed it, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s terrific,'” Taylor said by phone.

He was then shown video of Malinin’s feat.

“Anything’s possible,” Taylor said. “43 years [later], that’s something. It’s knowing that you can perform the jump that makes it challenging.”

Malinin, the world junior champion, landed the most difficult jump in skating and checked off the only remaining quad yet to be performed.

At the 1978 World Championships in Ottawa, a 20-year-old Taylor broke through a similar barrier in hitting the last remaining unchecked triple jump. But while Malinin’s senior career seems to be just getting started, and many medals appear in his future, Taylor is largely a forgotten man outside of ardent figure skating followers.

He finished 12th at those 1978 World Championships. Taylor’s 1980 Olympic prospects were dimmed by the fact that Canada had just one men’s singles spot, and he had taken runner-up at nationals in 1978 and 1979 to Brian Pockar, who also outscored Taylor at those years’ world championships. So Taylor stopped competing a year before the Lake Placid Games.

“I didn’t have a reason,” he said. “I just decided to take a break.”

Taylor will always have that day at the world championships in Ottawa. He can still remember the nervousness, knowing that two other skaters also planned to attempt a triple Axel. They were unsuccessful, though Taylor didn’t know it.

“I didn’t see their jumps,” he said. “I didn’t want to know what was ahead of me.”

American David Jenkins landed a triple Axel in Movietone newsreel footage reported to be from 1957, but that was not in competition.

Taylor, skating to music from “Rocky,” put the triple Axel as the third jump of his program, according to reports at the time. The one YouTube video of it, published two years ago, has 32,000 views. It shows Taylor landing the three-and-a-half revolution jump on one foot and spinning out of it while managing to stay on that single skate blade amid a crowd roar.

“During that program, it was like a rock concert,” Taylor said. “I got the energy from the audience.”

The Montreal Gazette reported at the time that the jump was ratified three hours later. Italian Sonia Bianchetti, the men’s referee at the 1978 Worlds, said she met with the assistant referee, the ISU president and a technical delegate.

“During this short meeting it was recognized that Vern had completed the first triple Axel Paulsen jump [Norwegian Axel Paulsen was the skater who landed the first Axel jump in 1882, getting it named after him] in an officially recognized figure skating competition,” she wrote in an email last month. “The triple Axel was fully rotated and landed on one foot.”

One of the people inside the Ottawa Civic Centre that day was 16-year-old Canadian Brian Orser. Orser, inspired by Taylor, later became synonymous with the jump — labeled “Mr. Triple Axel” and landing it en route to silver medals at the Olympics in 1984 and 1988 and the 1987 World title.

Orser remembered Taylor visiting his skating club for an exhibition. Orser saw Taylor doing an Axel takeoff exercise off the ice, incorporated it into his own routine and began teaching it to his skaters after becoming a coach.

Yet another Canadian, Kurt Browning, was the first man to land a ratified quadruple jump of any kind in competition — a toe loop at the 1988 World Championships.

“For me, personally, it was huge,” he said, “because I was promised a car if I could land it.”

Through an agreement with an Edmonton car dealership, Browning was handed the keys to a Quattro — quad/Quattro — after hitting the toe loop. The skater was unaware that the dealer was merely leasing it to him. About six months later, Browning received a call asking to bring the car back.

Browning was inspired by American Brian Boitano, whom he previously saw land a quad outside of competition. Taylor motivated him, too.

“[Taylor] gave me permission, even at a young age, to start thinking bigger,” he said.

Browning also pointed to Jozef Sabovčík, a 1980s skater for then-Czechoslovakia who many believe was the first man to land a quad in competition, Browning included. Sabovčík was initially given credit for a quad toe loop at the 1986 European Championships, but weeks later it was invalidated because he touched down with his free foot, according to reports.

“I never want to come off as arrogant, but despite what ISU [International Skating Union] decided in the end, I do know that I landed the jump on that day,” Sabovčík, who said he performed a quad jump on his birthdays through age 44, wrote in an email. “The fact that most of the people in the skating world believe the same thing, it means everything to me that Kurt is one of them. It would have been nice to have my name in the Guinness Book of Records, but I am also not trying to change history.”

Sabovčík, now 58 and coaching in Salt Lake City, attended March’s world championships in Montpellier, France, where Malinin finished ninth. There, he spoke with Malinin’s parents, Russian-born Uzbek Olympic skaters Tatyana Malinina and Roman Skornyakov, whom he calls friends.

“They told me that he was already doing a quad Axel on a fishing pole harness [in practice], and that it was coming,” Sabovčík said.

Less than two months after that talk, the first video surfaced of Malinin landing a clean quad Axel — at a U.S. Figure Skating jump camp.

“I did not think [a quad Axel] was possible,” Sabovčík said. “It really has to be an athlete that can combine the technical ability with jumping ability with the speed of rotation. When Kurt and I jumped, we had a relatively speaking slow rotation, but we jumped really big compared to these kids. But Ilia, he has the vertical lift, but he [also] has an unbelievably fast rotation.”

The recent proliferation of quads in men’s and women’s skating can be attributed to several factors, including better boots, better ice conditions and improvements in technology that can aid coaching. Still, there are concerns about if and how the pounding of training quads can wear down a skater physically.

“It’s a lot of pain you don’t feel at first, but you know it comes later,” said Frenchwoman Surya Bonaly, who started training a quad in 1989 and attempting it through the mid-1990s. Bonaly had two hip surgeries after her competitive career.

Even Taylor faced those questions.

“People said, ‘Aren’t you worried about injuring yourself?'” he said. “I would say, ‘No, I want you to know it can be done.'”

Sabovčík never tried a quad Axel in his skating days, but Browning did for less than a week in the early 1990s after winning four consecutive world titles.

“Just playing with it,” said Browning, who never tried it in competition. “Ilia has that special ability to not only get up in the air, but then he has that beautiful rotation that doesn’t look hurried. It’s fast, it’s quick as lightning, but it doesn’t look hurried. It’s so easy. Like a good golfer swings easy, and the ball goes 400 yards.”

Browning recalled a conversation he had with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who in recent years made the quad Axel his quest. Hanyu attempted it in competition last season but did not land it cleanly before retiring in July. He said upon retirement that he still hoped to master the jump for his non-competitive show career.

“I asked Yuzu one day, ‘When you do quad Axel, does it just feel like you’re up there forever?'” Browning said. “And he kind of looked at me funny, and he goes, ‘Yeah, like it never ends.'”

The skating world awaits the reserved Hanyu’s thoughts on Malinin’s quad.

“Knowing Yuzu, I would think he’d be very supportive,” said Orser, who coached Hanyu for nearly a decade. “He appreciates that kind of athleticism.”

Orser also noted what comes with being the first — and so far only — skater to land a rarefied jump. Malinin, who headlines Skate America in two weeks, will be asked about the quad Axel in just about every interview for the foreseeable future. For some skaters, they may feel a responsibility to land it all the time.

“But I don’t think [Malinin] thinks too much about it,” Orser said. “His technique is perfect, so he’ll be fine.”

The inevitable topic after that is the next progression in skating: the first quintuple jump. Orser said that Hanyu did five-rotation Salchows in practice with the aid of a harness.

“It’s just a little bit more rotation than the quadruple Axel, so it’s not that far off,” said Sabovčík, whose unratified quad toe loop came eight years after Taylor’s triple Axel. “Now that I’ve seen the quad Axel, I don’t think it’s impossible.”

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Aleksandra Trusova splits from coach Eteri Tutberidze, months after Olympic tears

Alexandra Trusova, Eteri Tutberidze
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Olympic figure skating silver medalist Aleksandra Trusova reportedly split from coach Eteri Tutberidze‘s group, eight months after a tearful scene after the Olympic free skate.

Trusova, 18, will now be coached by Svetlana Sokolovskaya, according to Russian media reports dating to Saturday. All Russian skaters are ineligible to compete internationally indefinitely due to the national ban over the war in Ukraine, but Russia is still holding domestic events.

At the Beijing Winter Games, Trusova became the first woman to land five quadruple jumps in a free skate. She had the highest score that day, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap to fellow Tutberidze pupil Anna Shcherbakova from the short program.

Moments after the competition ended, Trusova was seen crying and yelling at Sergey Dudakov, a member of Tutberidze’s coaching team.

“Everyone has a gold medal! Everyone has! Only I don’t! I hate figure skating! I hate! I will never step on the ice again! Never!” she said in Russian.

Shcherbakova had the individual gold, and the other Russian women’s singles skater at the Games, Kamila Valiyeva, skated both programs of the team event. The Russians placed first in the team event, but medals will not be awarded until Valiyeva’s doping case is adjudicated. It’s possible that Valiyeva gets retroactively disqualified, the Russian team gets disqualified and the other nations all move up with the U.S. going from silver to gold.

Trusova performed at the Russian test skates last month, withdrawing after her short program due to a back injury.

Trusova previously left Tutberidze in 2020 for two-time Olympic champion turned coach Yevgeny Plushenko‘s group, then moved back to Tutberidze’s group after the 2020-21 season.

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