Yelena Isinbayeva
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Yelena Isinbayeva to sue if barred from Rio Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva plans to file suit if Russia’s ban from global track and field competition remains in place and she is barred from competing at the games in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s a direct violation of human rights, discrimination,” Isinbayeva said.

Russia’s athletics federation was suspended by the IAAF in November after a World Anti-Doping Agency commission report detailed systematic, state-sponsored doping. The IAAF is due to rule next month on whether to reinstate Russia ahead of the Rio Olympics in August.

“In the case of a negative ruling for us, I will personally go to an international court regarding human rights,” Isinbayeva said. “And I’m confident that I’ll win.”

Speaking from her home city of Volgograd in a Skype interview arranged by Russian track officials, Isinbayeva held up four forms documenting recent drug tests she had passed — proof enough, she said, that she should be allowed to compete in Rio.

“Of course I’m angry because of this helplessness. All I can do now is train,” she said, adding that young Russian athletes’ careers could be destroyed if they have to wait until 2020 to go to the Olympics. “Four years, it’s a long time. Many of them can be, how can you say, broken.”

Isinbayeva’s comments came as a key adviser to Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said that Russia’s government supports making doping a criminal offense.

Adviser Nataliya Zhelanova told reporters at the ministry that the government hopes to get the law on the statute books for 2017, targeting coaches and officials who encourage or coerce athletes to dope. Fines or prison sentences were possible, she said, though this could change during the legislative process.

“It’s quite a long procedure but now everyone understood that we are in crisis and we have to do quick steps to fix the situation,” Zhelanova said.

In December, the IAAF asked the Russian track federation to consider lobbying for distribution and trafficking of doping substances to be made a criminal offense.

The new head of the Russian track federation maintained Russia was on track to meet IAAF conditions for reinstatement, but admitted to The Associated Press that a notorious training center was still part of the country’s track and field system.

The IAAF last year demanded the federation “immediately suspend all cooperation” with race-walking coach Viktor Chegin‘s state-funded center in the city of Saransk, which has been linked to more than 25 doping cases.

While Chegin was later banned for life, several of his top athletes are still competing and would be Olympic medal contenders if Russia is reinstated.

“I don’t rule out that (athletes are) living and training there,” Russian track and field president Dmitry Shlyakhtin said in an interview with the AP, adding that dozens of coaches who were part of Chegin’s hierarchy remained part of the federation’s system.

“If we shut down the Chegin center as a key point, we can’t stop and we won’t stop 75 coaches who are clean and transparent,” Shlyakhtin said.

Shlyakhtin said those coaches were working with children, but documents from this year’s national championships show top Russian walkers continuing to work with coaches from the main Chegin center. Officially, the athletes now represent local clubs and sports schools in and around the city.

Former Olympic gold medalist Olga Kaniskina, who lost her 2012 Olympic silver medal because of a doping ban, won the Russian 20-kilometer title in February in the fastest time recorded in the world this season. Federation documents list her as being coached by three trainers from the Chegin center and officially representing a children’s sports school, even though she is 31 years old.

“Kaniskina has finished her ban. She’s completely rehabilitated,” Shlyakhtin said. “Western people who are caught doping are not outcasts (either).”

Sergei Kirdyapkin, who lost his Olympic gold medal from 2012 due to a doping ban, is listed as being coached by Chegin center coaches, as is national champion Sergei Bakulin, who was stripped of his 2011 world championship gold. Both recently returned from doping bans.

Ahead of next month’s IAAF vote, Shlyakhtin said he was confident that Russia had made a significant effort to reform.

He said “90 percent” of the conditions for reinstatement had been fulfilled, including extra testing for Russia’s national track team in recent months and a shakeup of senior management.

Shlyakhtin suggested political interference, rather than a lack of reforms, could keep Russia out of the Rio Games, saying that countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, India and “especially China” deserved similar scrutiny on doping. He hinted that international officials turned a blind eye to some violations.

“The brakes are put on a lot of issues and they go away. Let’s all play fair according to one set of rules,” he said.

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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