Russian athletes, state accused of obstructing drug tests

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The World Anti-Doping Agency alleged Wednesday that Russian athletes and government agencies continued to obstruct and deceive drug testers, even as Russia tries to regain its place in Olympic track and field.

In a report published two days before a key vote on whether to readmit Russia’s track team for the Rio Olympics, WADA said testers have been intimidated by officials from Russia’s FSB security service and that packages containing samples have been tampered with by Russian customs services.

Athletes have repeatedly provided false information about their whereabouts and evaded drug testers at competitions, WADA said. In one case, an unnamed athlete in track and field attempted to give a fake urine sample using “a container inserted inside her body” but was discovered and tested positive when her real urine was examined.

WADA also says it received reports that athletes were “freely visiting” a “laboratory … with centrifuge and other analytical equipment” during a Russian national wrestling championship. WADA last year claimed secret laboratories could have been used in Russia to screen doped athletes who would fail independent tests, so they could then be kept away from drug testers and avoid bans.

Seven months on from a damning WADA commission report which alleged widespread state-sponsored doping in track and field, the Russian government has admitted failings by its athletes and sports officials, but continues to strenuously deny there has been any state backing for dopers.

The latest allegations relate to the period since the Russian anti-doping agency was suspended in November over accusations it covered up drug use. Since then testing in Russia has been led by foreign authorities, with Britain’s UK Anti-Doping taking the lead.

Wednesday’s WADA report says doping control officers were “intimidated” when trying to find athletes who said they were in so-called closed cities hosting military facilities, and alleges “armed FSB agents threatening DCOs with expulsion from the country.”

When samples were sent abroad for testing, laboratories said the packages had been tampered with by Russian customs officers, WADA said. In such cases, “sample bottles (are) often not with corresponding chain of custody form,” WADA said. That could potentially cause a case to collapse if an athlete convinces a tribunal that samples were mishandled.

Athletes also appear to be dodging tests by withdrawing from competitions at short notice when drug testers are present. In one case an athlete ran away from testers at a competition, and another “exited the stadium” during her own race, WADA said. At a competition in race walking, where top Russians have repeatedly failed drug tests, 15 athletes “did not start, withdrew or were disqualified,” including Olympic medalists.

While UK Anti-Doping has conducted 455 tests since it started work in Russia in February, samples could not be collected in 73 cases for reasons including “athlete not available,” WADA said.

WADA said in May that the number of tests conducted in Russia over the preceding six months had fallen by more than half against the same period a year earlier, when the Russian agency was still controlling the tests. UKAD has significantly less testing capacity than the Russian agency did because of a limited number of staff and delays to payments from the Russian authorities.

Earlier Wednesday, Russia ramped up its campaign Wednesday for its track and field team to be allowed to compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, contending it had met the conditions for reinstatement and saying it would be “obvious discrimination” to exclude athletes who have been not linked to doping.

Two days before the IAAF decides whether to maintain or lift its ban on Russia’s track federation, a group of Russian athletes sent an open letter to IOC President Thomas Bach and a top Russian Olympic official issued a four-page statement appealing for the country’s “clean” athletes to be cleared to compete at the Rio Games.

A blanket ban on all of Russia’s track and field athletes would be unjust to those who have never been implicated in doping and have passed a certain number of tests, the Russians argued.’

The IAAF council meets Friday in Vienna to decide whether to uphold the ban or allow the Russians to compete in Rio.

The International Olympic Committee has scheduled a summit of sports leaders next Tuesday to consider Russia’s eligibility.

Separately, Gennady Alyoshin, the Russian Olympic Committee’s point man for reforms at the Russian track federation, said Russia had met most of the 44 criteria set by the IAAF to be eligible for reinstatement, including changes in the federation, sanctions against dopers and change in the environment.

Meanwhile, the athletes’ commission of the European Olympic Committees issued a statement Wednesday urging the IOC to keep drug cheats out of the games but suggesting that athletes who can show they are clean should be allowed to compete.

“We urge the IOC to take the strongest practicable action to defend clean athletes and ensure honest competition at the Olympic Games,” the statement said.

The European body said athletes deemed “at risk” would have to show they are clean through an “international and independently proven” record of drug tests.

MORE: Russia shot put medalist failed retest, Canadian medalist husband says

Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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