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IOC opens door for Russia track and field at Olympics

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Some Russian track and field athletes could be competing under their own flag at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics after all.

Leaders of the International Olympic Committee and track’s world governing body appeared split Tuesday over the terms of participation of any Russian athletes cleared to compete at the Aug. 5-21 Games.

While upholding last week’s IAAF decision to ban Russia’s track team for systematic doping, Olympic leaders did not accept the federation’s position on a key issue: that a neutral flag would represent the few athletes given dispensation to apply to compete if they live outside Russia and have undergone rigorous testing.

IOC President Thomas Bach said if any Russians are deemed eligible by the IAAF, they would compete under the Russian flag.

“If there are athletes qualified, then they will compete as members of the team of the Russian Olympic Committee because only a national Olympic committee can enter athletes to the Olympic Games,” Bach said. “There are no teams of international federations there. And the Russian Olympic Committee is not suspended.”

The IAAF appeared caught off guard by Bach’s comments, insisting its position had been accepted by Olympic leaders and saying it will work with the IOC to make sure it is “respected and implemented in full.”

The sharp differences between the IOC and the IAAF emerged after a summit of Olympic leaders called by Bach to follow up on the IAAF’s decision to ban Russia and to take further steps to ensure a “level playing field” for athletes in all sports at the Rio Games.

The leaders called for drug testing of individual Russian and Kenyan athletes across all sports, warning that evidence of inadequate doping controls in those countries could lead to more teams being barred from the Rio de Janeiro Games.

The leaders also called on authorities to pursue sanctions not only against athletes, but against doctors, coaches, officials and other personnel implicated in doping. Bach also lamented “deficiencies” in global drug-testing and urged the World Anti-Doping Agency to hold a special conference next year to address the problems.

“It has to be more transparent,” Bach said. “Everybody has to understand better who is doing what and who is responsible for what and this needs a full review.”

The meeting came four days after the IAAF upheld its ban — first imposed in November — on Russian athletes for a “systematic and deeply-rooted culture of doping.”

The IOC executive board said Saturday it supported and respected the IAAF ruling. On Tuesday, the Olympic leaders agreed “to fully respect” the decision, which Russian officials condemned as unfair to “innocent athletes.” The Russians confirmed they will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“We consider it unfair on the vast majority of our athletes who have never doped and have not violated any criteria,” Russian Olympic Committee chief Alexander Zhukov told the meeting. “They will be punished for the sins of others.”

Zhukov said in comments carried by the Tass news agency that Russia “will not boycott the Olympics, although its national Olympic committee will consider suing the IAAF.

The IAAF last week opened the door to a small group of Russian athletes who live and undergo reliable drug-testing outside the country to apply to compete as “neutral” athletes in Rio — not under the Russian flag. The IAAF said only a handful of athletes fell into that category.

But Bach ruled out the neutral flag, saying it was not for the IAAF to decide.

“We have discussed this decision with the IAAF,” he said. “This decision applies to IAAF competitions (not the Olympics).

“The Russian national federation is suspended. Therefore, the IAAF has chosen this option in order to allow competing in their competition. When it comes to Olympic Games, all athletes then are part of the team of the Russian Olympic Committee,” he said when asked by reporters for clarification.

The IAAF responded that its ruling on the flag was approved and did apply to the Olympics.

The federation said it passed a rule change “to allow Russian athletes to apply for eligibility, on an exceptional basis and subject to meeting strict criteria in international competitions, including the Olympic Games, in an individual capacity as neutral athletes, not under any country’s flag.”

“This decision has been unequivocally supported across sport and the IOC summit today unanimously agreed to fully respect the IAAF decision,” the track federation said. “The IAAF will now work with the IOC to ensure the decision is respected and implemented in full.”

In the end, the final word on the participation of Russians could come from CAS, the highest court in sports.

“This is the good right of everybody,” Bach said. “So we are expecting the results of these potential court cases.”

In a strongly worded speech to the meeting, Zhukov said Russians were turning to CAS to protect athletes with no doping record.

“Banning clean athletes from the Rio Olympic Games contradicts the values of the Olympic movement and violates the principles of the Olympic Charter,” he said. “It is also legally indefensible and devalues their competitors’ success.”

“We hope that CAS will make an objective, fair and lawful decision, in spite of the already publicly announced position of its president,” he added.

That was a shot at CAS President John Coates, who is also an IOC vice president and has spoken in favor of the IAAF ruling.

Still looming over the Russians is a WADA investigation into allegations made by Moscow’s former drug lab chief, Grigory Rodchenkov, that he was involved in a state-backed conspiracy to dope Russian athletes ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and swap tainted samples for clean ones during the Games.

WADA’s final report is due by July 15. If it uncovers further widespread, state-backed cheating in Russia, it could push for further action against Russia.

The summit expanded the scope of the doping investigations to deal with all sports in Russia and Kenya, two countries deemed noncompliant with WADA’s rules. The summit, which also cited “substantial allegations” against those countries, put the onus on each international sports federation to make sure their athletes are clean ahead of the Rio Games.

Kenya — home to many of the world’s top distance runners — has been hit by dozens of positive drug cases in recent years and has struggled to set up a credible anti-doping system. IAAF officials, however, have said Kenya should not be in danger of missing the Games, because its athletes have been subjected to extensive international testing.

MORE: Five Russian track and field stars who may miss Rio

Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

VIDEO: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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