WADA says Russian track athletes should be independent at Games

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The World Anti-Doping Agency sided against international Olympic officials Wednesday in a statement supporting track and field’s decision to bar Russian athletes from competing under their own flag at the upcoming Summer Games.

The statement, delivered by WADA president Craig Reedie, who is also an IOC member, further scrambled the positions of the world’s foremost sports organizations on an issue that track’s federation, the IAAF, initially portrayed as having support from all sides.

Last Friday, IAAF barred the Russian track team from competing at the Rio Games. It changed its rules to clear the way for a small number of Russian athletes to participate under an independent flag, providing they could show they had been subject to doping controls outside their home country.

The IAAF said it had support of the IOC on the ruling, and the IOC’s initial reaction didn’t appear to veer from that.

But on Tuesday, the IOC countered that decision, saying Russian athletes who were cleared had no choice but to compete as part of Russia’s Olympic committee. Then came Wednesday’s statement from WADA and Reedie, who said “WADA strongly believes that the IAAF decision must be upheld as it was articulated on 17 June.”

“Until the required cultural changes in Russia is well-advanced through strong education and prevention programs, supported by independent doping control and robust compliance programs, WADA cannot assure clean athletes of the world that it is reforming,” Reedie said.

The WADA statement also called out the IOC for not ruling in the case of 800-meter runner Yulia Stepanova, the Russian whistleblower who helped bring to light many of the misdeeds in her country’s anti-doping system. The statement reiterated WADA’s support of the IAAF recommendation to allow Stepanova to compete under an independent flag. On Tuesday, IOC president Thomas Bach said the committee didn’t discuss the issue.

Though there does appear to be agreement on the bottom-line issue of admitting Russian track and field athletes – they will be there, but few in numbers – the decision whether they compete on the Russian team or as independents is clearly turning into more than a mere symbolic debate.

WADA and the IAAF are portraying it as a core issue, arguing organizations as corrupt as Russia’s track team should not be given a spot in international events.

The IOC, meanwhile, is framing it more as a bookkeeping issue.

“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 IOC will allow a group of refugee athletes to compete under the Olympic flag in Rio. Also, Kuwaiti athletes are likely to compete as independents because their national Olympic committee has been suspended for government interference.

Caught very much in the middle is Reedie, who as an IOC member and president of WADA could be seen as supporting both sides. He has been criticized as being conflicted, and too soft on wrongdoers. His statement Wednesday left little doubt about where he stands on this issue.

He also pointed toward the July 15 release of an independent investigation looking into allegations the Russian government helped anti-doping authorities manipulate urine samples at the Sochi Olympics to avoid positive tests. It’s a probe that could have implications for the entire Russian sports program and its government, not only the track team.

“If involvement of the state is clearly established, then sports authorities must collectively respond, in an uncompromised fashion, and ensure that the necessary consequences are put in place to protect clean sport,” Reedie said.

Athletes and the Russian Olympic Committee are appealing the bans to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is the highest court in the sports world and would presumably have final say on any issue that comes before it.

MORE: Russian Olympic boss takes swipe at Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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