Craig Reedie - Getty Images

WADA says Russian track athletes should be independent at Games

Leave a comment

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

Alysa Liu repeats as U.S. figure skating champion at age 14

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alysa Liu repeated as U.S. figure skating champion, continuing her build toward the 2022 Beijing Olympics by becoming the first woman to land a quadruple jump (albeit under-rotated) at the national championships.

Liu, who last year became the youngest U.S. champion in history at 13, rallied from a short-program deficit to distance Mariah Bell by 10.31 points in Greensboro, N.C. Liu became the first repeat women’s champion since Ashley Wagner in 2013, performing under pressure as the last skater going after Bell brought the house down.

“I was like, wow,” Liu said of Bell. “I was kind of clapping along with the crowd. I guess I was kind of inspired by her emotion and her happiness. I guess that inspired me at the end of my program to relax and be happy and just kind of be aware of the moment.”

Bradie Tennell, the short-program leader, dropped to third after falling on a triple loop.

The night’s emotional moment occurred two hours earlier. Gracie Gold, in her first nationals in three years, was brought to tears after coming back from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety.

“The full arena pulling for my existence, like, on the ice,” said Gold, who finished 12th, lacking the most difficult jumping combinations but determined to continue next season. “I want everything now when I demand it, but I have to remind myself of that it is a progression. And next, we just kind of keep the train going.”

More on Gold’s night here.

Nationals continue Saturday with the pairs’ free skate, free dance and the men’s short program, live on NBC Sports.

NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

Liu nailed a pair of triple Axels — as she did last year — and (barely) an under-rotated quad Lutz in her free skate. No other active U.S. senior woman has landed either of those jumps in competition. At least one is necessary to contend with the world’s best — Russians competing at the European Championships this week.

Liu is too young to compete on the senior international level until the 2022 Olympic season. She ranks third in the world among junior skaters this season, behind two Russians, going into March’s junior world championships.

Bell, the oldest skater in the last group at 23, had her best nationals result after bronze medals in 2017 and 2019. She skated clean with seven triple jumps, much to the delight of her coaches at rink level — Rafael Arutunian and Olympian Adam Rippon.

Tennell, who couldn’t bend one of her arms on Wednesday, fell on the last of her 10 jumps in the free skate, a triple loop.

For the second straight year, Tennell topped the nationals short program, fell in the free skate and dropped down the podium. Stunning given Tennell broke through in the 2017-18 season as the only elite international skater without a fall going into the Olympics.

Bell and Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, will likely make up March’s senior world team for a second straight year. A U.S. Figure Skating committee makes that decision.

Earlier, Madison Chock and Evan Bates topped the rhythm dance with 87.63 points, taking a 1.32-point lead over two-time defending champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue going into Saturday’s free dance. They could become the first U.S. skater, couple or pair to go five years between national titles in many decades.

Chock and Bates came out of the Sochi Olympics as the top U.S. couple, succeeding Meryl Davis and Charlie White. But they fell behind both Hubbell and Donohue and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani going into the PyeongChang Olympics.

After that, Chock underwent ankle surgery. The couple moved from Michigan to Montreal. They now train with Hubbell and Donohue and world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

“We’re just finding our groove right now,” Bates said. “It feels like we’re just having a bit of a renaissance with our career.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Vincent Zhou put Ivy League classes on hold to return to figure skating

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Gracie Gold in tears at figure skating nationals after emotional comeback

Leave a comment

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Gracie Gold received a standing ovation from the crowd inside the Greensboro Coliseum after her free skate Friday night. It was her first nationals performance in three years after time away from the sport to treat depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.

“Truthfully, I was almost so overwhelmed that I was just very much existing in the moment because I couldn’t exist anywhere else,” she said of being brought to tears at center ice when her program concluded. “Then, obviously, the audience reaction I felt like was very powerful.”

Gold has received other standing ovations in the past, at the conclusions of her two national title-winning free skates in 2014 and 2016.

“It reminded me a little bit more of 2014, where, yes, I had skated well but people were also standing because it was semi-clear that I had won aka I had qualified for the Olympics,” she said. “People were up before the end. It had that kind of energy where even as I was getting into the knee slide, it felt like it got bigger. Obviously, the skating didn’t warrant a full-arena standing ‘O.’ It didn’t.”

She was 13th after Thursday’s short program and 12th overall in a field of 18 skaters. In her free skate, set to Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to be Mine,” Gold landed four triple jumps but several planned triples ended up doubles or singles.

Eagle-eyed fans might have noticed a moth tattoo peaking out of her costume. She explained that she got it during her retirement, and it had a special meaning.

“It’s representative of a moment that I had in treatment with some of the other girls,” she said. “We were discussing tattoos, and a lot of them had different ink. One had had a skull, and she was gonna change it into a moth. I asked her, why a moth? She said, ‘It’s because they always find the light.’ I kid you not, a large black moth came and landed in the middle of our table and didn’t move. So, in retirement, I of course found my way into a tattoo parlor. And yes, now I have a piece.”

Audiences haven’t seen the last of her, she said. Gold isn’t finished with the comeback and has plans to skate next season.

“I think we’ve earned that,” she said.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.