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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

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

MORE: World’s top skater leaves famed coach

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Respectfully, Donavan Brazier believes he has a chance at legendary record

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On the night of the biggest race of his life, Donavan Brazier met the man whom he is trying to succeed and, perhaps, supplant.

David Rudisha, the two-time Olympic 800m champion and world-record holder, told Brazier before the Oct. 1 world championships 800m final that he believed in the 22-year-old American more than any other man in that night’s event.

Later that evening in Doha, Brazier proved the sidelined Kenyan prophetic, winning in a national record 1:42.34 and becoming the first American to win a world title in the event.

Brazier, in his first global championship final, also ran the fastest time by somebody that young since Rudisha’s 2012 Olympic title and world-record epic pulled that field to personal bests.

Rudisha’s mark of 1:40.91 — from a race Brazier has watched dozens of times — is still significantly faster. That hasn’t stopped followers from wondering if Rudisha’s days as world-record holder may be numbered.

Sounds like Brazier may be wondering, too.

“I think I definitely have the opportunity,” Brazier told NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey in a watchback of his 2019 Diamond League and world titles. “If we’re looking at guys that are currently racing right now, I think I might have the best opportunity to do it.”

Brazier exercised caution. He was by no means predicting such a feat.

“David Rudisha, when he first broke it, he was a once-in-a-century athlete,” Brazier said. “For someone to break it so quick and just to say it so nonchalantly, I think it’s not really giving David Rudisha the respect that he deserves. A 1:40.91 is a really dangerous record to break.”

Brazier, who took up running in middle school in Michigan rather than football because he was “terribly skinny,” quickly became a dangerous prospect. In 2016, he went into the Olympic Trials ranked third in the world as a Texas A&M freshman.

Then came the obstacles. Brazier was eliminated in the first round of trials, three weeks after winning the NCAA title on the same Oregon track. In 2017, he won the U.S. title but failed to make the world final. He didn’t race at all outdoors in 2018 due to a foot injury.

Brazier looked at 2019 as a redemption year. He hit a series of successes: an American indoor 800m record, the world’s fastest indoor 600m in history, his first Diamond League win, a repeat national title and the Diamond League Final title.

Brazier said that last victory in Zurich took him from “not a well known guy, maybe a medal contender, maybe not,” to the world championships favorite. Rudisha hasn’t raced since 2017 due to injuries.

Brazier, after meeting Rudisha and former world-record holder Seb Coe, capped the season with his biggest title yet in Doha. The feeling was more relief than happiness. Brazier, after getting knocked down repeatedly in his first two seasons as a pro, noted that Muhammad Ali also won his first world title at age 22.

Brazier mouthed “thank you” after crossing the finish line, a salute to everybody who helped him reach that point.

“I’m thanking myself, too, because I’m the one who put in all the hard work to do it,” Brazier said. “I’m not saying that this is the end of my career, but it was definitely the peak of my career and the pinnacle of it. I never accomplished anything on a stage like that.”

MORE: Dalilah Muhammad rewatches 2019 world records

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