Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova cleared to compete

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LONDON (AP) — Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova was cleared by track and field’s world governing body on Friday to compete as a neutral athlete in the European championships and the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

While her participation in next week’s European meet is assured, it remains uncertain whether the IOC will accept the decision for the Olympics.

The IAAF said its doping review board accepted Stepanova’s application to compete as an independent athlete under “exceptional eligibility” rules.

The 800-meter runner provided evidence to the World Anti-Doping Agency of widespread cheating in Russia that led the IAAF to bar the country’s track and field athletes from international competition, including the Rio Games.

Stepanova, who served a two-year doping ban before turning whistleblower, is now living and training in the United States at an undisclosed location.

The IAAF said Stepanova’s petition to compete was granted because she had “made a truly exceptional contribution to the protection and promotion of clean athletes, fair play and the integrity and authenticity of the sport.”

“Ms. Stepanova is now eligible to compete in international competitions as an independent neutral athlete,” the federation said.

The IAAF added that Stepanova’s participation as a neutral athlete “is still subject to acceptance by the organizer of the competition in question, in accordance with the rules of that competition.”

The IAAF also said Friday that more than 80 Russian athletes have applied to compete in Rio under “exceptional eligibility” provisions.

The ruling on Stepanova came in time to compete in next week’s European championships in Amsterdam. Meet organizers welcomed her participation, saying he will be able to compete under the European Athletics flag. The 800-meter heats will be held Wednesday.

“The decision to accept Stepanova’s participation is in accordance with the competition rules of the European Athletics Championships,” the European body said, adding it also recognized her “exceptional contribution” to the anti-doping fight.

Stepanova’s status for the Olympics remains uncertain, however.

The IAAF and the International Olympic Committee have been at odds over how any Russian athletes would be represented if cleared for the games. The IOC says they should compete under the Russian flag, while the IAAF insists they should be under a neutral flag.

The IOC said Friday it had “taken note” of the IAAF announcement, stressing that Stepanova’s eligibility is contingent on acceptance by event organizers.

“As said before, the IOC will carefully study the case of Ms. Stepanova once the IAAF has passed on the file with all the available information as requested by the IOC,” the Olympic body said in a statement. “The IOC also took note that the IAAF received more than 80 applications from other Russian athletes seeking ‘exceptional eligibility’ in international competitions.”

The IOC has said that entry of Russian athletes for the games would be under the control of the Russian Olympic Committee, which is not suspended. That means they would use the Russian flag.

Stepanova was one of the world’s top 800-meter runners before she and her husband Vitaly Stepanov, a drug-testing official, provided evidence to German broadcaster ARD and WADA that doping was systematic in Russian athletics, with officials helping to cover it up.

Russia was banned from all international competition by the IAAF in November after a WADA commission report alleged state-sponsored doping in the country.

The IAAF upheld the ban last month, saying Russia had failed to meet reform conditions. But the IAAF also approved a measure allowing individuals to compete as “neutral athletes” if they can show they have been regularly tested by a reliable agency. Russia’s own anti-doping agency was almost entirely shut down last year after it faced cover-up claims.

The special eligibility measure is aimed largely at Russians who have been based abroad, and few athletes are likely to be considered, though U.S.-based long jumper Daria Klishina, a two-time European indoor champion, is likely to be one.

The deadline to apply is Monday, and a decision on all claims will be made by July 18. The Olympic track and field competition starts on Aug. 12.

Dmitry Shlyakhtin, the head of the suspended Russian track federation, said his organization was “absolutely neutral” on Stepanova’s eligibility, in comments to the Tass news agency. He added the federation supported 68 applications by Russians to the IAAF but “maybe someone filed applications themselves.”

MORE: 67 Russians apply for Olympic track and field spoots

IOC gives more time to pick 2030 Olympic host, studies rotating Winter Games

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The 2030 Winter Olympic host, expected to be Salt Lake City or Sapporo, Japan, is no longer targeted to be decided before next fall, the IOC said in announcing wider discussions into the future of the Winter Games, including the possibility of rotating the Games within a pool of hosts.

The IOC Future Host Commission was granted more time to study factors, including climate change, that could impact which cities and regions host future Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The 2030 Winter Games host is not expected to be decided before or at an IOC session next September or October.

Hosts have traditionally been chosen by IOC members vote seven years before the Games, though recent reforms allow flexibility on the process and timeline. For example, the 2024 and 2028 Games were awarded to Paris and Los Angeles in a historic double award in 2017. The 2032 Summer Games were awarded to Brisbane last year without a traditional bid race.

Italy hosts the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.

There are three interested parties for the 2030 Winter Olympics, the IOC said Tuesday without naming them. Previously, Salt Lake City, Sapporo and Vancouver were confirmed as bids. Then in October, the British Columbia government said it would not support a Vancouver bid, a major setback, though organizers did not say that decision ended the bid. All three cities are attractive as past Winter Games hosts with existing venues.

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials have said Salt Lake City is a likelier candidate for 2034 than 2030, but could step in for 2030 if asked.

The future host commission outlined proposals for future Winter Olympics, which included rotating hosts within a pool of cities or regions and a requirement that hosts have an average minimum temperature below freezing (32 degrees) for snow competition venues at the time of the Games over a 10-year period.

The IOC Executive Board gave the commission more time to study the proposals and other factors impacting winter sports.

The IOC board also discussed and will continue to explore a potential double awarding of the 2030 and 2034 Winter Olympic hosts.

Also Tuesday, the IOC board said that Afghanistan participation in the 2024 Olympics will depend on making progress in safe access to sports for women and young girls in the country.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch urged the IOC to suspend Afghanistan until women and girls can play sport in the country.

In a press release, the IOC board expressed “serious concern and strongly condemned the latest restrictions imposed by the Afghan authorities on women and young girls in Afghanistan, which prevent them from practicing sport in the country.” It urged Afghanistan authorities to “take immediate action at the highest level to reverse such restrictions and ensure safe access to sport for women and young girls.”

The IOC board also announced that North Korea’s National Olympic Committee will be reinstated when its suspension is up at the end of the year.

In September 2021, the IOC banned the North Korean NOC through the end of 2022, including banning a North Korean delegation from participating in the Beijing Winter Games, after it chose not to participate in the Tokyo Games.

North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, was the only one of 206 National Olympic Committees to withdraw from Tokyo. The country made its choice in late March 2021, citing a desire “to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection.”

The IOC said in September 2021 that it “provided reassurances for the holding of safe Games and offered constructive proposals to find an appropriate and tailor-made solution until the very last minute (including the provision of vaccines), which were systematically rejected by the PRK NOC.”

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Olympic champion Justine Dufour-Lapointe leaves moguls for another skiing discipline

Justine Dufour-Lapointe
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Justine Dufour-Lapointe, the 2014 Olympic moguls champion, is leaving the event to compete in freeriding, a non-Olympic skiing discipline.

“After three Olympic cycles and 12 years on the World Cup circuit, I felt that I needed to find a new source of motivation and had to push my limits even more so I can reach my full potential as a skier,” the 28-year-old Montreal native said in a social media video, according to a translation from French. “Today, I am starting a new chapter in my career. … I want to perfect myself in another discipline. I want to connect with the mountain differently. Above all, I want to get out of my comfort zone in a way I’ve never done before.”

Dufour-Lapointe said she will compete on the Freeride World Tour, a series of judged competitions described as:

There‘s a start gate at the summit and a finish gate at the bottom. That’s it. Best run down wins. It truly is that simple. Think skiers and snowboarders choosing impossible-looking lines through cornices and cliff-faces and nasty couloirs. Think progressive: big jumps, mach-speed turns and full-on attack. Think entertaining.

Dufour-Lapointe has retired from moguls skiing, according to a Freeride World Tour press release, though she did not explicitly say that in social media posts Tuesday.

At the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Dufour-Lapointe denied American Hannah Kearney‘s bid to become the first freestyle skier to repeat as Olympic champion. Older sister Chloé took silver in a Canadian one-two.

Dufour-Lapointe also won the world title in 2015, then Olympic silver in 2018 behind Frenchwoman Perrine Laffont.

Chloé announced her retirement in September. A third Dufour-Lapointe Olympic moguls skier, Maxime, retired in 2018.

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