AP

Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova cleared to compete

Leave a comment

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

U.S. Olympic women’s tennis qualifying already looks intense

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Serena Williams is in strong early position to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. For everyone else, including older sister Venus Williams, every set of ranking points could be crucial over the next 10 months, including at the upcoming U.S. Open.

The U.S. has seven women in the world top 36 — not including 52nd-ranked Venus — but only four singles players can go to an Olympics from any one country come the rankings cutoff next June.

Serena Williams leads the way for Americans in second place overall in Olympic qualifying — which counts WTA rankings points starting after the 2019 French Open and running through the 2020 French Open. She has 1,885 points despite playing just two events the last two months, taking runner-up at Wimbledon and the Canadian Open.

Only Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, who has already been named Romania’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer, has more Olympic qualifying points (2,395).

After Serena, three more U.S. women are in the top 10 in Olympic qualifying — Sonya Kenin (No. 5), Madison Keys (No. 8) and Alison Riske (No. 10).

Keys, a quarterfinalist or better at all four Grand Slams in her career, jumped from outside the top 20 among Americans to the No. 3 American by notching her biggest title in Ohio last week.

Notables who must improve their ranking start with Venus Williams, who moved from 18th on the U.S. list to eighth by reaching the Cincinnati quarterfinals. She turns 40 before the Tokyo Games and could become the oldest Olympic singles player since the sport returned to the Olympic program following a 64-year break in 1988. She already owns the modern-era record of five Olympic tennis medals from her five previous Games and could still get to the Olympics in doubles if she doesn’t qualify in singles.

Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 12th in U.S. Olympic qualifying, winning a total of three matches among four tournaments in the window.

The veterans Williams sisters, Keys and Stephens, who made up the 2016 U.S. Olympic singles team, must fend off an emerging class.

Kenin, 20, backed up her French Open upset of Serena Williams by winning a lower-level event in June and then beating the world Nos. 1 and 2 the last two weeks.

Riske is playing some of the best tennis of her career at age 29. She beat world then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make her first Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon, a week before her wedding.

Then there are two of the phenoms of the year. Coco Gauff, 15, is ninth in U.S. Olympic qualifying after a run to the Wimbledon fourth round. Gauff was granted a wild card into the U.S. Open, after which she can’t play in more than five senior tournaments (and possibly no more than three) until her 16th birthday in March due to WTA age restrictions to keep young teens from burnout.

Amanda Anisimova, 17, is 13th in U.S. Olympic qualifying. Her best results this year — French Open semifinal, Australian Open fourth round — came before the Olympic qualifying window.

It’s looking like the toughest U.S. Olympic women’s singles team to make outright since 2004. Back then, the U.S. had Nos. 4 (Lindsay Davenport), 7 (Jennifer Capriati), 8 (Venus Williams), 11 (Serena Williams) and 18 (Chanda Rubin). Davenport, Capriati and Serena didn’t play at the Athens Games, opening the door for Lisa Raymond to play singles and doubles in Athens.

In 2000, Serena Williams didn’t make the Olympic singles field despite being ranked eighth in the world. A max of three players per nation were taken to Sydney, and the U.S. had Nos. 2, 3 and 6 in Davenport, Venus Williams and Monica Seles.

An Olympic rule mandating a minimum of Fed Cup appearances could affect Tokyo 2020 eligibility. However, the fine print allows for that to be bypassed in discretionary exceptional circumstances.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Tokyo 2020 Olympic master competition schedule

U.S. Olympic Women’s Singles Qualifying Standings (Max. 4 can qualify)
1. Serena Williams — 1,885 points
2. Sonya Kenin — 1,081
3. Madison Keys — 972
4. Alison Riske — 802
5. Jennifer Brady — 356
6. Jessica Pegula — 348
7. Madison Brengle — 344
8. Venus Williams — 302
9. Coco Cauff — 298
10. Bernarda Pera — 280
11. Lauren Davis — 245
12. Sloane Stephens — 238
13. Amanda Anisimova — 230

U.S. athletes qualified for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The U.S. Olympic team roster for the 2020 Tokyo Games will eventually reach more than 500 athletes. It is currently at seven.

Qualifying competitions and Olympic Trials events dot the schedule from now into early summer 2020.

Athletes qualified so far:

Modern Pentathlon
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Sport Climbing
Brooke Raboutou

Swimming
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Triathlon
Summer Rappaport

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Tokyo 2020 Olympic master competition schedule