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USADA CEO: Report could justify Russia’s exclusion from Rio

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A report on Russian doping due out this week is expected to include details about the country’s sports ministry telling its drug-testing officials which positive tests to report and which to conceal. If those details do, indeed, show up in the report, the leader of the U.S. anti-doping effort says nothing short of removing the Russian flag from this summer’s Olympics would suffice.

Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, told The Associated Press he would support the same sort of action for all Russian sports that track’s governing body, the IAAF, took regarding the country’s track team: It barred the team but gave a small number of athletes who could prove they were clean a chance to compete under a neutral flag.

“If it’s proven true, and there’s been intentional subversion of the system by the Russian government … the only outcome is they can’t participate in these Olympic Games under that country’s flag,” Tygart said.

The World Anti-Doping Agency commissioned an investigation, being headed by Richard McLaren, into Russian doping following a New York Times story in May that detailed a state-run system that helped athletes get away with cheating and win medals at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. The McLaren report is due Friday, with public release set for next Monday.

An earlier investigation, headed by former WADA chairman Dick Pound, looked into Russian doping inside the track team; the McLaren investigation is expected to delve into all sports.

In June, based on information from Pound’s report and its own follow-up, the IAAF barred Russia’s track team from competing in the Olympics after deciding it had not moved aggressively enough on widespread reforms.

In announcing the decision, the IAAF issued a report that included preliminary findings from McLaren stating evidence showed a “mandatory state-directed manipulation of laboratory analytical results operating within” the Moscow anti-doping lab from at least 2011 through the summer of 2013.

The preliminary findings also said Russia’s “Ministry of Sport advised the laboratory which of its adverse findings it could report to WADA, and which it had to cover up.”

If those preliminary findings show up in the full report, and turn out to be just the tip of the iceberg, it would represent “an unprecedented level of criminality,” Tygart said.

Tygart previewed the findings to leaders of USA Track and Field at a meeting during Olympic Trials last weekend. There, Tygart said, “what we see now is what happened in East Germany” in the 1970s and ’80s, when doping in the Eastern Bloc went virtually unchecked.

He told USATF leaders: “You have to send a message to states that corrupt the Games. I don’t want to pre-judge the report but indications are that that’s what’s going to be in there.”

USADA chairman Edwin Moses, the gold-medal-winning and world-record-setting hurdler from the 1970s and ’80s, reiterated that point to the USATF.

“If an athlete is going to get sanctioned for two, four, eight years, then certainly the same should happen for any federation or agency or administrators who are involved,” he said.

Shortly after the Times report came out, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach wrote an op-ed piece in USA Today saying that if allegations in the Times story were true, the IOC would “react with its record of proven zero-tolerance policy, not only with regard to individual athletes, but to all their entourage within its reach.”

“Should there be evidence of an organized system contaminating other sports, the international federations and the IOC would have to make the difficult decision between collective responsibility and individual justice,” Bach wrote.

On July 21, the Court of Arbitration for Sport will rule on the eligibility of 68 Russian track athletes who claim they should be able to compete despite the IAAF ban. Still undecided is whether the IOC will allow cleared Russian athletes to compete as neutral, or under the Russian flag.

If the McLaren report is as damning as expected, the IOC and international leaders in the 27 other Summer Olympic sports will have to come up with plans on similar issues on a limited timeframe: Friday marks the three-week countdown to the Rio Games.

Rich Bender, the executive director of USA Wrestling, said he had full confidence in the leadership of his sport’s international federation to handle the situation correctly.

“The international federation has a significant responsibility to do everything in its power to make sure that happens,” Bender said. “If you start making exceptions and compromising positions there, it weakens the statement that doping isn’t tolerated.”

MORE: Russia Olympic doping probe results coming Monday

FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

Gabriel Jesus
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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”