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Russia should be banned from Rio Olympics, WADA says

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The World Anti-Doping Agency’s executive board wants the IOC to ban all Russian teams from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

WADA issued a seven-point list of requests after it published a report which confirmed claims of state-backed Russian cheating at the Sochi Olympics and beyond.

WADA also wants Russian government officials to be denied access to international competitions, including the upcoming Olympics.

The anti-doping watchdog also calls on world governing bodies of sports implicated in the inquiry report to consider action against Russian national bodies.

The WADA response is a further signal Russia could be facing Olympic expulsion when the 15-member IOC executive board discusses the crisis on Tuesday.

WADA’s president, Craig Reedie, is also an IOC vice president who will take part in the scheduled conference call requested by IOC President Thomas Bach.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said accusations against Russian athletes were based on evidence provided by a person of wretched reputation, according to Russian news agency TASS.

The tactics Russia’s government and sports leaders used to help their Olympic athletes get away with doping now have a name: “disappearing positive methodology.”

The practice lasted at least four years, covered 28 Olympic sports and the Paralympics and involved at least 312 positive tests that went unreported at the behest of higher-ups in the country’s sports ministry, according to a 97-page report issued Monday.

“A mind-blowing level of corruption within both Russian sport and government,'” is what Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, called it.

But in his report on Russian doping, arbitrator Richard McLaren did not make any recommendations for the future of the Russian team at the Rio Olympics. He said it was up to others, including the International Olympic Committee, to “absorb and act upon” the report.

Bach called the revelations a “shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sports and on the Olympic Games” and said the IOC wouldn’t hesitate to apply the toughest sanctions available against those accused of cheating.

McLaren’s report said allegations made by Moscow’s former anti-doping lab director about sample switching at the Sochi Olympics went much as described in a New York Times story in May. That program involved dark-of-night switching of dirty samples with clean ones; it prevented Russian athletes, including more than a dozen medal winners, from testing positive.

But McLaren said the bottle tampering in Sochi was a one-shot deal. Meanwhile, Russia’s “disappearing positive methodology” began in 2011, shortly after Russia’s disappointing performance at the Vancouver Olympics. It included the 2013 track world championships in Moscow and was in place as recently as the 2015 swimming world championships in Kazan.

In short, Russia’s deputy minister of sports, who was also part of Russia’s Olympic Committee, would direct workers at Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory of which positive samples to send through and which to hold back. Assisting the plan was Russia’s national security service — the FSB, the current version of the Soviet Union’s KGB.

McLaren said out of 577 positive sample screenings, 312 positive results were held back — or labeled “Save” by the lab workers — but that was only a “small slice” of the data that could have been examined. More than 240 of the 312 “Saves'” came from track and field and wrestling, but other sports involved included swimming, rowing, snowboarding — and even table tennis.

McLaren suggested the numbers could have been higher, but he had only 57 days for his investigation, which was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency after the Times story came out.

Time is crucial because the Olympics begin Aug. 5, and decisions about Russia’s participation in Rio must be made.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is one of several sports organizations that said it would call for a full ban of the Russian team if the report showed evidence of a widespread, state-sponsored doping conspiracy. McLaren’s report said it did, and the investigator said he was “unwaveringly confident in my report.”

He insisted there was no leak of his report, as several sports organizations suggested over the weekend, when draft letters calling for Russia’s ban were leaked to the media.

U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said the report proved a point he’d made earlier this summer.

“The current anti-doping system is broken and urgently requires the attention of everyone interested in protecting clean athletes,'” he said.

He was relying on the IOC and international sports federations to figure out appropriate sanctions. But there is far from a consensus on what those sanctions will be, as the sports world toes the line between what Bach called “collective responsibility and individual justice.”

Among those not in favor of a full Russian ban was the head of gymnastics — a sport that was not among the 28 with non-reported positives.

“The right to participate at the games cannot be stolen from an athlete, who has duly qualified and has not be found guilty of doping,” said Bruno Grandi, president of gymnastics’ international federation. “Blanket bans have never been and will never be just.”

MORE: Thomas Bach cites ‘right to individual justice’ in Russian doping

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Carreira, Ponomarenko understand the depth of U.S. ice dance at nationals

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GREENSBORO, N.C. Heading into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro this week, up-and-coming ice dancers Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko focused on their “quads” not four-revolution jumps, but still pretty tough to execute.

“(Our coaches) have us doing double run-through weeks, triple run-throughs, even quadruple run-throughs, to make sure we’re fully ready,” Carreira said. “We’re drilling a lot more, so at nationals we go in 100 percent confident.”

Pasquale Camerlengo, who trains the team along with primary coach Igor Shpilband, agreed that the run-up to Greensboro has been grueling for the skaters from Novi, Mich.

“We always plan a week we call the quads, performing (programs) four times,” Camerlengo said. “We’re trying to make them ready physically and work their stamina, to handle their programs in competition, which is a little bit different than in practice. Physically, they’re ready for it.”

Tough practices are just one component of what’s been a challenging but productive sophomore senior season for the two-time world junior medalists, fifth in the U.S. in 2019.

Thus far, they’ve competed at six international competitions, stretching from Lake Placid, N.Y., in August to NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan, in late November. Six is a lot, considering other top teams they’ll compete against in Greensboro have competed three to five times so far this season.

“Igor wants to get more experience at the senior level, and also more world points,” Carreira, 19, said. “For that we have to compete. We get out there and compete as much as we can, so our programs feel more trained.”

Those programs – a rhythm dance to Cole Porter’s “It’s Too Darn Hot” and flamenco free dance to “Farrucas” – stretch their abilities far more than last season’s routines. Competing every two weeks or so left little time to make adjustments, so the past six weeks were the key to their preparation for Greensboro.

“We pushed a lot of changes we needed to make until after NHK, to smooth out the programs and really train them,” Ponomarenko, 19, said.

He added that the grueling first half of 2019-20 was a necessary ice dance rite of passage.

“It’s very different from our first season. We really didn’t know what to expect. Now we kind of know where we’re at and how we can improve. We definitely feel the sophomore slump this year, but we just want to compete and keep putting our good performances.”

On paper, Carreira and Ponomarenko’s 2018 Grand Prix results – which included a bronze medal at Rostelecom Cup – look more impressive than the sixth-place finishes they earned at Skate America and NHK this season. But the skaters don’t think the placements tell the full story.

“Last season, results-wise, it might have looked better, because a lot of (top) teams took the Grand Prix season off last season,” Carreira said. “This season, I feel our programs are more difficult and we’re skating better. We want to improve our consistency so that we can compete with the top teams.”

It doesn’t take much to lose points in an ice dance routine, especially on step sequences and “twizzles,” a series of fast rotations moving across the ice. A few slips here – including a small mistake on their twizzles in the rhythm dance at Skate America – can easily drop teams out of the top group.

“They always have the feeling they could do more,” Camerlengo said. “But the season is a progression. They’re getting better and better. That’s the goal, to have them (be) more reliable.”

“They need to do what they’re capable of,” he added. “They just have to do what they’ve learned, with no fear, and just go for it.”

In Greensboro, Carreira and Ponomarenko will have to throw caution to the wind to grab one of the three U.S. ice dance spots at the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal this March.

With Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, very likely battling for gold, the Michigan skaters have their sights set on bronze. It’s a herculean task, considering the reigning U.S. bronze medalists, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and notched career-best scores at Skate Canada this fall.

All three of those teams train together in Montreal. 

But Carreira and Ponomarenko think their programs, strengthened by adjustments and all of those quadruple run-throughs, give them a fighting chance.

“(A bronze medal) is more realistic now than last season,” Carreira said.

“I believe we’ve really grown as skaters,” Ponomarenko said. “Our programs are much more difficult, which has really helped us improve. I believe the podium at nationals is very reasonable. It could be achieved with some good skating.”

Other teams could be in the mix. Last season, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter placed a strong fourth, but injuries forced them to withdraw from one of their Grand Prix events this fall. A new pairing, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, has gelled quickly, winning two medals at Challenger Series international events.

“The level of U.S. ice dance level is high, the depth in the U.S. is really the top worldwide,” Camerlengo said. “But the podium, it is reasonable for Christina and Anthony. They have been working hard and they have a very good level to fight for the medal. We’ll see how they will perform here. They’re ready for it.”

Not all of the team’s challenges are on the ice. The Montreal-born Carreira – who has lived and trained in Novi since she was 13 – faces hurdles gaining her U.S. citizenship, without which the couple cannot compete at the Olympics. Last May, she petitioned U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be deemed an “alien with extraordinary ability” under the immigration code, which would help smooth the way for legal permanent residency status. She was denied and filed suit against the USCIS, later dropping the action.

Carreira is still working to achieve a pathway to U.S. citizenship and prefers not to discuss the issue.

“I can’t really say anything,” she said. “We’re working on it, we’re hoping for the best.”

Citizenship issues never entered the skaters’ minds when they teamed up in the spring of 2014. Ponomarenko and his parents, 1988 Olympic ice dance champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, had long admired Carreira’s skating. When he and his former partner Sarah Feng split after the 2014 U.S. Championships, he tried out with Carreira in Novi.

“We really worked well together from the beginning,” Ponomarenko said. “I had wanted to skate with Christina for a really long time even before getting together, so it was no-brainer. The bump in the road (citizenship) can be worked through.”

“There were so many good factors it would be, I think, stupid to let something that can be fixed get in the way of (our partnership),” Carreira said. “We didn’t even think about it.”

The ice dance competition in Greensboro kicks off with the rhythm dance on Friday afternoon, with medalists decided with the free dance on Saturday night.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

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.

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Coronavirus forces Olympic soccer and boxing qualifiers to move

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Olympic qualifying events in two sports were moved from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Wednesday because of an outbreak of a deadly viral illness.

A four-nation Asian qualifying group for the women’s soccer tournament was switched from the city at the center of the health scare to Nanjing.

The Asia-Oceania boxing qualifying tournament scheduled for Feb. 3-14 in Wuhan was cancelled. No new plans were announced.

The decisions followed Chinese health authorities telling people in Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings.

The Asian Football Confederation said the round-robin group — featuring host China, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand — will be played on Feb. 3-9, retaining the same dates, in Nanjing.

More than 500 people have been infected and at least 17 killed since the outbreak emerged last month. The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus.

Cases have also been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. All involve people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.

In the soccer qualifiers in China, two teams advance to a four-nation playoff round in March. That will decide which two teams from Asia join host Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

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