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IOC to ‘explore legal options’ to potential Russian ban from Rio Olympics

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LONDON (AP) – With just over two weeks until the opening ceremony, Russia still doesn’t know whether its athletes – all or even some – will be competing in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It may all come down to the lawyers.

While the IOC decided Tuesday to ban from the Rio Games all Russian Sports Ministry officials and other administrators implicated in allegations of a state-run doping program, it delayed a ruling on whether to take the unprecedented step of barring the entire Russian Olympic team.

The International Olympic Committee said it “will explore the legal options with regard to a collective ban of all Russian athletes for the Olympic Games 2016 versus the rights to individual justice.”

The IOC has also said it could let individual international sports federations decide on whether to ban Russians from their events in Rio, just as the IAAF has done by ruling track and field athletes from the games. The 28 international federations that govern the individual sports at the summer games have made clear that they do not support a blanket ban,

The IOC’s legal options may become clearer after Thursday, when the highest court in sports will rule on an appeal by 68 Russian track and field athletes seeking to overturn their ban from the games.

Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva was among those arguing the Russian track and field team’s case Tuesday in Geneva at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Should the court rule Thursday in their favor, it would seemingly rule out the chance of the IOC imposing a blanket ban.

If the court upholds the IAAF’s exclusion of the track athletes, however, that would keep the possibility of a total ban in play. Further appeals are also possible, meaning that the final word on the Russians may go down to the wire before Aug. 5, when the Rio games open.

Still, it will take a major leap for the IOC to impose the ultimate sanction of kicking out Russia entirely. IOC President Thomas Bach has repeatedly called for a balance between “individual justice and collective punishment.”

No country as a whole has ever been barred from the games for doping, and Russia is a major force in the Olympic movement as well as a sports powerhouse. The last time Russia was missing from the Olympics was when it boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Games in retaliation for the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the doping allegations “a dangerous return to … letting politics interfere with sport.”

“The Olympic movement, which is a tremendous force for uniting humanity, once again could find itself on the brink of division,” he said in a statement Monday after the release of the report into Russian doping issued by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren.

The 15-member IOC executive board met by teleconference Tuesday to consider its moves following McLaren’s report.

The report, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, accused the Russian Sports Ministry, headed by Vitaly Mutko, of overseeing the doping of the country’s Olympic athletes on a scale larger than previous alleged. It said the ministry had help from Russia’s intelligence service, the FSB.

The investigation uncovered an alleged doping program that ensnared 28 sports, both summer and winter, and ran from 2011 to 2015. It found 312 positive tests that Russia’s deputy minister of sport directed lab workers not to report to WADA.

Mutko on Tuesday denied all wrongdoing and said he expected his subordinates to be cleared. But addressing the ban by the IOC of Russian sports administrators, he said he was ready to accept it because “we have always been guests at the Olympics,” and that the important issue was that the Russian Olympic team go to the games.

The summer sports federations prefer that doping allegations are handled on an individual basis.

The Association of Summer Olympic International Federation asked WADA “to immediately provide all the detailed information to the 20 international federations concerned so that they may begin processing the individual cases under their own separate rules and regulations as soon as possible, and in line with the WADA Code and the Olympic Charter.”

“It is important to focus on the need for individual justice in all these cases.”

Rather than applying a total ban, federations could suspend individual Russian sports. That already was the case with the IAAF ban on Russia’s track athletes from Rio following previous WADA-commissioned reports into Russian doping.

The summer association’s position falls in line with recent comments by Bach, who cited the need for balancing “individual justice and collective punishment.” He said last week that, if summer sports were implicated in the McLaren report, the federations would have to decide on the eligibility of Russians “on an individual basis.”

McLaren’s report also confirmed details of state-supported doping that subverted the testing at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. That included allegations by Moscow’s former lab director, Grigory Rodchenkov, that dirty urine samples of Russian athletes – including medalists – were swapped out for clean ones in covert middle-of-the-night operations at the Sochi lab.

WADA and its president, Craig Reedie, urged the IOC to consider a total ban on Russia. Reedie, who is also an IOC vice president, presented details of the McLaren report to the executive board Tuesday and answered questions about it, before Bach asked him to recuse himself from the meeting because of a “conflict of interest.”

While putting off a decision on banning Russia, the executive board announced a series of measures to punish Russian athletes and officials implicated in doping.

Among the sanctions, the IOC:

– said it will not organize “or give patronage” to any sports event or meetings in Russia, including plans to hold the European Games in the country in 2019.

– will launch retesting, including forensic analysis, of doping samples from the Sochi Games. It set up a commission to carry out a “full inquiry” into all of the Russian athletes who competed in Sochi, along with their coaches, officials and support staff.

– asked WADA to extend McLaren’s mandate to disclose the names of Russian athletes whose positive doping samples were covered up, and whose samples were manipulated in Sochi.

– called on all international winter sports federations to “freeze” their plans for holding major events in Russia, including world championships and World Cups, and seek alternative venues in other countries.

The IOC said the “provisional measures” would apply until Dec. 31, and be reviewed by the IOC that month.

MORE: Olympic sports federations do not endorse total Russian ban from Rio

Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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