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Russia expects final Olympic decision by Sunday

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s top Olympic official expects a final decision by Sunday on whether the entire Russian team will be banned from next month’s games in Rio de Janeiro over allegations of state-sponsored doping.

The International Olympic Committee is examining the legal options of a blanket ban following a report by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren that accused Russia’s sports ministry of overseeing doping of the country’s Olympic athletes.

“The issue will be finally resolved by the end of this week, probably on Sunday,” Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said Wednesday at a meeting of the ROC.

Zhukov said his committee did not discuss the McLaren report at its meeting, although he also did not rule out legal action if Russia is hit with a total ban from the games.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport will issue its verdict Thursday on Russia’s appeal to overturn the IAAF ban on its track and field athletes for the games. The IOC will take that ruling into account before making its own decision.

Zhukov said he was hopeful of winning the appeal, adding that Russia’s plans for the Olympics assumed the track and field team would be allowed to compete. Russia plans to send a total of 387 athletes, including 68 in track and field, he said.

“Of course we hope for a CAS ruling in our favor,” Zhukov told state TV. “It would be, I’d say, a serious precedent for the other federations’ decisions.”

Regardless of how the various doping-related cases turn out, Zhukov said a Russian Olympic boycott was out of the question.

“These boycotts just lead to a breakup of the Olympic movement,” he said. “I think that Russia will never take part in any boycott.”

The Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, retaliating for the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow that followed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Earlier Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s spokesman said a meeting between Putin and Russia’s Olympic athletes, previously scheduled for Thursday, would no longer take place.

The IOC executive board held a meeting by teleconference on Tuesday to consider its steps in the wake of the McLaren report, which found that 28 summer and winter Olympic sports were affected by state-operated cheating in Russia.

WADA and other anti-doping officials urged the IOC to consider the unprecedented step of excluding the entire Russian team from the Rio Games.

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

The IOC also started disciplinary action against Russian sports ministry officials and others implicated in McLaren’s report, and said they would be denied accreditation for the Rio Games. The list includes Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko.

The IOC is expected to hold another executive board meeting in the next few days, possibly on Sunday, to consider whether to ban the Russian team. The IOC can also let individual international federations decide to ban Russians in their own sports.

The international rowing federation said Wednesday it was investigating whether Russian rowers’ places at the Rio Olympics could be reallocated to athletes from other countries “if there would be a blanket ban on the Russian team or any other ban.”

Russia has five rowing crews entered for the Olympics after a sixth crew was disqualified earlier this month for a doping violation in qualifying.

World Rowing also said it “is undertaking a complete review of testing of Russian rowers since 2011” and has asked WADA for any evidence related to doping by Russian rowers. The McLaren report alleged 11 failed drug tests in rowing had been covered up by Russian officials.

MORE: IOC to ‘explore legal options’ to potential Russia ban

Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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