Sergey Shubenkov
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World hurdles champ ‘will get drunk’ if barred from Rio

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ZHUKOVSKY, Russia (AP) — Long jumper Ekaterina Koneva says she’ll cry. World hurdles champion Sergei Shubenkov says he’ll drown his sorrows.

A day before a sports court rules on Russia’s appeal against the ban on its track and field team from the Olympics, star Russian athletes at a meet near Moscow pondered how they will react if they lose their case and can’t go to Rio de Janeiro.

“What if we are not admitted, what do we do?” asked Koneva, a world championship silver medalist who would be a contender for gold if allowed to go to Rio. “I hope they will tell us something good.”

Shubenkov said: “I will get drunk.”

The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland will rule Thursday on an appeal filed by Russia’s Olympic track and field team of 68 athletes against a ban imposed by the sport’s world governing body, the IAAF, following allegations of state-sponsored doping and cover-ups.

As it stands, the IAAF has approved just two Russians to compete, as “neutral athletes,” after they showed they had been training and living abroad under a robust drug testing regime. One is doping whistleblower Yulia Stepanova, the other is Florida-based long jumper Darya Klishina, who has received threats online from Russian fans who think she would betray her country by competing if the rest of the team is banned.

Thursday’s ruling is likely to weigh heavily on whether the International Olympic Committee could exclude the entire Russian team – across all sports, not just track – following new allegations of a vast state-sponsored doping program that covered many Olympic sports.

Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, who was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, issued a report Monday that accused Russia’s sports ministry of orchestrating a vast doping program that affected 28 summer and winter Olympic sports.

The Russian appeal of the track ban was heard by a CAS panel on Tuesday in Geneva, with two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva on hand to represent the athletes. IAAF President Sebastian Coe also attended the hearing.

Two high-profile sports lawyers presented each side – California-based Howard Jacobs for the Russians, British attorney Jonathan Taylor for the IAAF.

The decision will be closely scrutinized by the IOC, which said Tuesday it would “explore the legal options” for a possible total ban on Russia but would wait until after the CAS ruling before making a final decision.

If the IAAF ban is thrown out and the Russian track athletes are let back in, that would seemingly rule out the IOC imposing a blanket ban. If the ban is upheld, however, it would keep the option open.

The uncertainty is weighing heavily on Russian athletes.

“It puts a lot of pressure on us,” said Koneva, who herself once served a two-year doping ban.

But the legal wrangling may not be over yet. Should the IOC then impose a total ban across all sports, Russian athletes – though probably not the track and field team – could conceivably appeal again to CAS.

The case dates back to November, when the IAAF suspended Russia’s track and field federation following a World Anti-Doping Agency commission report that alleged systematic and state-backed doping in the country. The International Association of Athletics Federations upheld the ban last month, a decision accepted by the IOC.

The Russian appeal questions the validity of the IAAF decision and seeks to ensure the participation in Rio of “any Russian athlete who is not currently subject to any period of ineligibility for the commission of an anti-doping rule violation.”

The CAS case hinges on a central issue: Can all of the country’s track athletes be banned collectively and is it right to punish those who have not been accused of wrongdoing?

In extending the ban, the IAAF said Russia’s entire drug-testing system had been corrupted and tainted and there was no way to prove which athletes were clean. Letting Russian athletes compete in the games would undermine the credibility of the competition, according to the IAAF.

For now, Russia’s track athletes remain in limbo.

“It’s very sad and frustrating, all these thoughts in our heads,” Koneva said. “But hope dies last.”

MORE: Five Russian track and field stars who may miss Rio

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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