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

Sergey Shubenkov
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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

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”