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

Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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