Russia’s track and field stars angered by Rio Olympics ban

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ZHUKOVSKY, Russia (AP) — Russia’s top athletes reacted with anger after the news broke Thursday that their track and field team would remain banned from next month’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Two-time Olympic champion pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, the team’s biggest star, wrote on Instagram that without Russia, historically a track superpower, only “pseudo-gold medals” would be on offer at a devalued Rio Olympics.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision – to reject an appeal against an earlier ban – marked the “funeral” for track and field, Isinbayeva told state news agency Tass.

At a competition near Moscow that had been scheduled as a final tune-up before the games, most athletes saw the ruling as fundamentally unjust, and based on unfair allegations of mass doping and government cover-ups.

“It’s a big blow for me personally and for the athletes,” said world high jump champion Maria Kuchina, who would have been a strong contender for gold at her first Olympics.

Three hours after news came through that Russia’s appeal against the ban by the International Association of Athletics Federations had been rejected, Kuchina leapt 2 meters in front of the sparse crowd. The jump would have been good enough to have won the gold medal at the European championships earlier this month – if she and the rest of the Russian team had not been suspended.

“Despite all the difficulties and problems, we kept training,” she said. “Today I showed that I’d be in contention for the Olympic podium, regardless of the news today.”

A string of reports from the World Anti-Doping Agency and an IAAF taskforce that focused on widespread doping in Russian track and field, along with alleged cover-ups involving high-ranking government officials, have done little to convince Russian athletes that their team deserves punishment.

“A lot of the facts aren’t confirmed, it’s complete slander and they’re still putting pressure on us,” said Vera Rudakova, one of the world’s top young hurdlers.

Bans for individual dopers are fair, but not the exclusion of a whole team, hurdler Timofey Chaly argued.

“It’s dishonest,” he said. “There are people who decided for themselves that they can dope and maybe somehow they’d get away with it. That didn’t happen and they got bans, that’s fair.”

Russia’s ban contained a bitter irony for former European javelin champion Vera Rebrik, who switched allegiance from Ukraine to Russia in 2014 after her home region of Crimea was annexed by Russia. She will now miss the Olympics because of her new nation’s ban.

“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” she told state TV.

A minority of Russian athletes think the cloud has a silver lining.

A ban from Rio could be the incentive needed for Russia to take action, according to hammer thrower Sergei Litvinov, a strident anti-doping voice on the Russian team.

He told The Associated Press that Russian athletics officials failed to act on doping in time and hopes “that this situation can encourage the management” to push through reforms. Litvinov says the next step for international authorities should be to investigate what he believes are Russian-style organized doping schemes in other countries.

“I want all (doping) systems to be shut down. Not just ours, but all of them,” Litvinov said.

As it stands, Russia’s once-vaunted track team could be reduced to just a single athlete at the Rio Olympics.

Long jumper Darya Klishina was exempted from the ban by the IAAF because she lives and trains in Florida at an academy run by sports marketing company IMG and has been tested for years by the U.S. anti-doping agency, not Russia’s scandal-hit equivalent.

However, some Russian fans have turned on her since she received permission to compete, calling her a traitor and demanding she refuse her Olympic spot in solidarity with banned teammates.

But those same teammates want Klishina to succeed.

Kuchina said Thursday she will “obviously” support Klishina.

“I don’t think she’s a traitor,” Rudakova said. “The IAAF gave us its criteria and Dasha was lucky that it worked out for her…We’ll cheer her on,” she added, using Klishina’s nickname.

The IAAF has also allowed Russian doping whistleblower Yulia Stepanova to race, but the 800-meter runner is struggling with injury and has not set a competitive time this year.

Regardless of their views on Russia’s doping scandal, almost all of its athletes must now rebuild their careers and hope to return to international competition next season.

Outspoken in his criticism of dopers, Litvinov even asked the IAAF to give him more doping tests.

Now in the same boat as his less strident teammates, he says all that’s left is to “try not to lose motivation for next year.”

MORE: Russia loses Olympic track and field ban appeal

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

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Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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