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

U.S., China set for FIBA Women’s World Cup gold-medal game

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SYDNEY — Breanna Stewart and the United States used a dominant defensive effort to beat Canada and reach the gold-medal game of the FIBA Women’s World Cup for the fourth consecutive tournament.

Stewart scored 17 points and the Americans raced out to an early lead to put away Canada 83-43 on Friday, reaching a Saturday gold-medal game with China. The 43 points was the fewest scored in a semifinal game in World Cup history.

“Canada has been playing really well all tournament and the goal was just to come out there and really limit them,” said U.S. forward Alyssa Thomas. “We were really locked in from the jump with our game plan.”

China edged host Australia 61-59 in the later semifinal to reach its first global championship game since the 1994 Worlds, the last time it won a medal of any color. The U.S. beat China 77-63 in group play last Saturday, the Americans’ closest game of the tournament.

“Our goal was to to win a gold medal and we’re in position to do that,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

The U.S. (7-0), which is on a record pace for points and margin of victory in the tournament, took control of the game early scoring the first 15 points. The Americans contested every shot on the defensive end as the Canadians missed their first nine attempts from the field. On the offensive end, Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Thomas basically got any shot they wanted.

“I think after that punch, it really took the air out of them,” Thomas said. “They didn’t know what to do with their offense anymore after that.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

Laeticia Amihere, who plays at South Carolina for former U.S. coach Dawn Staley, finally got Canada on the board nearly 5 minutes into the game making a driving layup.

By the end of the quarter the U.S. led 27-7. Canada had committed four turnovers — the same number the team had against Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals which was the lowest total in a game in 30 years.

The Americans were up 45-21 at the half and the lead kept expanding in the final 20 minutes. The win was the biggest margin for the U.S. in the medal round topping the 36-point victory over Spain in the 2010 World Cup.

Canada (5-2) advanced to the medal round for the first time since 1986 and has a chance to win its first medal since taking the bronze that year.

“We didn’t get it done today, but what we’re going to do is take this with what we learned today and how we can turn it up tomorrow,” Canada captain Natalie Achonwa said. “It’s still a game for a medal and it’s just as important for us.”

The U.S. has won seven of the eight meetings with Canada in the World Cup, although the last one came in 2010. The lone victory for Canada came in 1975.

The victory was the 29th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86. This is only the second time in the Americans’ storied history they’ve reached four consecutive gold-medal contests. They also did it from 1979-90, winning three times.

This U.S. team, which has so many new faces on it, is on pace to break many of the team’s records that include scoring margin and points per game. The Americans also continued to dominate the paint even without 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, outscoring its opponents by an average of 55-24.

Amihere led Canada with eight points.

RECORD BREAKING

The low point total broke the mark of 53 that South Korea scored against Russia in 2002.

“We’re starting to build that identity,” Wilson said of the defensive effort. “We’re quick and scrappy and I think that’s our identity.”

The U.S. is averaging 101 points a game. The team’s best mark ever coming into the tournament was 99.1 set in 1994.

STILL RECOVERING

Kahleah Copper sat out after injuring her left hip in the win over Serbia in the quarterfinals. Copper landed hard on her hip driving to the basket and had to be helped off the court. She hopes to play on Saturday. Betnijah Laney, who also got hurt in the Serbia game, did play against Canada.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. Australia vs. China Semifinals
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final