Mikhail Gorbachev writes to IOC president opposing Russia Olympic ban

Mikhail Gorbachev
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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin called Friday for a new anti-doping commission to be created to shape Russia’s future strategy, as the country faces possible exclusion from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Putin’s intervention came as former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev wrote to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach to oppose a blanket ban on the Russian team, saying that a collective sanction was “unacceptable.”

Putin did not directly address allegations that Russian government officials helped to cover up hundreds of doping cases, but said the state was resolutely opposed to performance-enhancing drug use.

“In sport there is not and cannot be a place for any doping,” Putin said. “Sport must be clean, and an athlete’s health must be properly protected.”

He added there was a need to “cooperate closely” on doping with the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency, the latter of which welcomed Thursday’s court ruling to uphold a ban on Russia’s scandal-hit track and field team.

Putin told a meeting of Russia’s cabinet that the commission, under the direction of the Russian Olympic Committee, would provide “rapid development and tough control for the effective realization of a national plan on the fight against doping.”

He added that the commission would be “independent” and would include Russians and foreigners in the fields of medicine, law and sports administration. He did not give a timescale for the commission to begin its work.

Putin proposed 81-year-old Vitaly Smirnov, an honorary member of the International Olympic Committee member and a veteran of Russian and Soviet sports administration, to lead the panel.

“Such a commission should be headed by a person with an absolutely unimpeachable reputation, who has the trust and respect of the Olympic family,” Putin said. “There is such a person in our country and he is Vitaly Georgievich Smirnov.”

Smirnov once served as the Soviet Union’s deputy sports minister and helped to organize the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

Smirnov, a former IOC vice president, was among five IOC members given a “serious warning” in 1999 for their role in the Salt Lake City bid scandal. A total of 10 members resigned or were expelled for receiving cash, gifts and other improper inducements during the city’s winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

Smirnov suggested in televised comments that the Russian doping scandal was a series of “misunderstandings,” and said the new commission would aim to eradicate performance-enhancing drug use from sport entirely. “We will work to eliminate the problem,” he said.

In a rare intervention on sports matters, the 85-year-old Gorbachev wrote an open letter to Bach, saying a ban on the whole Russian team would unfairly punish clean athletes.

“I am worried and deeply upset by the possibility that in the case of a ban on Russian athletes competing in the Olympics, the innocent will be punished along with the guilty,” he wrote in the letter, published on his website. “For me the principle of collective punishment is unacceptable.”

MORE: Five Russian track and field stars set to miss Rio

Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic marathon champ in 1984, runs London Marathon at 65

Joan Benoit Samuelson
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Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, ran her first 26.2-mile race in three years at Sunday’s London Marathon and won her age group.

Benoit Samuelson, 65, clocked 3 hours, 20 minutes, 20 seconds to top the women’s 65-69 age group by 7 minutes, 52 seconds. She took pleasure in being joined in the race by daughter Abby, who crossed in 2:58:19.

“She may have beaten me with my replacement knee, but everybody said I wouldn’t do it! I will never say never,” Benoit Samuelson said, according to race organizers. “I am a grandmother now to Charlotte, and it’s my goal to run 5K with her.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Benoit Samuelson raced the 1987 Boston Marathon while three months pregnant with Abby. Before that, she won the first Olympic women’s marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, plus the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983 and the Chicago Marathon in 1985.

Her personal best — 2:21:21 — still holds up. She ranks sixth in U.S. women’s history.

Benoit Samuelson plans to race the Tokyo Marathon to complete her set of doing all six annual World Marathon Majors. The others are Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York City.

“I’m happy to finish this race and make it to Tokyo, but I did it today on a wing and a prayer,” she said, according to organizers. “I’m blessed to have longevity in this sport. It doesn’t owe me anything, but I feel I owe my sport.”

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