IOC president answers critics on Russia doping, Rio Olympics, 2024 bidding

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — IOC President Thomas Bach defended his handling of the Russian doping scandal, attacked critics of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and claimed no cities would have bid for the 2024 Games without his “Agenda 2020” reform program.

In a speech to the general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees on Tuesday, Bach appeared determined to counter the negative public perception surrounding the Olympic movement following a turbulent year of doping crises, the troubled buildup to Rio and continuing concerns over the costs of hosting the games.

Bach cited media headlines in the months ahead of the Rio Games about security, water quality, the Zika virus and allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia. Citing Donald Trump‘s victory in the U.S. presidential election last week, Bach said the Rio Games were a “case study” in the difference “between published opinion and public opinion” and “between perception and reality.”

Bach said the Rio Games were a great success, citing record global television viewership and social media interest, though he made no mention of the empty seats and organizational glitches that also affected the event. Bach said the success of the games was a “miracle” in light of the severe recession and political turmoil that Brazil has been going through.

He also went to great lengths to defend the International Olympic Committee’s decision not to impose a total ban on Russia from the games, saying he has received support from dozens of world leaders on the issue.

The World Anti-Doping Agency had called for the complete ban following a report by investigator Richard McLaren that detailed systematic, state-assisted doping in Russia. The IOC instead allowed international sports federations to decide which Russian athletes could compete.

Bach said he has met with many heads of state and government since the games and all backed the IOC’s position.

“They appreciated and acknowledged we did not take a political decision but we took a decision that took in the interest of sport and respected justice for clean athletes and protecting the clean athletes worldwide,” he said. “To see this acknowledgement and this appreciation by so many political leaders was a confirmation of our decision and is a great encouragement for all of us.”

McLaren’s final report is due out next month and will focus on allegations of Russian doping and manipulation of samples at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Two IOC commissions are also looking into the allegations, which could lead to calls for sanctions on Russia for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Bach said once the investigations and hearings are completed, the IOC will take “the necessary measures and all the sanctions because if only part of this would be true, it would be an unprecedented attack on the integrity on the Olympic Games and on the Olympic competitions.”

On a separate issue, Bach said no cities would have come forward as candidates to host the 2024 Summer Games had the IOC not passed his “Olympic Agenda 2020” project, which aims to reduce the cost of hosting the games and insists on maximum use of existing and temporary facilities.

Several cities pulled out of bidding for the 2022 Winter Games over financial and political concerns. Last month, Rome withdrew from the 2024 race because of opposition from the city’s new mayor. That decision leaves Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest, Hungary, as candidates.

“Without ‘Olympic Agenda 2020,’ we would have had zero candidates,” Bach said. “There would have been none. All of the candidates who you will see now and the others who were in the race or considering in the race, they can confirm this to you. They told us this.”

Bach also said that high-ranking Olympic official Patrick Hickey, who was arrested during the Rio Games on ticket scalping charges, deserves the “presumption of innocence” pending the resolution of his case. Hickey, who is not permitted to leave Brazil, has temporarily stepped down as a member of the IOC executive board and president of the European Olympic Committees.

Bach said Hickey’s arrest shows Olympic officials are “not immune” and must obey the laws and rules in other countries.

“What was in the past something that just concerned us in an organization is now concerning the rules and the laws of a country,” Bach said. “These laws of the country we have to respect, and each and every one of you has to take them into consideration when acting accordingly.”

MORE: Russia track and field eyes ‘neutral status’ for winter meets

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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