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Over 1,000 Russian athletes involved in organized doping, McLaren report says

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LONDON (AP) — Russia’s sports reputation was ripped apart again Friday when a new report into systematic doping detailed a vast “institutional conspiracy” that covered more than 1,000 athletes in over 30 sports and corrupted the drug-testing system at the 2012 and 2014 Olympics.

The findings were handed over to the International Olympic Committee, which will be under pressure to take action against the Russians ahead of the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It is impossible to know just how deep and how far back this conspiracy goes,” World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren said. “For years, international sports competitions have unknowingly been hijacked by Russians. Coaches and athletes have been playing on an uneven field. Sports fans and spectators have been deceived.”

McLaren’s second and final report said the conspiracy involved the Russian Sports Ministry, national anti-doping agency and the FSB intelligence service, providing further details of state involvement in a massive program of cheating and cover-ups that operated on an “unprecedented scale” from 2011-15.

The Canadian law professor described the Russian doping program as “a cover-up that evolved over the years from uncontrolled chaos to an institutionalized and disciplined medal-winning strategy and conspiracy.”

The findings confirmed much of the evidence contained in McLaren’s first report issued in July, while expanding the number of athletes involved and the overall scope of the cheating program in the sports powerhouse.

“Over 1,000 Russian athletes competing in summer, winter and Paralympic sport can be identified as being involved in or benefiting from manipulations to conceal positive doping tests,” McLaren said.

The names of those athletes, including 600 summer sports competitors, have been turned over to international federations to pursue disciplinary sanctions, he said.

The 144-page report provided further forensic evidence of manipulation of samples at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, where sealed doping bottles were opened with special tools by intelligence agents and tainted urine was replaced with clean urine to beat the drug-testing system.

Russians who won 15 medals in Sochi had their samples tampered with, including two athletes who won four gold medals, McLaren found.

The report also found the Russian doping program corrupted the 2012 London Olympics on an “unprecedented scale.” While no Russians tested positive at the time of the games, McLaren said the sports ministry gave athletes a “cocktail of steroids … in order to beat the detection thresholds at the London lab.”

The report said 15 Russian medal winners in London had been on a list of athletes who had been protected by Russian officials from testing positive before the games. Ten of those athletes have since had their London medals stripped after their samples were retested.

Declaring that McLaren’s findings detailed “a fundamental attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and on sport in general,” the IOC said it would retest samples of all Russian athletes who competed in Sochi and London.

IOC President Thomas Bach said any athlete or official involved “in such as sophisticated manipulation system” should be banned for life from the Olympics.

The Russian Sports Ministry said it was studying the report and denied the country had any state-sponsored doping system.

McLaren’s first report, issued in July, led WADA to recommend that Russia be excluded from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The IOC rejected calls for an outright ban, allowing international federations to decide which Russians could compete.

The IOC has two separate commissions that will study McLaren’s report and make recommendations to the executive board for sanctions. While a blanket ban on Pyeongchang would seem unlikely, the IOC has indicated it will impose stiff sanctions.

“We now have detailed information which will allow us to take serious decisions, so let’s take them,” WADA President Craig Reedie, who is also an IOC member, told The Associated Press. “If you look at the statements made by the IOC, it seems to be pretty likely they will take the appropriate decisions.”

Other findings in the report include:

— Six Russian athletes who won a total of 21 medals at the Sochi Paralympics had their urine samples tampered with.

— Two female hockey players at the Sochi Olympics had samples that contained male DNA.

— Eight Sochi samples had salt content that was physiologically impossible in a healthy human.

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart called McLaren’s report “another staggering example of how the Olympic movement has been corrupted and clean athletes robbed by Russia’s state-supported doping system.”

Tygart said the Russian Olympic Committee should be suspended and no international sporting events should be held in Russia until its anti-doping program is in line with global rules.

While the report again accused the Russian Sports Ministry, it found no evidence of involvement of the Russian Olympic Committee. The IOC had repeatedly cited the fact that the national Olympic committee was not implicated in defending its decision not to ban the entire Russian team from the Rio Games.

McLaren’s first report set off bitter divisions and infighting in the Olympic movement and those recriminations have dragged on since the Rio Games.

“I find it difficult to understand why were at not on the same team,” he said. “We should all be working together to end doping in sports.”

McLaren opened his investigation earlier this year after Moscow’s former doping lab director, Grigory Rodchenkov, told The New York Times that he and other officials were involved in an organized doping program for Russian athletes. He detailed how tainted samples were replaced with clean urine through a concealed “mouse hole” in the wall of the Sochi lab.

The new report further backs Rodchenkov’s account. McLaren’s investigation found scratches and other marks left on the doping bottles. WADA investigators were able to recreate the method used by the Russians to pry open the sealed bottle caps.

The report also detailed how some Russian samples were diluted with salt or even coffee granules.

“The report has proved without a shadow of a doubt there was organized manipulation of the doping process in Russia,” Reedie said. “Now the challenge is for Russia, first of all to admit that the report is worthy, and second to make sure they change their process so this does not happen again.”

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, the former sports minister in charge during the London and Sochi Olympics, said Russia would take legal action in response to the report. It was not clear what course any legal action might take.

Asked how he would respond to Russian critics, McLaren said: “I would say, ‘read the report.'”

MORE: IOC president wants life bans for Russian cheats

Lin Dan, badminton legend, retires: ‘It is very difficult to say goodbye’

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Lin Dan, arguably the greatest badminton player in history, announced retirement Saturday, citing “pain and injuries” in bowing out a year before the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

“I have been with the national team from 2000 to 2020, and it is very difficult to say goodbye,” 36-year-old Lin wrote to his four million Weibo fans, according to Badminton World Federation (BWF) translation. “Pain and injuries no longer allow me to fight with my teammates. I have gratitude, a heavy heart and unwillingness.”

Lin, nicknamed “Super Dan,” won Olympic singles titles in 2008 and 2012, plus five individual world titles. It’s the greatest resume for any badminton player from China, which owns twice as many medals as any other nation in the sport that debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

He competed at the last four Olympics, won the sport’s Super Grand Slam (nine major titles) and had his own wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai.

Lin’s outbursts on and off the court led to some calling him the John McEnroe of badminton, but he is revered. In 2015, he was the second athlete on Forbes China‘s most popular celebrities list behind tennis player Li Na.

Lin’s pursuit of a fifth Olympics in Tokyo was looking out of reach. He dropped to No. 26 in the Olympic qualifying rankings, trailing four countrymen, including No. 5 Chen Long (Rio Olympic champion) and No. 11 Shi Yuqi (2018 World silver medalist). A nation can qualify a maximum of two individual players per gender for the Games.

“From where came his mastery? In short, his prowess was essentially due to the completeness of his game – in skill, physical ability and mental strength,” the BWF wrote in a press release. “Such was his craft that even well into his 30s, normally considered an advanced age for men’s singles, he could outplay younger and fitter opponents.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

MORE: Who is China’s greatest Olympian?

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MyKayla Skinner’s motivation for Tokyo: her Rio Olympic experience

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MyKayla Skinner remembers the little room at the SAP Center in San Jose. She remembers the wait, somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.

After the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Trials, the competitors (14 total performed) assembled while a selection committee convened in another space.

The committee finalized the five-woman Olympic team (plus three alternates), marched into the athletes’ room and delivered the verdict.

“They say the first four names, and then there’s that one spot left,” Skinner recalled. “I’m like, is it going to be me? You’re so tense just waiting there. All of us holding each other’s hands in the room. We’re all sitting there. It’s just, like, frozen dead silent. Then they say that fifth spot.”

Skinner doesn’t remember who was the fifth name. Just that it wasn’t her.

“I just broke down crying,” she said in a recent interview. “All that hard work I put in still wasn’t good enough. Even though it was. It’s just who they needed for the team.”

Skinner placed fourth in the all-around at those Olympic Trials, the highest finisher who was not named to the Olympic team. She was one of three alternates. If the Olympic team was chosen by all-around standings, a selection committee would not be necessary. Instead, gymnasts are puzzle pieces, chosen as who best fits the Olympic format: three gymnasts per apparatus in the team final and up to two per nation per individual final.

Skinner’s mind raced while she waited for the committee’s decision. She eventually settled on a gut feeling, that she would not make the team.

“I thought that it should be enough, but at the same I didn’t think that it would be,” said Lisa Spini, Skinner’s coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Chandler, Arizona. “I thought the team was already decided before the Olympic Trials.”

Spini said it was her toughest night as a gymnastics coach.

“Being an alternate is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in gymnastics,” said Skinner, who traveled to Brazil and, with fellow alternates Ashton Locklear and Ragan Smith, trained separately from the Olympic team. “The whole time I was in Rio, I probably cried every single night

“The Olympics should be something so special, but I feel like it was definitely miserable at times. It was really hard to enjoy being an alternate. With this comeback, that has pushed me so hard just because I was so close.”

You may have read about Skinner back in the spring, after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed to 2021.

It’s a devastating delay for a female gymnast, whose peak often lasts for one Olympic cycle (sometimes even shorter). Skinner is an exception, excelling for the better part of a decade on different levels.

She made her first world championships team in 2014. After Rio, she matriculated at the University of Utah, where she was twice an NCAA all-around runner-up and hit an NCAA record 161 straight routines without a fall. In 2019, she decided to come back to international competition — for an Olympic run — with one year left of NCAA gymnastics.

She is 23, the oldest of the 16-woman U.S. national team. She is trying to become the oldest woman to make a U.S. Olympic gymnastics team since 2004. And the first with NCAA experience to do so since Alicia Sacramone in 2008.

“The reason why a lot of college gymnasts couldn’t come back and do it is they’ve been so injured over the years,” Spini said. “Their body wouldn’t hold up. She’s been really lucky that way.”

Skinner could have easily followed the path of so many other stars who signaled the end of an elite career by going to college, where training and routines are less demanding.

She questioned herself often after the Tokyo postponement whether it was worth it to return to elite training. The Olympic team event roster size has been cut from five to four. Simone Biles is an overwhelming favorite to earn one spot. In the face of those odds, Skinner can’t shake a memory from Rio.

“I just go back to the moment of when I was sitting in the stands,” watching the Final Five earn gold, Skinner said. “I was so close to making the team. This has been my dream ever since I went to Desert Lights when I was 12.”

Skinner’s comeback is already a success. Last year, on three months of elite training, she placed eighth at the U.S. Championships. She was convinced to accept an invitation to the world championships selection camp, where six women would make the traveling team (one later named an alternate).

Like in 2016, Skinner placed fourth in the all-around competition before the roster was chosen.

Again, the gymnasts gathered for the announcement. This time, Skinner made the cut as the sixth woman named. Biles, the other 20-something at the camp and a friend, jumped in excitement.

The team traveled to Germany in late September. After training, one woman had to be designated the alternate. High performance team coordinator Tom Forster took Skinner aside one day on the way to lunch. She knew what was coming and broke down in tears, flashing back to 2016.

“Simone was like, hey, let’s go to the bathroom. She helped talk me through it and helped me calm down and definitely made me a feel a lot better,” said Skinner, who supported Biles and the U.S. team that competed in Stuttgart. She then wed Jonas Harmer in November and decided what must be done to make the Olympic team.

“We’re going to try to add in some big skills, which will put her difficulty level, probably, second only to Simone,” Spini said.

Skinner is documenting her last year-plus in elite gymnastics on a YouTube channel with 29,000 subscribers. She has been fortunate during the coronavirus pandemic to train at her gym if no more than 10 people were present. Many other gymnasts — and athletes across Olympic sports — spent weeks or months out of their facilities.

“I definitely don’t think I would have been able to have that much time off,” she said. “That’s really hard with gymnastics because you feel like, you take two days off, and it’s like you had a year off.”

One day this spring, Skinner’s mom called, in tears, fearing for her life with an illness that turned out to be the coronavirus. Both of her parents, in their 60s, had it and briefly lost their senses of taste. Her mom had breathing problems, but they recovered.

One night last month, Skinner had a dream about next year’s Olympic Trials. The Final Five all came back to compete, and Skinner was again named an alternate. She woke up. Skinner doesn’t know how she would handle that kind of disappointment in real life, again.

“So it’s kind of scary,” she said. Then Skinner thinks back to Rio, and that burning she felt while watching the Final Five win gold medals.

“This is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m meant to do is elite gymnastics,” said Skinner, who was born via life-threatening, early-labor C-section, needing to be revived by doctors. “I think it’s cool that I can have this opportunity to go and push myself one last time so I can reach that end goal.”

MORE: Gymnast Grace McCallum won a coin flip to become world champion

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