Russian sports ‘among the cleanest in the world,’ deputy prime minister says

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s deputy prime minister, responding to calls for the nation’s sports teams to be excluded from all international competitions because of doping, said Wednesday that the country is “among the cleanest in the world.”

Following a summit this week, leaders from 19 national anti-doping organizations also called for Russia to be stripped of the right to host major sports events, a measure which would affect next year’s World Cup.

Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who oversees sports policy in the country, accused the group of meddling in politics.

“The people who should be analyzing urine have started pressuring the people who take political decisions,” Mutko said in comments to Russian news agency R-Sport. “Russian sports are among the cleanest in the world.”

The British anti-doping agency is in charge of collecting samples in Russia, and the number of positive tests in the country dropped last year. The Russian anti-doping agency remains suspended following allegations of corruption.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov accused the foreign anti-doping agencies of trying to usurp the powers of international sports bodies.

“Federations and Olympic committees, as you know, develop sports,” Kolobkov told state news agency TASS. “So I’d ask people to do their own jobs and not to put themselves in the position of various sports organizations.”

The call for extra sports sanctions on Russia follows last month’s publication of a report by anti-doping investigator Richard McLaren. The report accused Russia of operating a wide-ranging doping cover-up which included illicit sample swaps at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The Russian government strongly denies ever having supported performance-enhancing drug use.

The national anti-doping agencies for the United States, Germany and Japan were among those who recommended the extra sanctions on Russia, though the British agency was not listed as a signatory.

While arguing for Russian teams to be banned, the agencies said individual Russian athletes could compete as “neutrals” if they can show they are clean. A similar system is already used in track and field, where Russia has been suspended since November 2015.

National anti-doping agencies do not have the power to exclude Russian teams or move competitions from Russia, though some, such as the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, are influential voices in global sports administration.

MORE: Russian gymnastics star retires at age 19

Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

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Alpine skiing officials will test a new format for the combined event, a race that is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the International Ski Federation (FIS) will test a new team format for the combined, which has been an individual event on the Olympic program since 1988. L’Equipe reported that a nation can use a different skier for the downhill and slalom in the new setup, quoting FIS secretary general Michel Vion.

For example, the U.S. could use Breezy Johnson in the downhill run and sub her out for Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom run, should the format be adopted into senior competition.

The format will be tested at the world junior championships in January in St. Anton, Austria, according to the report.

In response to the report, a FIS spokesperson said, “Regarding the new format of the combined is correct, and our directors are working on the rules so for the moment the only thing we can confirm is that there will be this new format for the Alpine combined that has been proposed by the athletes’ commission.”

Some version of the combined event has been provisionally included on the 2026 Olympic program, with a final IOC decision on its place coming by April.

This will be the third consecutive World Cup season with no combined events. Instead, FIS has included more parallel races in recent years. The individual combined remains on the biennial world championships program.

L’Equipe also reported that the mixed team parallel event, which is being dropped from the Olympics, will also be dropped from the biennial world championships after this season.

“There is nothing definitive about that yet, but it is a project in the making,” a FIS spokesperson said in commenting on the report.

Vion said the mixed team event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2018, was not a hit at the Beijing Games and did not draw a strong audience, according to L’Equipe.

The World Cup season starts in two weeks with the traditional opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.

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Ironman Kona World Championships return, live on Peacock

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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.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona men’s pro race, Saturday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Both entered Kailua-Kona, where the races were now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men. Chelsea Sodaro won the women’s race, ending a 20-year American victory drought.

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.

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.

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