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A year into doping ban, Russian track and field inches closer to return

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MOSCOW (AP) More than a year into Russia’s exclusion from international track and field, high jump world champion Maria Kuchina feels like she’s stagnating.

“I need emotion, I need competition, I need rivals,” Kuchina said.

That’s all missing because Russian track and field exists in limbo, banned since November 2015 as a series of investigations revealed widespread doping and alleged government officials helped to cover it up.

Sunday saw Russia’s biggest meet of the year so far, though it featured only Russians, with very mixed quality in many events. Kuchina easily won her event in Moscow, but her result of 1.91 meters was far below her best.

However, after a string of false starts, Russia is inching closer to a return.

On Monday, track’s world governing body, the IAAF, will hold a council meeting with the stated aim of drawing up a road map for Russia’s return though, in some ways, the process has quietly begun.

Over the winter, the IAAF has been accepting applications from top Russian athletes who want to compete in international events as neutral athletes, rather than representatives of Russia’s still-suspended track federation.

As of Wednesday, 33 Russians had applied, sending off forms listing their drug-test history under newly relaxed IAAF rules which no longer insist on Russian athletes training outside their home country. If the IAAF accepts all of them, Russia will have close to a full team at next month’s European indoor championships in Serbia, just without a flag.

That’s good news for Daria Klishina, the long jumper who was allowed to be Russia’s only representative in track and field at last year’s Rio Olympics because she has long trained in Florida, rather than in the Russian system.

“I don’t want to be in that situation again, never,” Klishina said Sunday, recalling how she found it tough to be on her own at the Olympics, where she finished ninth. If more Russians get permission to compete this season, “I’ll feel a lot better, because I didn’t like competing alone with that huge responsibility.”

Competing as neutrals, not Russians, is a sensitive issue.

Many fans support the athletes who have submitted applications to the IAAF, though some Russian nationalists accuse them of betraying their country.

“There’s more support because people who I know understand what sport means to me,” Kuchina said. “I try never to read online comments because they could destroy anyone’s wellbeing.”

Middle-distance runner Elena Korobkina, however, said she’ll refuse a place at major championships if it means competing as a neutral, though she will take part in other meets. “Even if they let me, I won’t compete at the Europeans because I want to race under my own flag,” she said.

Even as Russia nears a return, there have been setbacks.

Documents released in December as part of a World Anti-Doping Agency inquiry showed eight unnamed Russians from the national track and field team had given suspicious samples ahead of the 2014 world indoor championships, but most were recorded as clean. The IAAF is looking into the issue.

In another blow, a German TV channel broadcast footage showing national-team runner Artyom Denmukhametov appearing to train with coach Vladimir Kazarin, who is suspended over alleged steroid use by several of his other athletes. Denmukhametov was in action at Sunday’s meet, coming second in the 400m. He hasn’t applied to the IAAF to compete as a neutral, according to Russian track federation records.

Until the IAAF either reinstates Russia or allows its top athletes to compete as individuals, Russian track will remain in suspended animation. Kuchina doesn’t know if she’ll be able to defend her world title in London in August.

“There’s no information,” she said, criticizing the lack of updates about her application. “We’re all waiting.”

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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