Getty Images

Clock ticking on Russia as anti-doping agency meets

Leave a comment

MONTREAL (AP) — The lurid details — dark-of-night swapping of tainted urine samples with clean ones through a hole cut into the wall — have been confirmed by an independent investigator who delivered a 144-page report with the proof.

The reaction of policymakers to the unprecedented level of anti-doping corruption in Olympic sports has been nowhere near as headline-grabbing.

On Thursday, a bit over a year after The New York Times revealed the sordid specifics of a doping scandal that pervaded Russia’s Olympic team, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s governing board meets. The board won’t so much enact drastic measures for Russia or for WADA’s own flawed set of deterrents as it will try to gain fractions along a miles-long road of needed reforms.

The most pressing matter: With nine months until the Winter Olympics, there are few signs of what, if any, price the Russian Olympic team will pay for the corruption that has been unmasked in that country.

Investigator Richard McLaren’s report, released last December, found that more than 1,000 Russian athletes competing in summer, winter and Paralympic sports could have been involved or benefited from manipulations to conceal positive doping tests.

“There’s worry we’ll find ourselves, if we’re not already there, in the very same position as we were in Rio,” said Paul Melia, CEO of Canada’s anti-doping agency.

At last year’s Summer Games, the International Olympic Committee refused to ban the Russians as a whole, instead giving leaders in the individual sports mere days to sort out who should be eligible to compete in Rio de Janeiro. All but one member of Russia’s track team was barred, the result of a decision by that sport’s governing body (IAAF) that came after an investigation — separate from McLaren’s — into doping corruption in athletics. Most Russians in other sports were allowed to compete.

The IOC is conducting its own investigations to follow up on McLaren’s work, which was a fact-finding mission, not one geared toward handing out sanctions.

While that has meandered, the IOC issued a position paper in March saying it supported making WADA independent from both governments and sports organizations, a mighty task that would free the agency from the conflicts that have hindered it at almost every point of the Russia investigations. Despite this call, IOC member Craig Reedie continues to serve as chairman of WADA. Reedie boldly bucked the IOC before the Rio Games and recommended a full suspension of the Russian team. He has been less definite in the lead-up to the Pyeongchang Games.

The IOC also is pushing to create an independent drug-testing authority, which would take responsibility for testing and punishment out of the hands of the sports; it was this conflict that exacerbated the Russian track crisis. The IAAF was as culpable for that scandal as Russia, and the federation still holds Russia’s track team under suspension, having received few indicators that the country’s anti-doping culture is changing.

Exhibit A: Russia appointed, then re-elected, Olympic champion pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who has consistently framed WADA’s investigations as an anti-Russian plot, as chairwoman of a newly remade anti-doping agency (RUSADA). The agency’s status will be discussed Thursday, though WADA leaders already have spoken out against Isinbayeva’s appointment.

“It had to be designed to be inflammatory,” Graeme Steel, CEO of New Zealand’s anti-doping agency, said of the Isinbayeva appointment. “There’s no other reason they’d do that. I don’t foresee a lot of swift action concerning Russia.”

A glimmer of progress came via a recent agreement among the seven federations who oversee Winter Olympic sports to move toward an independent testing agency, much like IAAF and the international cycling federation have done. But it is only an agreement in principle and the individual sports will make the ultimate decisions about who oversees their testing programs.

What to expect at this week’s meetings?

“I hope to hear more about the progress that Russia is making toward becoming compliant,” said Max Cobb, executive director of U.S. Biathlon. “It’s troubling to note the contrasting views, when you hear the IAAF saying absolutely no progress is being made, then you hear (others) saying they’re happy with the progress being made.”

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The Winter Olympics open Feb. 9.

“Athletes have been here before — it’s Groundhog Day,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “But let’s hope this time it ends with decisions being made to ensure fair play and to truly reform the system so that Olympic fans everywhere can have faith that what they are watching is real.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Another Russian medal from 2008 Olympics stripped

Geraint Thomas attacks, takes Tour de France lead ahead of Chris Froome

Leave a comment

British Olympic track cycling champion Geraint Thomas grabbed the Tour de France lead, attacking with three and a half miles to win a summit finish on Stage 11 on Wednesday.

Thomas now leads a Team Sky one-two in the overall standings, 85 seconds ahead of four-time Tour winner Chris Froome, as the three-week Grand Tour passed the halfway mark.

Thomas continues to say he’s riding in support of Froome — who could tie the record of five Tour titles — rather than to win cycling’s biggest event himself.

“Froome is the [Team Sky] leader here, so there’s no pressure on me,” Thomas said Tuesday, according to Cyclingnews.com. “It’s a bonus for me to be up there, and hopefully I can be there for as long as possible.”

The Tour continues Thursday with stage 12 to Alpe d’Huez, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).

The 109-mile stage features three beyond-category climbs — Col de la Madeleine, Croix-de-Fer and the iconic Alpe d’Huez finish after 21 switchbacks to close out the Tour’s three days in the Alps. The overall standings are sure to change.

Greg Van Avermaet, the Rio Olympic road race champion, went into Wednesday with the yellow jersey and a 2:22 lead, which he had tripled on the first mountain day Tuesday.

But Van Avermaet, who predicted he would lose the yellow jersey before stages Tuesday and Wednesday, cracked on the second of three major climbs Wednesday. He finished in a group 22 minutes after Thomas.

Van Avermaet is a super one-day racer but not a strong climber.

Thomas showed his climbing prowess, finishing 20 seconds ahead of 2017 Giro d’Italia champion Tom Dumoulin and Froome.

“It’s unreal,” Thomas said. “I didn’t expect it at all.”

Thomas dons the yellow jersey for a second straight Tour. The 2008 and 2012 Olympic track cycling gold medalist won the opening time trial in 2017 and wore the maillot jaune four days before Froome took over en route to his fourth title in Paris.

There was talk before and during this year’s Tour that Thomas could challenge Froome as Sky’s team leader, even though Froome has won the last three Grand Tours.

But Thomas and Sky have played that down.

“Whatever happens now is bonus,” Thomas said. “Froomey’s won six Grand Tours. He knows how to race over three weeks. For me, it’s an unknown. … As long as one of us wins, that’s the main thing.”

Dumoulin moved into third overall, 1:44 behind Thomas and 19 seconds back of Froome.

The other top contenders — 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Romain Bardet — finished 59 seconds behind Thomas on Wednesday.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

TOUR DE FRANCE: StandingsTV Schedule | Riders to Watch

Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics add 7 new events

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Seven new events were added to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic program:

Women’s monobobsled
Short track mixed team relay
Ski jumping mixed team event
Freestyle skiing big air (men and women)
Aerials mixed team event
Snowboard cross mixed team event

The additions bring the Winter Olympic total number of events to 109, an all-time high and nearly double the amount of events at the 1992 Winter Games.

The number of women’s hockey teams will increase from eight to 10 in 2022, but the overall number of athletes is expected to be fewer than the 2,933 in PyeongChang. The International Olympic Committee said athlete quotas will decrease in some sports, but no events have been contracted. Alpine skiing’s super combined events are still under review as to whether they will remain in the Olympic program.

The IOC said the Winter Olympics will have its highest-ever gender balance in 2022, rising from 41 percent female athletes to more than 45 percent.

The IOC had a “long discussion” about adding a women’s event in Nordic combined, the only sport without a women’s event in the Winter Games, IOC sports director Kit McConnell said.

“Nordic combined, and women’s in particular, still need to be developed further in terms of universality [the number of countries with Olympic-level athletes], in terms of the level of the athletes,” McConnell said.

The IOC also weighed whether to add a four-woman bobsled event rather than women’s monobobsled. The Games have two-man and two-woman events and a four-man event.

McConnell said the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation was “very supportive” of monobob, in part because it is already on the Youth Olympic program.

“Woman’s four-man bob costs three or four times of monobob,” McConnell said. “We felt there would be more universality in the women’s monobob. We really didn’t see more than a handful of countries really developing women’s four-man programs because of the costs involved.”

Beijing will mark the third straight Winter Olympics to add mixed-gender events. In 2014, mixed relays in biathlon and luge debuted, as well as the figure skating team event. In PyeongChang, a mixed Alpine skiing team event and mixed doubles curling debuted.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: USOC names first permanent female CEO