Getty Images

Russia doping tension marks final day of IOC meetings

Leave a comment

LIMA, Peru (AP) — The raw feelings created by the Russian doping scandal spilled onto the floor and into the hallways of the International Olympic Committee meetings Friday, with less than five months until the Winter Games and no decisions about the fate of the country’s athletes.

IOC members received updates on two investigations that will eventually determine Russia’s status: One on whether there was a state-sponsored doping program in the country, the other on the individual cases of athletes who were implicated in the scandal at the Sochi Games in 2014.

The leaders of both investigations, which are using information from an earlier inquiry by Richard McLaren, urged patience and insisted they are working as fast as they can.

Still, a handful of IOC members made clear they’re worried about the timing.

“A lot of progress has been made, but we’re not there yet,” said Camiel Eurlings, an IOC member from the Netherlands. “I understand it takes a lot of time, but we cannot have this discussion just before the PyeongChang Games. It must be clear months before.”

In another report, IOC member Craig Reedie, who heads the World Anti-Doping Agency, said progress is being made toward reinstating Russia’s suspended anti-doping agency.

Russian IOC member Alexander Zhukov was encouraged. He reiterated what he told The Associated Press this week – he expects Russia to field a team in PyeongChang: Asked if a state-sponsored doping program existed in Russia, his answer was, simply: “no.”

Russia’s unwillingness to acknowledge the state-sponsored program is a problem, as it is a requirement for re-entry into the sports world on many fronts — notably its anti-doping agency, track team and Paralympic team.

But the IOC has made no such requirements.

Urged by President Thomas Bach, the IOC refused to ban the entire Russian team from the Rio Games and instead sent the individual cases to the international sports federations, which had only a matter of days to determine the status of hundreds of athletes. More than 280 Russians participated, and given evidence of the state-sponsored, systemic doping program in the country, there were howls of protest across the globe.

Not wanting to see a repeat, a group of 17 anti-doping leaders released a statement Thursday calling for a complete ban of the Russian Olympic Committee from PyeongChang.

That irritated some IOC members, especially Reedie, who took time in his presentation to assail the leaders.

“The comments made … omit entirely all the work that’s been done to develop proper anti-doping systems in Russia,” Reedie said. “It looks backward instead of looking forward. I want to make it quite clear that most of what they say in their press release is not policy, and is not helpful.”

One of the authors of that release, Travis Tygart of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, responded in an email to the AP: “Yeah, clearly, the truth can strike a reaction, but to be clear, the only thing unhelpful is the lack of decisive action in fully protecting clean athletes’ rights.”

Denis Oswald, the IOC member looking into the individual cases, said his committee has been “working hard since Day 1.”

“But when you have a pile of documents like this,” he said, while holding his hands several feet apart, “and you have (so) many cases involved, it takes time. You have to respect the procedure. You can’t just say they were in Sochi and they are Russian and they probably were doped.”

The McLaren Report said the doping scheme involved 1,000 athletes covering 30 sports, both winter and summer.

Oswald spelled out a clearly defined ranking of the importance of the cases, starting with Russian athletes trying to compete in next year’s Olympics. He said he hoped to have much of the work completed by November, which would give the IOC and other governing bodies three months to sort out eligibility.

The other report – about whether state-sponsored doping exists, as shown in both McLaren’s research and a previous investigation by IOC member Dick Pound – is also on track to be done before the Olympics. Because that looks at the entire operation and not the cases of individual athletes, it figures to be an even more difficult issue for the IOC to sort out.

The director of the IOC’s medical and science department, Richard Budgett, explained some of the delays come down to simple math: For instance, he said it takes about three hours to examine each urine-sample bottle to determine whether tampering has occurred. Key to Russia’s scheme at the Sochi Games was a plan in which officials opened bottles containing tainted urine, traded it with clean urine and resealed the bottles without anyone discovering they had been compromised.

“The frustration out there translates into, ‘Let’s just do something now,'” Budgett said. “But then, you could regret it. So, you’ve got to make sure there’s a solid base for whatever action is taken. That’s what’s being developed.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: USADA, others call for Russian Olympic ban

Justin Gatlin, with Usain Bolt gone, shows the kids he’s still spry

AP
Leave a comment

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Sometimes after a particularly grueling workout, sprinter Justin Gatlin will turn to his younger training partners and inquire: “Are you sore, too?”

It’s just an age check. He doesn’t feel 37 except on rare occasions. Like at big races when he sees so much youth on the starting line and not the familiar faces from years gone by.

Missing, of course, is his biggest rival, Usain Bolt, the Jamaican standout who rewrote the record book before saying goodbye to track nearly two years ago.

Arriving on the scene, a slew of 20-somethings such as Americans Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles who present another challenge for Gatlin, the defending 100m world champion.

“I don’t think about age. I don’t think about being old,” said Gatlin, who will compete in the 100m at the U.S. championships this week in Des Moines, Iowa. “I just feel like a time traveler in a way. I’m still here, still running, still putting down good times, still training really well. Just staying focused on what the goal is.”

And that goal is to show the kids he’s still young at heart. At a Diamond League race in Monaco on July 12 , Gatlin won the 100 in 9.91 seconds, holding off Lyles by 0.01 seconds.

“These young athletes, they make me feel young,” said Gatlin , who doesn’t consider the Tokyo Olympics next summer his finish line as he contemplates racing through the 2021 World Championships in Eugene, Ore. “They’re running super-fast times that I ran before so it gives me a target. It gives me a sounding board to know where I have to be and how I’m going to have to compete.”

MORE: USATF Outdoor Champs TV Schedule

Throughout his career, Gatlin has been a polarizing figure. With his doping past — his four-year suspension ended in 2010 — Gatlin’s been booed (like the night he beat Bolt for gold at the ’17 World Championships in London) and hounded (he gestured toward a heckler bothering his mom in the stands during the medal ceremony at the ’15 Worlds in Beijing). He’s never let it bother him.

Instead, he lets his performances do most of his talking.

“I’m an enigma,” Gatlin said. “I’ve had my dark times and I’ve gone through an area where normally someone who’s been away from the sport or had a ban would never come back from. … I defied those odds to a point where I think that it made people uncomfortable because not only did I come back, but I came back better.”

He said the younger generation doesn’t judge him. An up-and-coming sprinter once joked with Gatlin that he happened to be in first grade when Gatlin won the 100m title at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“Those kinds of things always shock me, how time really works. But it still doesn’t make me feel old,” said Gatlin, whose best 100m time is 9.74 seconds in Doha on May 15, 2015. “I’ve gained so many more followers just off of the respect of me working hard, me climbing, keep fighting for it no matter my age, no matter how many times I lost to Usain. It was all about staying the course, which was my course, and not veering from and trying to be something that everyone wanted me to be. I just wanted to be Justin.”

Gatlin surprised the track world at worlds in ’17 by beating Bolt in Bolt’s final major 100 race. Gatlin also edged Coleman, who came in second that night with Bolt taking third.

Not having Bolt at the world championships this fall in Doha remains hard to fathom for Gatlin. They’ve had so many epic races over the years, like at worlds in ’15 when Bolt eclipsed Gatlin at the line.

But this thought keeps Gatlin working: The next Bolt is out there. It could be Lyles. Or Coleman. It could be Andre De Grasse of Canada or Matthew Boling, the teen from Texas who is headed to Georgia for college and who became a viral sensation this spring when he ran a wind-aided 9.98 in the 100m (Bolt’s world record is 9.58).

It could be anyone.

“Track and field is a beautiful, beautiful novel with many, many unique chapters,” Gatlin said. “I’m excited about what’s going to come after and how it’s going to be unique and maybe bigger and better than a Usain Bolt.”

At nationals this week, Gatlin’s plan is modest. He will run a round of the 100m — he already has an automatic spot to worlds — and see how he feels. If he feels good, he may chase after the title. If not, he won’t. Gatlin is planning to skip the 200m as he tries to get his hips and hamstrings feeling 100 percent.

To keep his legs fresh at 37, Gatlin has learned to take rest days. To keep his mind fresh at 37, he works out with younger training partners who bring new energy and ideas.

“That,” Gatlin said, “is really what keeps me young.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Tokyo Olympics: 20 storylines with one year out to the 2020 Games

Geraint Thomas crashes, recovers; other pre-Tour de France favorite out in Stage 16

Leave a comment

NIMES, France (AP) — Crashing is becoming a bad habit for defending Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas.

After hitting the ground twice over the past two weeks, the Welshman fell off his bike one more time on Tuesday as a heat wave engulfed the race ahead of grueling days in the Alps when the Tour will reach its climax.

Once again, Thomas was lucky enough to escape with bruises and scratches, but the timing of his crash in the rural hinterland of the antique Roman city of Nimes was unfortunate. Although Thomas quickly got back on his bike and did not lose time, crashes always have a lingering effect on riders’ bodies. It’s generally after 48 hours that the soreness reaches its peak, and that’s when he will be fighting in high altitude with rivals trying to take him off his perch.

Lagging 1 minute, 35 seconds behind race leader Julian Alaphilippe with the race now going into its five last stages, Thomas was caught off guard under a scorching sun about 40 kilometers into the stage won by Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan.

The peloton was not riding at full speed, but Thomas was surprised.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

“I just had one hand on the bars, and the gears jumped and jammed and I got thrown off my bike on a corner,” he said. “I knew the race wasn’t on so I just got back into the group. It’s just frustrating. It was such a freak thing.”

Danish rider Jakob Fuglsang, who stood ninth overall, was not as lucky and was forced to abandon the Tour with a left hand injury after falling late in the stage as the peloton pedaled past the picturesque town of Uzes.

Thomas, a former track specialist who transformed into a Tour de France contender after years spent working in support of four-time champion Chris Froome, has always been prone to crashing. Just last month, his preparation for the Tour was cut short by a spill during a race in Switzerland.

But he has also shown in the past that he can soldier on in pain. Six years ago when riding the Tour as Froome’s loyal teammate, Thomas fell off his bike on a Corsican road in the opening stage and broke his pelvis. But he kept racing for 3,000 kilometers to reach the finish.

He will need to be at the top of his form on Thursday for the start of an Alpine trilogy of stages including six climbs over 2,000 meters. This is when the race — the most exciting in the last decade — will be decided before Sunday’s ceremonial ride to Paris.

Sixteen stages out of 21 have been completed, but the suspense remains intact, with six riders separated by little more than 2 minutes. Behind Alaphilippe and Thomas, Steven Kruijswijk remained third, 1:47 off the pace and 3 seconds ahead of Thibaut Pinot. Thomas’ Ineos teammate Egan Bernal lags 2:02 behind and Emmanuel Buchmann has a 2:14 deficit.

Bernal, a Colombian and one of the best pure climbers in the Tour, played down Thomas’ crash and said the race in the Alps will suit him more than the Pyrenees, where both Ineos leaders conceded time to Pinot.

“He crashed but with no consequence and I don’t think he’ll suffer from it in the coming days,” Bernal said. “We’re approaching the Alps. The climbs there are longer and steeper. They’re more of the Colombian style of climbing. I’m ready and I feel good.”

Ewan said he suffered from the heat throughout the stage — temperatures soared as high as 40 degrees Celsius (40 F) — but it did not slow him down in the finale. The Australian Tour debutant edged Elia Viviani and Dylan Groenewegen to post his second stage win following his maiden success in Toulouse last week.

Earlier, riders tried to cool down with bottles of cold water against the backs of their necks as they pedaled on the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge set against a dramatic landscape of rocks, trees and water. Alexis Gougeard, Lukasz Wisniowski, Stephane Rossetto, Paul Ourselin and Lars Bak organized the day’s breakaway and had a maximum lead of 2 minutes.

After the group was caught two kilometers from the finish, Viviani was set up by his teammates and launched the sprint about 200 meters from the line but could not resist Ewan’s comeback.

“To be honest, I felt so bad today during the day. I think the heat really got to me,” Ewan said. “I was really suffering but I had extra motivation today because my daughter and wife are here. I’m so happy I could win for them.”

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!