USOC boss calls for immediate action on Russian doping

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The leader of the U.S. Olympic Committee called on his international counterparts to act immediately on allegations of Russian doping, with now less than four months until the start of the Winter Games.

“The time for action is now,” Scott Blackmun, the CEO of the USOC said in an address Thursday to the USOC Assembly.

In his speech to more than 200 members of the U.S. Olympic community, Blackmun said “it is beyond frustrating” that no action has been taken on the now-15-month-old McLaren Report, which documented a Russian doping system that tainted the Sochi Games in 2014.

International Olympic Committee leaders launched two investigations after the McLaren Report was released and expect results before the end of the year.

But Blackmun noted that U.S. athletes are getting frustrated, with so far not a single Sochi medal forfeited nor a single Winter Olympics-bound athlete sanctioned as a result of the McLaren Report.

The Olympics start Feb. 8.

“I believe the IOC is pursuing the findings of the McLaren Report, both in earnest and in good faith, and I believe the IOC when they say there will be consequences for the bad actors,” Blackmun said. “But at some point, justice delayed is justice denied, and we are fast approaching that point.”

This was one of the strongest statements the USOC has made about the long-running anti-doping scandal in Russia.

It was met with a burst of applause usually reserved at these meetings for announcements about medal counts and other big accomplishments, such as landing the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Several U.S. athletes and sports leaders have expressed frustration with both the IOC’s time-consuming process and with what they had viewed the USOC’s less-than-aggressive push against the IOC’s handling of the Russian investigation.

In one of the assembly meetings Thursday, sports leaders heard from Yulia and Vitaly Stepanov, the first two Russians to blow the whistle on corruption inside the Russian system.

“Obviously, it’s very much welcomed as you could tell by the loud applause,” said Edwin Moses, the chair of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “As the global voices continue to unite and grow to protect clean athletes, having the commitment from a powerful NOC and host of the 2028 Games supporting justice and reform could be a real game-changer.”

While Blackmun took up the anti-doping topic, USOC chairman Larry Probst was equally forceful in denouncing a growing list of IOC corruption scandals.

Most recently, Brazil’s Carlos Nuzman, who spearheaded the effort to stage the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, is in prison during an investigation into a vote-buying scheme to bring the Games to Brazil. The IOC has suspended Nuzman, and he resigned this week as head of the country’s Olympic committee.

Probst said the bad actors have “been tolerated for too long.”

“To be sure, a global movement requires diplomacy and due process. But it also demands an aggressive and timely response to unacceptable behavior,” Probst said.

Blackmun also called on sports leagues and the federal government to help fund the recently opened U.S. Center for SafeSport, which the USOC helped get off the ground. Its mission is collecting reports about and following up on sex-abuse cases inside Olympic sports.

Scandals have resulted in the leaders at both USA Gymnastics and USA Taekwondo being removed from their jobs over the past seven months.

“If we want parents to entrust their children to your care, to encourage them to participate in your sports… we must look at it from the perspective of the couple at the kitchen table; will my child be safe there?” Blackmun said.

The Assembly will close Friday with a USOC board meeting, in which a key topic will be a possible bid for the Winter Olympics in 2026 or 2030.

Probst told the audience the USOC is interested in bringing the Winter Games back to the United States — and has received interest from Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno, Nev.

But no timelines have been set, or decisions have been made, as the IOC is still determining the selection process for 2026.

Also, any bid would have to come with the cooperation of the Los Angeles host committee, which recently agreed to complex financial arrangements with the USOC as part of its deal to stage the 2028 Games.

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Svetlana Romashina, seven-time Olympic champion artistic swimmer, retires

Svetlana Romashina
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Russian Svetlana Romashina, the most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history with seven gold medals, announced her retirement at age 33.

Romashina entered seven Olympic artistic swimming events and won all of them, starting in 2008. She won four Olympic titles in the team event and three in the duet (two with Nataliya Ishchenko and one with Svetlana Kolesnichenko).

The Tokyo Games marked her last major competition.

Romashina is the only woman to go undefeated in her Olympic career while entering seven or more events. The only man to do so was American track and field athlete Ray Ewry, who won all eight of his Olympic starts from 1900-08, according to Olympedia.org.

Romashina also won 21 world championships medals — all gold, second in aquatics history behind Michael Phelps‘ 26.

She took nearly two years off after giving birth to daughter Alexandra in November 2017, then came back to win three golds at her last world championships in 2019 and two golds at her last Olympics in 2021.

Romashina is now an artistic swimming coach, according to Russian media.

Russian swimmers swept the Olympic duet and team titles at each of the last six Olympics.

Russians have been banned from international competition since March due to the war in Ukraine.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

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Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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