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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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Salwa Eid Naser, world 400m champion, provisionally banned

Salwa Eid Naser
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Salwa Eid Naser, the world 400m champion of Bahrain, was provisionally suspended for missing three drug tests in a 12-month span.

“I’ve never been a cheat. I will never be,” Naser, 22, said in an Instagram live video. “I only missed three drug tests, which is normal. It happens. It can happen to anybody. I don’t want people to get confused in all this because I would never cheat.”

Naser said “the missed tests” came before last autumn’s world championships, where she ran the third-fastest time in history (48.14 seconds) and the fastest in 34 years.

“This year I have not been drug tested,” she said. “We are still talking about the ones of last season before the world championships.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit, which handles doping cases for track and field, did not announce whether Naser’s gold medal could be stripped.

“Hopefully, it’ll get resolved because I don’t really like the image, but it has happened,” she said. “It’s going to be fine. It’s very hard to have this little stain on my name.”

Naser, the 2017 World silver medalist, upset Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas for the world title in Doha on Oct. 3.

The only women who have run faster than Naser, who was born Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother who sprinted and a Bahraini father, were dubious — East German Marita Koch (47.60) and Czechoslovakia’s Jarmila Kratochvilova (47.99).

“I would never take performance-enhancing drugs,” Naser said. “I believe in talent, and I know I have the talent.”

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When Laurie Hernandez winked at the Olympics

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Blink, and you may have missed one of the social-media-sensation moments of the Rio Olympics.

Laurie Hernandez, then 16, was the youngest woman on the U.S. Olympic team across all sports. She was about to start arguably the most important floor exercise routine of her life.

So, she winked.

“The amazing thing about the Olympics is that you feel so many different emotions in the span of a few days, and they are all intense,” she wrote in her 2017 book, “I Got This,” a nod to what she told herself before her balance beam routine earlier that night. “So it was nice to have at least one totally playful moment.”

The U.S., on its fourth and final rotation, already had the team gold all but locked up. Knowing she was nervous, Hernandez’s teammates confirmed to her that they were a few points ahead.

Then Hernandez heard the beep, and it was time to go. She was in the view of an out-of-bounds judge at the Rio Olympic Arena.

“Well, I looked straight at her and suddenly felt this surge of confidence to wink,” she wrote. “Later, a woman came up to me while I was watching Simone [Biles] and Aly [Raisman] compete in their all-around finals and she said, ‘Wow, I just want you to know that when you winked at the judge, it really worked.’ I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, ‘Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.’ That’s when she told me she was the out-of-bounds judge! All I could say was ‘Oh my goodness.'”

Hernandez, a New Jersey native, finished the Olympics with a team gold and balance beam silver.

She took more than two years off before making a comeback in earnest last year, announcing she planned to return to competition this spring under new coaches in California. Now that’s on hold given the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed the Tokyo Olympics to 2021.

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