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Russia Winter Olympic hopes damaged by WADA decision

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The World Anti-Doping Agency dealt a blow Thursday to Russia’s hopes of competing at next year’s Winter Olympics by refusing to reinstate the country’s suspended anti-doping operation.

At its meeting in South Korea, WADA said two key requirements for reinstating RUSADA had still not been fulfilled: That Russia publicly accept results of an investigation by Canadian Richard McLaren concluding that Russia ran a state-sponsored doping program, and that the country allow access to urine samples collected during the time of the cheating.

Craig Reedie, the chairman of WADA and a member of the International Olympic Committee, acknowledged that improvements have been made but full compliance had not been achieved.

“Having set a road map for compliance, there are two issues that have to be fulfilled and we can’t walk away from the commitments,” Reedie said.

Reedie refused to be drawn on what the decision meant for the Russian team’s chances of participating in the PyeongChang Winter Games.

“We do not have the right to decide who takes part in international competition,” Reedie said. “I am quite certain that the IOC would prefer that RUSADA was compliant.”

The IOC said it is working to ensure Russian athletes undergo sufficient drug testing before the Olympics.

The IOC said its executive board, due to meet Dec. 5-7, “will take all the circumstances, including all the measures to ensure a level-playing field at the Olympic Winter Games 2018, into consideration when it decides on the participation of the Russian athletes.”

“The past has to be sanctioned,” IOC president Thomas Bach said Tuesday, according to The New York Times. “The question now is about the future, and these are two different things.”

Thursday’s WADA ruling could mean Russia misses a second Paralympics after being excluded from Rio.

The International Paralympic Committee board is due to rule Dec. 19, spokesman Craig Spence told The Associated Press, adding that “clearly” RUSADA reinstatement remains a requirement for Russia to be admitted.

Russia has depicted the doping program that marred the Sochi Olympics as the work of individuals, not the government.

Alexander Zhukov, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee and also a member of the International Olympic Committee, told WADA members at Thursday’s meeting that “We absolutely deny the existence of a state-sponsored doping system.”

“It is clear that an unconditional recognition of the McLaren Report is impossible,” Zhukov said. “Such a requirement cannot, and should not serve as an obstacle to the full compliance of RUSADA.”

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart described the latest development as “another sad moment in this entire sordid affair.”

“There was really no other outcome, based on their unwillingness to admit what the flood of evidence proves,” Tygart said. “Now clean athletes are watching anxiously to see if the IOC similarly will take action to finally stand up for their rights or not.”

The IOC has ultimate say on Russia’s status at next year’s Olympics.

WADA’s decision and Zhukov’s statements will play into decisions the IOC makes at meetings next month, where executive board members will discuss investigations into individual Russian doping cases from Sochi and into the allegations of state-sponsored manipulation of the anti-doping program.

Before Rio, the IOC refused to issue a blanket ban on the Russian team, instead allowing individual sports federations to determine eligibility of the athletes.

In the case of the Winter Games, the IOC already vacated results of six Russian athletes from Sochi and banned them from PyeongChang with several more cases still to be decided.

Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to news of the IOC bans by claiming it is being manipulated by U.S. interests that want to use doping scandals to embarrass his government ahead of next year’s elections in Russia.

In discussing Thursday’s decision, WADA director general Olivier Niggli said RUSADA made improvements but didn’t hit the mark on the most important ones.

“The road map with these conditions were exchanged with the Russians over 25 times in the last 18 months,” Niggli.

RUSADA may not be fully reinstated, but it is already collecting samples from athletes after WADA partly restored its powers in June.

In Moscow, RUSADA head Yuri Ganus said his agency had reformed to WADA standards and was now “completely independent,” but that the key remaining demands were outside his authority.

Ganus wouldn’t say if he personally accepts McLaren’s findings or if the Russian government should do so, though he called the report “a very serious document.”

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WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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