A look at the Russians stripped of Olympic medals from Sochi

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MOSCOW (AP) Fourteen Russian athletes have now been banned for doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, with nine medals stripped from six athletes in four sports.

Here’s a look at the medalists who have been banned:

ALEXANDER ZUBKOV

Sport: Bobsled

2014 Olympic results: Gold in two-man, gold in four-man

Alexander Zubkov was arguably Russia’s biggest star at the Sochi Olympics, a grizzled veteran who carried the Russian flag at the opening ceremony and then won two gold medals in bobsled.

Zubkov has since become president of the Russian Bobsled Federation, putting him in charge of a new generation of athletes.

His gold medals are now in line to pass to Swiss and Latvian teams. American bobsledder Steven Holcomb, who died in May, could be upgraded to two silver medals.

MORE on Zubkov’s DQ here.

OLGA FATKULINA

Sport: Speedskating

2014 Olympic result: Silver in 500 meters

Olga Fatkulina could only manage 20th in both her events at the 2010 Olympics, but the skater from the Ural Mountains improved rapidly over the following years to win a world title in 2013, then an Olympic silver medal the following year.

When the IOC announced she had been banned, Fatkulina was in Canada for a World Cup speedskating event.

ALEXANDER TRETYAKOV

Sport: Skeleton

2014 Olympic result: Gold

Alexander Tretyakov arrived in Sochi as Russia’s first skeleton world champion and broke the track record on his way to the gold medal.

Martins Dukurs, a five-time world champion from Latvia, is now in line to inherit his and his country’s first Winter Olympic gold.

ELENA NIKITINA

Sport: Skeleton

2014 Olympic result: Bronze

Elena Nikitina narrowly reached the podium, beating American rival Katie Uhlaender by 0.04 seconds for bronze.

Nikitina, one of three Russian women in the top six who have been found guilty of doping offenses, would have been a medal contender at the Pyeongchang Olympics. She won a World Cup race only four days before her ban was announced on Wednesday.

ALEXANDER LEGKOV

Sport: Cross-country skiing

2014 Olympic results: Gold in men’s 50 kilometers, silver in 4×10-kilometer relay

A Russian podium sweep in the last race of the Sochi Games meant Alexander Legkov got his gold at the closing ceremony. A packed stadium looked on as Russian cross-country skiers received gold, silver and bronze.

Legkov was a surprise winner because he had never won an individual or Olympic world championship medal in nine years of trying.

Legkov says he competed clean, and has never failed a test. Ilya Chernousov, Russia’s bronze medalist in the 50K, could now inherit gold.

MAXIM VYLEGZHANIN

Sport: Cross-country skiing

2014 Olympic results: Silver in men’s 50 kilometers, silver in 4×10-kilometer relay, silver in team sprint

Maxim Vylegzhanin never quite made it to the top of the podium, finishing second three times. He has now lost all three medals. Sweden, France and Norway are among the countries that could be upgraded as a result.

IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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