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Vladimir Putin: U.S. agencies manipulated Russia doping testimony

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin accused U.S. agencies of manipulating evidence from the main whistleblower on doping at the Sochi Olympics.

Putin said Thursday that former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov — who is under witness protection after fleeing to the United States last year — is “under the control” of the American agencies, including the FBI.

Rodchenkov being in the United States “is not a positive for us, it’s a negative. It means he’s under the control of American special services,” Putin said. “What are they doing with him there? Are they giving him some kind of substances so that he says what’s required?”

Putin added that Rodchenkov should never have been appointed to run Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory in the first place.

“It was a mistake on the part of those who did it, and I know who did it,” he said, but didn’t name names or say they should be punished.

Testimony from Rodchenkov played a key role in International Olympic Committee investigations which led last week to Russian athletes being required to compete under a neutral flag at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Rodchenkov said he was ordered by the sports ministry to oversee steroid use by Russian athletes in many sports, and to cover up their doping by falsifying test results and swapping dirty samples for clean ones.

The IOC’s decision to trust Rodchenkov’s evidence is “nonsense,” Putin said, portraying the scientist as mentally unstable and referring repeatedly to Russian criminal investigations against him.

The Russian government has denied it had any involvement in doping, particularly around the Sochi Olympics, which is seen as a key prestige project.

Russian officials have previously said they accept some drug use occurred, but on a much smaller scale than alleged, and that Rodchenkov tricked some clean Russian athletes into taking banned substances by claiming they were legitimate dietary supplements.

Putin also reiterated previous claims that Russian doping scandals are an attempt to smear the government as he runs for re-election in March, a month after the PyeongChang Olympics.

“The scandal is being created ahead of the domestic political calendar,” he said. “Whatever people say, I’m convinced, I just know this is the case.”

Russian sports officials and athletes across numerous sports have said they will accept the IOC demand that they compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”

That means they will compete in neutral-colored uniforms under the Olympic flag, with the Olympic anthem played at medal ceremonies instead of the Russian anthem.

However, the IOC says the ban could be lifted in time for Russian athletes to march at the Closing Ceremony under their own flag, if Russia complies with IOC conditions.

An IOC commission found no evidence that Russia’s “highest state authority” was involved in doping, but that sports ministry officials knew of the doping scheme.

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MORE: List of Russia Olympic medals stripped; new Sochi medal standings

Does Lance Armstrong believe doping contributed to cancer?

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Lance Armstrong said on Sunday’s ESPN film “Lance” that he didn’t know whether he got testicular cancer because of his doping in the early-to-mid 1990s.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “And I don’t want to say no because I don’t think that’s right, either. I don’t know if it’s yes or no, but I certainly wouldn’t say no. The only thing I will tell you is the only time in my life that I ever did growth hormone was the 1996 season [before being diagnosed with moderate to advanced cancer in October 1996]. So just in my head, I’m like ‘growth, growing, hormones and cells.’ Like, if anything good needs to be grown, it does. But wouldn’t it also make sense that if anything bad is there, that it, too, would grow?”

Armstrong was asked a similar question by Oprah Winfrey in his January 2013 doping confession.

“Do you think that banned substances contributed to you getting cancer?” Winfrey asked.

“I don’t think so,” Armstrong said then. “I’m not a doctor, I’ve never had a doctor tell me that or suggest that to me personally, but I don’t believe so.”

That was not the first time doping and cancer were part of the same conversation.

Teammate Frankie Andreu and then-fiancee Betsy said that Armstrong told a doctor on Oct. 27, 1996, at Indiana University Hospital that he had taken performance-enhancing drugs; EPO, testosterone, growth hormone, cortisone and steroids.

Armstrong said he probably began doping at age 21, in 1992 or 1993.

“I remember when we were on a training ride in 2002, Lance told me that [Michele] Ferrari [the infamous doctor who provided performance-enhancing drugs] had been paranoid that he had helped cause the cancer and became more conservative after that,” former teammate Floyd Landis said in 2011, according to Sports Illustrated.

TIMELINE: Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall

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Cortina requests to postpone Alpine skiing worlds from 2021 to 2022

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The Italian Winter Sports Federation was making a formal request on Monday to postpone next year’s world Alpine skiing championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo until March 2022.

Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malagò revealed the plans during an interview with RAI state TV on Sunday night.

Considering the fallout in Italy from the coronavirus pandemic, Malagò said “this is the best solution” in order to avoid the championships being canceled or shortened.

“It’s a decision in which we both lose but we realize this is the best — or maybe the only thing — to do,” Malago said.

The Italian federation confirmed that the proposal would be presented during an International Ski Federation (FIS) board meeting Monday. The Italian federation added that the decision to make the proposal was made jointly by the organizing committee in Cortina, the Veneto region and the Italian government.

It will be up to FIS to decide on any postponement.

Cortina was already forced to cancel the World Cup Finals in March this year due to the advancing virus, which has now accounted for more than 30,000 deaths in Italy.

Moving the worlds to March 2022 would put the event one month after the Beijing Olympics and likely force FIS to cancel that season’s finals in Méribel and Courchevel, France.

The Cortina worlds are currently scheduled for Feb. 7-21, 2021.

Worlds are usually held every other winter, in odd years.

Cortina is also slated to host Alpine events during the 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympics.

MORE: Anna Veith retires, leaves Austrian Alpine skiing in unfamiliar territory

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