Viktor Ahn
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Viktor Ahn writes letter to IOC, asks why he can’t go to Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Six-time Olympic gold medalist Viktor Ahn wants to know why he has been barred from the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Ahn is a short-track speed skater who was born in South Korea but switched allegiance to Russia ahead of the Sochi Olympics.

Russian officials said the International Olympic Committee refused to grant Ahn an invitation amid its vetting of the country’s athletes for possible doping links.

“It is outrageous that there is no concrete reason which explains my exclusion from the Olympics, and furthermore people now view me as an athlete who used doping,” Ahn wrote in an open letter to IOC President Thomas Bach.

Competing in South Korea would have been “an especially significant part of my career for several reasons,” said Ahn, who won his first three 2006 Olympic titles while competing for his native country. “I hope that the IOC will ultimately declare their reason for my exclusion, so I will be able to defend my honor and dignity.”

Ahn’s letter was published Friday by the Russian Skating Union.

Asked about the letter, the spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said Russia would support all athletes, whether they take part in the Olympics or are barred.

“Intensive contacts are under way with the International Olympic Committee to clarify the situation and so that the interests of our athletes who are able to take part in the Olympics are completely secured and respected,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“There are athletes who are disputing their rights in a legal context. There are athletes who are appealing to public opinion. There are athletes who are appealing to the Olympic committee leadership. That is their right.”

The IOC hasn’t confirmed which Russians will be invited to compete in PyeongChang and hasn’t explained any individual decisions.

However, it said newly obtained records from the Moscow anti-doping laboratory played a role in the decision-making.

Russia announced an Olympic team of 169 athletes on Thursday.

The list didn’t contain Ahn or some other Russian medal contenders, including cross-country skiing world champion Sergei Ustyugov and biathlete Anton Shipulin.

The IOC refusals for some are separate from the doping bans for 43 Russian athletes because of what the Olympic body ruled was a doping program and cover-up at the Sochi Games.

Of those, 42 launched appeals at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is due to rule next week.

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MORE: Russia names 169-athlete Olympic roster

The full letter:

Dear Mr. President Thomas Bach,

Back in 2002, I got my first opportunity to participate in Olympic Games. The present ones in Korea were supposed to become an especially significant part of my career for several reasons. Two weeks before the start of the Olympics I found out that the Olympic movement does not consider me an athlete, who deserves to be a part of it without even providing an explanation.

During my entire career journey in short track, I’ve never given a reason to doubt my honesty and my integrity, especially when it comes to my victories which I achieved with nothing but my strength and dedication. I have always maintained respect to  the sport itself, my rivals, the Olympic movement, and I’ve always complied with the anti-doping legislation. I honestly thought that properly completing all the steps to meet the criteria to be a part of the Olympic Games, a “clean” athlete deserves a right to compete there. However, the IOC commission has decided otherwise and didn’t provide me with reasons why so.

I thoroughly went over the criteria which commission utilized when they made this decision. I can honestly declare that I haven’t done anything that would justify putting me on the list of athletes barred from participating in the Olympic Games.

It is outrageous that there is no concrete reason which explains my exclusion from the Olympics, and furthermore people now view me as an athlete who used doping. After all these years in sports, this verdict of preventing me to be in Olympics has become a symbol of mistrust to me from the side of IOC as well as the reason of mistrust from the side of the entire sport community.

I hope that the IOC will ultimately declare their reason for my exclusion, so I will be able to defend my honor and dignity. I have a full right to believe and hope that I have the trust of my supporters, as well as journalists, after my long journey in short-track and with absolute absence of my fault in this situation, when I’m deprived an opportunity to participate in the Olympics.

Sincerely,
Victor Ahn

Swim meet canceled after FINA’s threat to ban athletes

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GENEVA (AP) — Amid growing conflict between swimmers and their world governing body, an international swimming meet was canceled on Thursday after threats to ban athletes who took part seeking better prize money.

The Italian swim federation called off the Dec. 20-21 competition it was organizing in Turin, saying it acted to protect athletes from FINA.

The Turin meet was linked to a proposed International Swimming League, a privately run operation which aims to operate outside FINA’s control and pay higher prize money.

“FINA declared the event ‘non-approved,’ threatening sanctions against the participating athletes,” Italian officials said in a statement.

FINA, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Olympic champions have long criticized FINA, believing swimmers should be better rewarded, have more say in decisions, and could create their own union.

Olympic champion Adam Peaty of Britain wrote on Thursday on Twitter he was “incredibly disappointed” by the cancellation.

The politics involved will “galvanize swimmers, not break them,” wrote Peaty, who holds 50m and 100m breaststroke world records.

Peaty has previously supported Hungarian star Katinka Hosszu in her public criticism of FINA, and calls to create a swimmers’ union.

Italian organizers said Peaty, Hosszu and other Olympic champions including Chad le Clos of South Africa and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden were due to take part in their 25-meter pool event. It was scheduled days after the short-course world championships being staged in Hangzhou, China.

The clash of events seemed to provoke FINA into finding more prize money for its worlds event in the smaller pool.

On Nov. 6, FINA added to its promised prize fund for China by almost doubling the total to $2.07 million.

FINA wrote to member federations on Oct. 30 warning of bans of up to two years for taking part in Turin.

However, a European Commission decision last year suggests swimmers could successfully challenge any attempt to limit their right to race and earn money.

The European Union’s executive arm ruled the International Staking Union in breach of anti-trust laws by threatening severe bans for speed skaters who wanted to compete in a South Korean-organized event in Dubai.

The ISU’s threats “also serve to protect its own commercial interests,” the European officials said.

MORE: Katie Ledecky on her new suit, challenges for Tokyo 2020

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Simon Ammann believes ski jumping career end is near

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Simon Ammann, the most decorated active ski jumper with four Olympic gold medals, said it is hard to imagine competing beyond this season, according to Swiss newspaper Blick.

Ammann, 37, swept the individual Olympic titles in 2002 and 2010 to join retired Finn Matti Nykänen as the only four-time Olympic ski jumping champs.

In PyeongChang, his sixth Olympics, Ammann placed 11th and 13th, one month after making his first World Cup podium in nearly three years. He decided after those Winter Games that he would continue at least one more season, but has no plan to go all the way to a seventh Olympics in 2022, according to Blick.

Ammann has teased retirement since at least 2011 and even said going into the 2014 Sochi Olympics that he was “99 percent sure” they would be his final Games.

The now-father of two first gained crossover celebrity with his surprise Salt Lake City 2002 gold medals, his first wins in top-level international competition. The bespectacled Ammann’s victory screams and resemblance to Harry Potter helped land him on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and one of Europe’s biggest shows, sitting next to Shakira.

Fellow ski jumper Noriaki Kasai of Japan holds the Winter Olympic record of eight appearances. Kasai, 46, has said he plans to go for a ninth participation at Beijing 2022.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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MORE: Finland ski jumping legend retires for third time