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28 Russians have Olympic doping bans lifted

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MOSCOW (AP) — Twenty-eight Russian athletes had their Olympic doping bans overturned Thursday, throwing the International Olympic Committee’s policy on the country into turmoil.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling was set to reinstate seven Russian medals from the 2014 Sochi Olympics, including gold in men’s skeleton and men’s 50km cross-country skiing.

“This does not mean that these 28 athletes are declared innocent, but in their case, due to insufficient evidence, the appeals are upheld, the sanctions annulled and their individual results achieved in Sochi are reinstated,” CAS secretary general Matthieu Reeb said in PyeongChang.

The IOC said it had taken note of the CAS decision “with satisfaction on the one hand and disappointment on the other,” adding the decision “may have a serious impact on the future fight against doping.”

The 28 who had their bans lifted could now seek late entry into the PyeongChang Olympics, but the IOC said “not being sanctioned does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation.”

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko said the government would back further legal action to allow the athletes in Thursday’s decisions to compete in PyeongChang.

“If the IOC does not accept them, then we will support them in cases which could be filed at CAS and other legal instances,” Mutko said in televised comments.

Eleven more Russians were ruled to have been guilty of doping but had lifetime bans imposed by an IOC disciplinary panel two months ago cut to a ban only from the PyeongChang Games, which open next week.

“Vigorous actions in defending rights in court are justified and can be effective and should continue,” said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin. “We’re glad for our athletes.”

In the urgent verdicts announced Thursday, the two CAS judging panels who heard 39 appeal cases last week in Geneva — and took testimony from Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov — did not give detailed reasons.

“In 28 cases, the evidence collected was found to be insufficient to establish that an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) was committed by the athletes concerned,” the sports court said in a statement.

CAS said it “unanimously found that the evidence put forward by the IOC in relation to this matter did not have the same weight in each individual case.”

The 11 whose appeals were rejected came from men’s bobsled, women’s cross-country skiing and women’s hockey.

They included two-time Sochi bobsled gold medalist Alexander Zubkov. His re-tested samples had abnormal levels of salt, suggesting his tainted urine was swapped in the Sochi testing laboratory with previously stored clean urine, as Rodchenkov said.

Still, the CAS rulings will be seen as a victory for Russia, which has long denied it ran a state-backed doping program.

“It’s a big victory for them and I’m relieved that justice has finally been done,” Philippe Baertsch, a lawyer for the athletes, told The Associated Press. “This confirms what they’ve been saying since Day 1, namely that they are and they’ve always been clean athletes, and that they were wrongly sanctioned without any evidence.”

The IOC has already invited 169 Russians to the PyeongChang Olympics to compete under a neutral flag, but may now be forced to allow in athletes it deems dopers, eight days before the games begin.

“We do hope that the IOC will grant them the right to participate in PyeongChang,” Baertsch said in a telephone interview. “I think that the least the IOC could do is allow them to participate, so we will request that they are allowed to participate, and depending on the answer of the IOC, we will take the measures that are necessary.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the 28 Russians would now seek to compete. Some have already retired from competitive sports.

Rodchenkov’s lawyer, Jim Walden, said the CAS decision would allow doped athletes to escape without punishment.

“(Rodchenkov’s) truth has been verified by forensic evidence, other whistleblowers, and, more recently, recovery of the Moscow lab’s secret database, showing thousands of dirty tests that were covered up,” Walden said in a statement.

“This panel’s unfortunate decision provides a very small measure of punishment for some athletes but a complete ‘get out of jail free card’ for most. Thus, the CAS decision only emboldens cheaters, makes it harder for clean athletes to win, and provides yet another ill-gotten gain for the corrupt Russian doping system generally, and Putin specifically.”

Baertsch said there had been “numerous inconsistencies” in Rodchenkov’s evidence presented to CAS.

Those reinstated from the Sochi Olympics include skeleton gold medalist Alexander Tretiyakov and cross-country ski gold medalist Alexander Legkov.

Russia won’t win back some medals, such as in the men’s four-man bobsled, where two crew members were disqualified and two reinstated. Both of the gold medal-winning two-man bobsled crew remain banned.

“We were hoping for justice, and it has prevailed,” said Elena Nikitina, who won a bronze medal in skeleton in Sochi ahead of American Katie Uhlaender. “It’s a matter of my life, what I do, and when you’re accused like that it’s very unpleasant and everything falls apart for you.

“We’re going to hope that we still make it to these Olympic Games.”

Uhlaender, who was in line to be upgraded to Sochi bronze, said she was “heartbroken” by Thursday’s news.

“The integrity of sport is on the line, and I’m looking to the leaders of a movement to do something to save it,” Uhlaender said.

The IOC last year banned 43 Russians for doping offenses at the Sochi Olympics, ruling they had been part of a scheme to dope.

Rodchenkov, the director of the laboratory which handled samples for the Sochi Games, said he gave cocktails of banned steroids to athletes and swapped tainted samples for clean urine on orders from Russian state sports officials.

The Russian government vehemently denies ever supporting doping.

Three more appeals, all involving retired biathlon competitors, will be heard later.

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Russian doping list

Nathan Chen calls 3 quads at Skate America ‘a given’

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When Nathan Chen won Skate America in 2017, he competed two quadruple jumps in the short program and one downgraded quad in the free skate.

When Chen won the event in 2018, he did one under-rotated quad (which was also given an edge call) in the short and three in the free.

For Skate America this weekend (Oct. 18-20, streaming live on the NBC Sports “Figure Skating Pass”), two-time and reigning world champion Chen told reporters on Monday’s media teleconference that three quads in the free skate was “a given.”

“Honestly, I don’t really know exactly,” Chen said, after admitting he gets asked this question a lot and usually ends up giving a “vague” answer. “I have ideas. I want to push three. I want to push four… As of now, I think three is a given. But beyond that, we’ll see.”

Chen completed six quads to win the free skate at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where he ultimately finished fifth.

He’ll skate to La Boheme for the short program in Las Vegas, choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne, and selections from “Rocket Man” for the free skate, choreographed by Marie-France Dubreuil. Bourne is a former ice dancer and choreographs programs for many singles skaters as well as pair teams. Dubreuil is a noted former ice dancer and current dance coach, training the top teams in the world at her school in Montreal.

Chen explained that both of the choices were the choreographers’ picks, and he had to sit on the music for a day or two before committing to skating to it. Ultimately, he likes when choreographers are able to find something that they think suits him.

“I love to listen to Elton John,” Chen said. “I don’t necessarily feel as though I’m an embodiment of his character, per se. But I do feel that no matter how you listen to music there are always many ways to interpret it. The way that we’re approaching it is not necessarily that I’m trying to be Elton John but mostly that we’re trying to interpret his music and share his music.”

And compared to last season, when he was a freshman at Yale University, classes this time around are “a lot harder,” the sophomore said. In general though, he’s a lot more comfortable trying to balance both skating and his studies.

“Skating is always tough, always a challenge,” he said. “But I would say, relative to last season, skating might be a little bit on the easier side. I think classes are definitely a lot harder… You have to really grind for a long period of time or else you don’t do well.”

Luckily for Chen, Skate America is aligned with Yale’s scheduled fall break.

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

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. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. 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.

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Simone Biles reveals one thing she cannot do: Wear all her medals at once

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Three days after raising the record for world championship medals to 25, Simone Biles said her career total is a bit too much to wear at once.

“I’ve worn all five of them (from one world championship) for one time, but they’re pretty heavy, so I can’t imagine 25,” Biles said Wednesday on the “Today” show.

MORE: Mother and daughter share world championship experience

Last week, Biles became the first gymnast to win five gold medals at the world championships. She and her teammates ran away with the team gold, and she won the all-around by a staggering 2.1 points. She then won the vault, balance beam and floor exercise. Only a fifth-place finish in the uneven bars kept her from a sweep.

One event that stood out for her was the ever-challenging balance beam.

“Out of all of my performances this past week, the beam performance was one of my favorites, because I did it exactly like practice, and that’s what I’ve been training to do,” Biles said. “So it definitely helped my confidence.”

GYM WORLDS: Finals Results

Biles had her breakout performance at age 18, her first year in senior competition, in the 2013 world championships with a four-medal performance, including gold in the all-around and floor exercise. In 2014, she won those events again, along with the team event and the balance beam, and added a fifth medal on the vault. She matched that performance in 2015, then switched the vault and beam in her four-gold, five-medal performance in the 2016 Olympics.

After a post-Olympic break, she returned for the 2018 world championships to win medals in all six events, including four golds and a silver on the uneven bars, historically her least successful event.

She didn’t win six medals this year, but she took five golds for the first time. This year’s championships are also special because they’re almost certainly her last, with next year’s Olympics expected to be her last major competition.

Given all that, she’ll make more of an effort to go back and watch what she did.

“Most of the time I don’t want to see it, but this world championships was one of the best out of all five of them, so I definitely wanted to see my performances, so afterward, I would go and try to find it with my coach,” Biles said.

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