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U.S. skeleton sliders want global drug-testing standards to match those in U.S.

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — There was an offseason when U.S. skeleton athlete Katie Uhlaender got a knock on her door from drug testers 19 times in the span of a few weeks. Sometimes they wanted blood. Sometimes they wanted urine. Often, they wanted both.

NBCOlympics.com: 2018 U.S. Olympic skeleton team

The process is annoying. It’s also effective, so Uhlaender and her teammates wonder why it’s not the global standard.

Uhlaender and other members of the U.S. skeleton team suggested Thursday that the rest of the world should follow the testing model employed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, especially with the ongoing fallout from the Russian doping scandal that saw widespread accusations of cheating and now a belief that many flat-out beat a broken system.

“I’d love if the global model adopted ours,” three-time U.S. men’s skeleton Olympian John Daly said. “We get tested pretty strictly, as does Canada. Everyone else? You talk to some of the other athletes, they don’t even know how to fill out the paperwork. The testing isn’t happening. We don’t care if our testing is strict. That’s fine with me. We just want the rest of the world to be like ours.”

It’s not the first time American athletes have offered this opinion. Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps took his pleas for change to Congress last year, saying that he does not believe “that I’ve stood up at international competitions and the rest of the field has been clean.”

Same goes these days for sliders, who saw many Russians sanctioned and banned by the International Olympic Committee — and many of those reinstated after appeals went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“I’m not in other nations’ testing pools, so I can’t speak exactly for how often they get tested,” said Matt Antoine, a two-time Olympian and the bronze medalist in men’s skeleton at the Sochi Games. “But my perception, talking to them, is we get tested considerably more than they do.”

Uhlaender finished fourth at the Sochi Olympics four years ago. When Russia’s Elena Nikitina was found by the IOC to have been part of the doping program at those Olympics, Uhlaender was expected to move up to Nikitina’s bronze-medal spot. But the CAS ruling essentially restored Nikitina’s medal, Uhlaender still doesn’t have one and now Nikitina is among those in PyeongChang fighting for a chance to compete.

NBCOlympics.com: See full skeleton schedule

“Mindblowing,” Uhlaender said. “I think initially when the IOC took such a strong stance to ban Russia and suspend the federation completely and strip the medals, it gave the athletes who are holding on to the spirit of sport hope and kind of strengthened our Olympic spirit. And then when CAS took that away, it did the opposite. So I think we’re all turning to the IOC for reform and to take a strong stance to give us that spirit back.

“We’re holding onto an Olympic spirit that feels like it’s dying.”

There are still 45 Russian athletes who are trying last-minute appeals with hopes of getting into the Olympics. Some coaches and support staff who were banned also are trying to win appeals before CAS, which is planning to issue decisions Friday — just hours before the opening ceremony.

Nikitina believes she will win, and said the Russians will fight for as long as they can. If they are successful, the IOC may have no choice but to accept athletes who they say are dopers.

“For me, if that’s allowed, my faith in the system will be heartbroken,” Uhlaender said.

Jamaican bobsledders want to return to the Olympics, so they’re pushing a Mini Cooper

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The Jamaican bobsled team’s push for the next Winter Olympics took a detour to the roads of Great Britain.

Numerous British media outlets reported in the last week on Shanwayne Stephens and Nimroy Turgott, who have been pushing cars, including a Mini Cooper, in Peterborough.

“We had to come up with our own ways of replicating the sort of pushing we need to do [in bobsledding amid the coronavirus pandemic],” Stephens, a reported British resident since age 11, said, according to Reuters. “So that’s why we thought: why not go out and push the car?

“We do get some funny looks. We’ve had people run over, thinking the car’s broken down, trying to help us bump-start the car. When we tell them we’re the Jamaica bobsleigh team, the direction is totally different, and they’re very excited.”

The Jamaican bobsled team rose to fame with its Olympic debut at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, inspiring the 1993 Disney film, “Cool Runnings.” At least one Jamaican men’s sled competed in every Olympics from 1988 through 2002, then again in 2014, with a best finish of 14th.

A Jamaican women’s sled debuted at the Olympics in 2018, driven by 2014 U.S. Olympian Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian. A Jamaican men’s sled just missed qualifying for PyeongChang by one spot in world rankings.

Stephens, a driver, is 51st and 56th in the current world rankings for the four-person and two-man events, respectively.

He competed in lower-level international races last season with a best finish of sixth in a four-person race that had seven sleds. One of Stephens’ push athletes was Carrie Russell, a 2018 Olympian in the two-woman event and former sprinter who won a world title in the 4x100m in 2013.

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MORE: Sam Clayton, Jamaica’s first bobsled driver, was ‘a pioneer of pioneers’

Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and a Tour de France rivalry that brought tears

Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich
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Lance Armstrong reportedly breaks down into tears in Sunday’s second episode of his ESPN documentary, discussing his closest rival during his run of seven Tour de France titles, all later stripped for doping.

Armstrong visited Jan Ullrich in Germany in 2018, after Ullrich was released from a psychiatric hospital following multiple reported arrests over assault charges.

“The reason I went to see him is I love him,” Armstrong said, followed by tears, according to reports. “It was not a good trip. He was the most important person in my life.”

Ullrich struggled with reported substance abuse, saying in a 2018 letter in German newspaper Bild that he detoxed in a Miami facility and that he had “an illness.”

Ullrich, after winning the 1997 Tour de France, finished second to Armstrong in 2000, 2001 and 2003.

He retired in 2007. In 2013, he admitted to doping during his career (which had been widely assumed), five months after Armstrong confessed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

“Nobody scared me, motivated me. The other guys … no disrespect to them, didn’t get me up early,” Armstrong said in the ESPN film, according to Cycling Weekly. “He got me up early. And [in 2018] he was just a f—ing mess.”

Armstrong and Ullrich’s most notable Tour de France interactions: In Stage 10 in 2001, on the iconic Alpe d’Huez, Armstrong gave what came to be known as “The Look,” turning back to stare in sunglasses at Ullrich, then accelerating away to win the stage by 1:59.

In Stage 15 in 2003, Armstrong’s handlebars caught a spectator’s yellow bag. He crashed to the pavement. Ullrich and others slowed to allow Armstrong to remount and catch up. Armstrong won the stage, upping his lead from 15 seconds to 1:07, eventually winning the Tour by 1:01, by far the closest of his seven titles (again, all later stripped).

For Armstrong, Ullrich began transforming from rival to friend in 2005. After Armstrong won his last (later stripped) Tour de France that July, he was told Ullrich wanted to show up at Armstrong’s victory party in a luxury Paris hotel. Ullrich wanted to say a few words in front of hundreds of Armstrong supporters.

“If you know Jan, you know that his English is not great,” Armstrong said in a 2017 episode of one of his podcasts. “I’m just going, no, this can’t be happening. This is not real. Jan showed up and took the mic and gave a speech and talked about me and talked about us. It was the classiest thing that anybody ever did for me in my cycling career. I’ll never forget it. I love him for it.

“I wasn’t man enough to do that. If the roles were reversed, there’s no way I would have done that. But for him to do that, that’s something that I’ll never forget the rest of my life.”

In 2017, Armstrong was upset that Ullrich wasn’t invited to appear at the Tour de France’s opening stages, held in Germany that year. In 2013, when Ullrich fessed up to doping, he said of his chief rival and fellow cheater, “I am no better than Armstrong, but no worse either.”

Ullrich (and other dopers) kept his Tour de France title, a fact that Armstrong has brought up in interviews since his confession. Ullrich was reportedly asked in 2016 by CyclingTips if he considered Armstrong a seven-time Tour de France champion.

“This is a hard question,” he said, according to the report. “It’s not good, that in all those years, you have no winner. It’s not good for history, it’s not good for the Tour de France. I have heard all the stories about Lance. It’s a hard question. I don’t know the answer. I’m not the judge. But for the history of the Tour de France, it’s not good that there is no winner.”

TIMELINE: Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall

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