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Investigation: Bradley Wiggins won Tour de France using drug without medical need

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LONDON (AP) — Bradley Wiggins used a banned powerful corticosteroid to enhance his performance while preparing to win the Tour de France in 2012, a British parliamentary committee said in a doping investigation report that accuses Team Sky of crossing an “ethical line” after preaching zero tolerance.

The legislators said they received evidence that shows Team Sky sought a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for Wiggins to take triamcinolone “not to treat medical need” — asthma — “but to improve his power to weight ratio.”

“We believe this powerful corticosteroid was being used to prepare Bradley Wiggins, and possibly other riders supporting him, for the (2012) Tour de France,” the House of Commons select committee said in the report published Monday. “He benefited from the performance-enhancing properties of this drug during the race.”

In a statement, Wiggins denied “any drug was used without medical need.” Team Sky defended its reputation in a statement criticizing “the anonymous and potentially malicious claim” by members of parliament.

But the report from a committee established in 2015 to investigate doping casts doubt on the team’s use of medication and failure to keep accurate medical records.

Team Sky general manager “David Brailsford must take responsibility for these failures, the regime under which Team Sky riders trained and competed and the damaging skepticism about the legitimacy of his team’s performance and accomplishments,” the report states.

The report also accused IAAF President Sebastian Coe of misleading the parliamentary inquiry into doping.

It was critical of Coe’s responses to questions regarding how much he knew about doping within track and field before the problems were revealed by investigative journalists and whistle-blowers.

The committee suggested Coe could have acted sooner to clean up the sport while he served as vice president of the international track and field federation until 2015, when he won an election to succeed Lamine Diack as president.

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TEAM ACCUSED

Brailsford, who directed Britain’s breakthrough success at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, established Team Sky in 2009 with the financial backing of satellite broadcaster Sky, whose largest shareholder is Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. The stated mission was to cleanly produce Britain’s first Tour de France champion as cycling was trying to rebuild its reputation after years of scandals.

The publication of the parliamentary report comes with Team Sky’s four-time Tour de France champion, Chris Froome, under investigation by cycling’s world governing body for failing a doping test. Froome has been ordered to explain why a urine sample he provided at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol at twice the permitted level. Froome denies any wrongdoing.

Wiggins was Team Sky’s first Tour de France champion, emerging victorious in 2012 before cementing his status as Britain’s most decorated Olympian at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games by taking his haul to eight medals before retiring.

Tour de France organizers told The Associated Press on Sunday that they have no comment to make on the issue.

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MYSTERY PACKAGE

Investigations into Wiggins began later in 2016 following a leak to a newspaper about a medical package delivered to the rider at the 2011 Dauphine Libere race in France, a key pre-Tour event. The mystery deepened as Team Sky declined for two months to say what substance was in the bag dispatched from the shared British Cycling-Team Sky medical facility in Manchester.

There was no paper trail or written evidence to substantiate a claim by Brailsford that the product couriered was Fluimucil, a brand name for a legal decongestant containing acetylcysteine used for clearing mucus. The committee now says that Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman, who failed to log Wiggins’ use of an unlicensed product, can no longer confirm it was Fluimucil and he was “the only reported source of this information.”

The U.K. Anti-Doping Agency said in November that its investigation into whether the product was in fact the corticosteroid triamcinolone was hampered by a lack of accurate medical records but it decided not to issue charges. UKAD said it would re-open the investigation if new evidence emerged.

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CORTICOSTEROIDS … TO LEAN DOWN

The parliamentary committee said it received material from a “well-placed and respected source” about the use of triamcinolone, specifically that “Wiggins was using these drugs beyond the requirement for any TUE,” which allows athletes to use otherwise-banned substances because of a verified medical need.

Wiggins and a smaller group of riders trained away from the rest of Team Sky while preparing for the 2012 season, according to the legislators, who report: “The source said they were all using corticosteroids out of competition to lean down in preparation for the major races that season.”

The digital, culture, media and sports select committee said it was told in writing by Wiggins’ former coach, Shane Sutton, that “what Brad was doing was unethical but not against the rules” by taking triamcinolone.

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OPEN TO ABUSE

A leak by the Russian-linked hackers Fancy Bears in 2016 showed that Wiggins gained a therapeutic use exemption to have the anti-inflammatory drug triamcinolone injected on three specific occasions before the 2011 and 2012 Tours and the 2013 Giro D’Italia.

The British legislators found the TUE system was “open to abuse” by using products “to achieve a peak level of physical condition in the athlete, rather than returning them to a normal state of health.”

While Wiggins’ use of a TUE “does not constitute a violation of the WADA code,” the report said, “it does cross the ethical line that David Brailsford says he himself drew for Team Sky.

“In this case, and contrary to the testimony of David Brailsford in front of the committee, we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules, to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need.”

TUEs were granted up to 2014 based on the assessment by a doctor from both the team and the World Anti-Doping Agency. Now a TUE committee of independent medics gives approval.

“The TUE system needs to be kept under permanent review, but the question inevitably remains, that if an athlete is so ill that they can only compete using a drug that is otherwise banned during competition, then why are they competing at all?” the legislators wrote.

The committee called on WADA to introduce a complete ban on the use of corticosteroids and the painkiller Tramadol by athletes.

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DO IT CLEAN

Team Sky said it remained committed to allowing riders to “do it clean.” But the parliamentary report said claims by Team Sky coaches and managers that they were largely unaware of the medical methods “seem incredible, and inconsistent with their original aim of ‘winning clean,’ and maintaining the highest ethical standards.”

“How can David Brailsford ensure that his team is performing to his requirements, if he does not know and cannot tell what drugs the doctors are giving the riders?” the committee report added.

Wiggins has previously said he sought permission to use triamcinolone to treat his asthma to ensure he was “back on a level playing field” with competitors rather than to seek an unfair advantage.

Discussing the parliamentary report, Wiggins said on Monday: “I find it so sad that accusations can be made, where people can be accused of things they have never done which are then regarded as facts. I strongly refute the claim that any drug was used without medical need.”

Team Sky said it had already addressed the need to strengthen medical record keeping and denounced any suggestions they deceived the system as “unfair both to the team and to the riders.” The team denied a “serious claim that medication has been used by the team to enhance performance.”

“The report also includes an allegation of widespread Triamcinolone use by Team Sky riders ahead of the 2012 Tour de France,” the team statement said. “Again, we strongly refute this allegation.”

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BRITISH CYCLING FAILURES

British Cycling said the “failures” identified by the parliamentary report had already been addressed by an overhaul prompted by evidence heard in public hearings. The sport’s national governing body said there are now “clear boundaries and distinctions” between them and Team Sky, with no one simultaneously employed by both organizations.

Freeman, who held dual roles as doctor at Team Sky and British Cycling between 2009 and 2015, is being investigated by the General Medical Council, which is responsible for the behavior of medical practitioners.

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MORE: Wiggins returns to competition in new sport

Cathy Freeman’s gold medal milestone echoes 20 years later

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As Cathy Freeman powered around the track at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Australia held a collective breath.

Twenty-seven-year-old Freeman – with long, elegant strides that made running look almost effortless – carried more pressure than any other athlete at those Games as she ran the 400m final.

But pressure, the kind that could have caused another athlete to buckle, only seemed to spur Freeman. Twenty years ago today, she became Australia’s first Aboriginal athlete to win an individual Olympic gold medal.

“My running has allowed me to walk in a light, to be in a light, to live in a light that comes from within. It’s carried me to these places that I never thought imaginable,” Freeman said in an ABC Australia documentary called “Freeman” released this month in commemoration of the anniversary. She was unavailable to comment for this story.

Freeman was born in Mackay, a city in Queensland near the Great Barrier Reef. She grew up in a tight-knit family, one of five children. Her paternal great-grandfather served in World War I, but because of his Aboriginal heritage, his military service was not recognized when he returned home. He was not offered a land grant given to white soldiers. Her maternal great-grandfather was sent to a penal colony on Palm Island with his wife and children after refusing to sign over his paycheck to local authorities.

“I was a kid who was quite embarrassed to be a Black kid, an Indigenous kid. I grew up with that self-image,” she said in “Freeman.” “I could never understand why, when I smiled at someone, they wouldn’t smile back. … It used to quietly really devastate me.”

Her stepfather, Bruce, encouraged Freeman to run as a child, and to harbor big dreams.

“To put up on the wall, ‘I am the greatest athlete,’” she told ABC.

At 16, Freeman became the first Aboriginal woman to win a Commonwealth Games title as part of a 4x100m relay in Auckland, New Zealand. She made her Olympic debut in 1992, eliminated in the 400m quarterfinals.

Before leaving for the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, British Columbia, Freeman packed an Aboriginal flag in her suitcase. The black, yellow and red flag, first flown on National Aborigines Day in 1971, represents the Aboriginal people, the sun and spiritual connection to the land.

After winning the 400m, Freeman wrapped herself in the Aboriginal flag before taking the Australian flag and bringing both around the track in a victory lap. Arthur Tunstall, the head of the Australian delegation, was outraged.

But Freeman was undeterred, carrying both flags again after winning the 200m.

“I wanted to shout, ‘Look at me. Look at my skin. I’m Black, and I’m the best,’” Freeman told ABC. “There’s no more shame.”

The gesture ignited national debate, shining light on the racism and repression Indigenous Australians faced at home.

“There’s this mural in Melbourne with traditional Aboriginal people with chains around their necks, being treated like animals,” Freeman told ABC. “I draw strength from those sorts of paintings, which is pretty much what the flag represents, all the struggles, I suppose, and hardships my people have had to deal with.”

Freeman won a silver medal in the 400m at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, beaten by France’s Marie-Jose Perec, the defending champion from 1992.

A few weeks after the Olympics, Freeman topped Perec at a meet in Brussels. Perec focused on the 200m the following year and was out with health issues in 1998, while Freeman won back-to-back world titles in 1997 and 1999 in her absence. Going into the Sydney Olympics, the two hadn’t raced each other in four years.

Freeman made no effort to conceal the fact that Perec was a major source of motivation.

“It was always her in the front of my mind and the front of my heart that made me do the things I did – training the way I did, aspiring the way I did, and dreaming the way I did,” Freeman told ABC.

Perec was entered in the 400m in Sydney but left the city under mysterious circumstances before her race. Perec, according to a New York Times story at the time, vented her frustrations about the Australian media.

“I have the impression that everything has been made up in order to destabilize me,” she said.

One front-page headline read “Mademoiselle La Chicken: Perec flees before facing Cathy.”

“My heart dropped,” Freeman told ABC of Perec leaving Sydney. “My heart drops still now. I knew that I was up for it. She knew it, and I knew it, but we’ll never know because it didn’t happen. That race will never happen.”

Freeman, meanwhile, faced relentless pressure leading up to the 400m final. Newspaper headlines read, “The single gold all Australia craves” and “Running for her country, her people, herself.”

Freeman’s friend Michael Johnson – a four-time Olympic gold medalist who won the 200m-400m double four years earlier in Atlanta – understood the weight and importance of performing at a home Olympics.

“I sort of lived that moment with her, because it was four years after I was the face of the Games in Atlanta in a home Games,” Johnson said in August. “It was her time four years later in Sydney. We talked a lot in the lead-up to that and I tried to advise her as much as I could of how to deal with that pressure.”

On Sept. 15, Freeman lit the Olympic cauldron to open the Sydney Games. Ten days later, after easing off her warm-up clothes to reveal a sleek Nike body suit, she settled into her blocks for the most anticipated event of the Games.

Her coach, Peter Fortune, had jotted down a race plan on a piece of paper, with notes like “fast start for 50m,” “move from very fast to fast relaxed to the 200m,” “pick up on bend a little to make sure of your position,” and “go hard from about 120 to go and hold form to finish line.”

Johnson was at Stadium Australia that night waiting for his own 400m final, which would take place just after the women’s event. Instead of waiting in the call room, he left to go into the stadium, beneath the stands, so he could watch Freeman race. His seven competitors followed.

“We all just stood there,” Johnson said. “We’re fierce rivals, and we stood there to watch that race because it was just that intriguing. You could hear the crowd, and everybody knew that this was the race that everybody wanted to see, and we wanted to see it, too.”

In the noise of more than 112,000 spectators, Freeman found quiet.

“I remember in my warm-up feeling really relaxed, and all of the sudden the words, ‘just do what I know,’ came into my head,” Freeman recalled to NBC on The Olympic Show a year after the Games. “And so, that was that. I went out and did what I knew.”

Freeman trailed off the start, careful not to overexert herself too early. She closed in on the last curve and powered ahead on the final stretch, crossing the line at 49.11.

When she looks back on the race, “I feel like I’m being protected. My ancestors were the first people to walk on this land. It’s a really powerful force. Those other girls were always going to have to come up against my ancestors,” she told ABC.

Fiercely competitive with herself, Freeman was disappointed by her time. She knew she could run under 49 seconds. But her win remains one of the most significant moments of the Games, and the image of Freeman circling the track in a barefoot victory lap with the Aboriginal and Australian flags is indelible.

“The power of the emotion of everybody that night was just amazing,” Freeman told NBC on The Olympic Show. “Maybe some massive cosmic explosion took place in that stadium. … It was something I don’t think I’ll ever, ever experience again.”

That night at the track, later called “Magic Monday,” would go down as one of the most memorable in Olympic history.

After Freeman’s victory, Johnson became the first man to win consecutive 400m titles. American Stacy Dragila won the first Olympic women’s pole vault competition, topping Russian-born Australian Tatiana Grigorieva. Great Britain’s Jonathan Edwards, the world record holder in the triple jump, won a long awaited gold medal in his fourth Games. The men’s 10,000m came down to a head-to-head sprint in the last 100 meters, as Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie edged Kenyan Paul Tergat by .09 of a second after 25 laps around the track.

Freeman, who initially targeted the next Olympics in Athens, ultimately retired in 2003, citing a lack of passion and motivation to continue running at the highest level.

Her influence and legacy stretched far beyond the track, continuing to resonate with those who hoped to follow her lead.

On Sept. 25, 2000, 12-year-old Patty Mills sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the TV, his stuffed Sydney mascots and the Aboriginal flag on display. Mills and his mother had decorated the room in the Australian colors.

Years before he became the first Indigenous Australian to win an NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs, before representing Australia as an Olympian himself, Mills readied for Freeman’s race like it was his own.

He doesn’t remember much of the race – “maybe because I was screaming my face off trying to push her along” – but he does recall happy tears that followed as he watched with his parents.

“What Cathy never knew at that moment was that there was a little 12-year-old boy … that was so inspired that he was fully committed to becoming just like her,” Mills wrote in an email. “I was inspired by the way she represented herself and her culture. She was clearly very proud of who she was and never ashamed of it and because of this, I was inspired by the way she handled adversity.”

Freeman, now 47, is still amazed by the legacy of her triumph 20 years ago.

“People still light up when they talk about that night in September. They sparkle, and we’re talking about something that happened so long ago,” she told ABC.

“The lovely thing about this particular story is a lot of people were involved in it.”

OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.

MORE: How Cathy Freeman came to light the Olympic cauldron

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Chloe Dygert crashes over guard rail at world championships, has surgery

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American Chloé Dygert crashed over a guard rail in the world road cycling championships time trial, where she appeared en route to a repeat title, and underwent leg surgery as a result.

Dygert, who last year won by the largest margin in history as the youngest-ever champion, lost control of her bike while approaching a curve to the right.

Her front wheel bobbled, and she collided with the barricade, flipping over into an area with grass.

“I remember thinking what if I can get my bike can I still win?” was posted on Dygert’s social media at 6:01 a.m. local time the next day. “The first thing I remember was asking [USA Cycling chief of sport performance Jim Miller] if I was done.. Then I looked down and saw my leg.”

Dygert, who had a left leg laceration, was tended to by several people, put on a stretcher and taken to a hospital in Bologna, about 25 miles from the worlds host of Imola.

“We are relieved that this crash was not worse than what it could have been,” Miller said in a press release. “While this crash is distressing, Chloe is young and a fighter. With Chloe’s determination, we know she will be back riding before we know it. For now, we want her to focus on healing.”

About 10 minutes after the crash, Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen won her first time trial title.

Van der Breggen took silver the last three years behind Dygert and countrywoman Annemiek van Vleuten, who missed this year’s race after breaking her wrist last week in the Giro Rosa.

Dygert, 23, had a 26-second lead at the 14-kilometer time check of the 31-kilometer race. Full results are here.

Dygert qualified for the Tokyo Olympics when she won last year’s world time trial title. She has been bidding to make the Olympics on the road and the track.

Worlds continue Friday with the men’s time trial airing on Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold for Cycling Pass subscribers at 8:15 a.m. ET. A full TV schedule is here.

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