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Biathlon president steps down after doping raid

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The longtime president of International Biathlon Union stepped down Thursday as Austrian prosecutors investigate the organization for possible doping offenses, fraud and corruption.

Police raided the IBU’s headquarters in Salzburg on Tuesday on a tipoff that Russian doping cases had been covered up in return for bribes.

Prosecutors said the alleged wrongdoing covered a period from 2012 until the February 2017 world championships in Austria — much more recent than most Russian doping scandals.

Prosecutors said the bribes amount to $300,000. They said they are also treating $35,000 in prize money as fraudulent earnings if it was won by athletes who doped and should have been banned.

The case spans three countries, with searches also conducted in Norway and Germany.

The IBU said Thursday that Anders Besseberg, the only president in the organization’s 25-year history, “is stepping down from his position as long as the investigation is ongoing.”

Besseberg had been expected to leave his post later this year rather than run for a new term.

The IBU board also suspended general secretary Nicole Resch a day after saying she had taken a leave of absence.

The acting IBU president will be Klaus Leitner, an Austrian who had been in charge of finances. A senior Russian official, Viktor Maygurov, had been next in line for the presidency after Besseberg but didn’t want the job, the IBU said.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has said its investigation department provided information which led to the raids, and a lawyer for Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov said he was involved. Besseberg sits on the WADA board as a representative of Winter Olympic sports.

Russian doping scandals have torn apart the sport of biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and shooting.

The American, Canadian and Czech teams all boycotted last month’s World Cup finals after the IBU refused to move the event from Russia. Numerous Russian athletes, including Olympic medalists, have been banned for doping in recent years.

At the 2017 world championships — a focus of the Austrian investigation — French athlete Martin Fourcade walked out of a post-race podium ceremony following a dispute with Alexander Loginov, a Russian who had recently returned from a doping ban.

The International Olympic Committee said Thursday it has “full confidence in (WADA) and the authorities to deal with this issue.”

The IOC declined to say if Olympic revenues due to the IBU from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games could be withheld. The IOC’s executive board next meets on May 2-3 in Lausanne.

Resch is a German lawyer who was the IBU’s top administrator since 2008. She was appointed by the IOC to a panel assessing preparations for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. It is next due to visit China on Sept. 16-18.

The IOC did not immediately answer a question about Resch’s status as a member of the group, which was originally chaired by Russian IOC member Alexander Zhukov.

Resch previously was assistant to Austrian predecessor Michael Geistlinger. Geistlinger had a key role in the wider Russian doping saga in January as one of four Court of Arbitration for Sport judges selected to hear appeals by athletes against lifetime Olympic bans for doping linked to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

A total of 28 Russians had their IOC-imposed sanctions overturned, and 11 bans were upheld. Three cases involving Russian biathletes were postponed.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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Another Jesse Owens Olympic gold medal being sold

Jesse Owens
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One of Jesse Owens‘ four 1936 Olympic gold medals will be put up for sale next week by Goldin Auctions.

Owens triumphed in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany at the Berlin Games, taking the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

This could be the second Owens gold to be sold in recent years, after one was auctioned in 2013 for $1,466,574, the highest price ever for a piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Two more were said to be put up for auction in 2017, but there are no widespread reports of sales actually happening.

This gold medal was gifted by Owens to John Terpak, a U.S. Olympic weightlifter in 1936 and 1948, after Terpak helped Owens garner speaking engagements, according to Goldin. The previous gold that sold for $1.4 million was gifted by Owens to a different friend.

Terpak died in 1993 and passed the medal on to his son and daughter, who consigned it to Goldin.

The medal is part of Goldin Auctions’ Holiday Auction from Monday through Dec. 7 on GoldinAuctions.com. The listings also include Tommy Lasorda‘s autographed lineup card from the 2000 Olympic baseball gold-medal game.

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Jesse Owens Olympic Gold Medal Jesse Owens Olympic Gold Medal