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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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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

Gabriel Jesus
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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”