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Ice and dirt: Connor Fields leaves one championship to pursue another

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Connor Fields‘ heart is in Las Vegas. His BMX bike and last remaining goal in the sport are in Azerbaijan.

Fields, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic champion in an event that debuted in 2008, can continue a recent run of American dominance in BMX at the world championships in Baku on Saturday (Olympic Channel, 6 p.m. ET).

“I’ve won every single title possible except for one,” he said. Nationals, Pan American Games, World Cup season title and Olympic gold. But not yet a world title in the elite race that’s on the Olympic program.

“I’d like to take that off and complete the full set,” Fields said.

The timing is a little unfortunate for the 25-year-old who was born in Plano, Texas but has lived in the Las Vegas area since age 4. Fields is so associated with the city that when the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights opened their team store last June, he was the featured athlete in promotions.

“They didn’t have any players yet,” Fields admitted. The expansion draft was a day after the store’s grand opening, which Fields was invited to attend with coach Gerard Gallant.

Last week, Fields made a last-minute (and surely costly) decision to attend Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Golden Knights and Washington Capitals, before flying to Europe ahead of worlds. The Knights won the opener but lost the next three games.

Speaking from France, Fields said he planned to be home in Nevada for Games 6 and 7. It might be moot. The Capitals can lift the Cup with a Game 5 win in Vegas on Thursday (NBC, 8 p.m. ET).

Fields brought Golden Knights gear to France — even to the Palace of Versailles — but his priority is clear.

“World title, easy, not even a question,” Fields said. “I don’t get to take home a trophy or anything if the Golden Knights win.”

Fields would appear an underdog given World Cup results this year — 14th, 15th and 34th — but he won the last World Cup race of 2017 to place second in last season’s overall standings.

He isn’t the only American in medal contention. Rio silver medalist Alise Willoughby and Corben Sharrah swept the 2017 World titles in Rock Hill, S.C., ending an eight-year drought for the U.S. for either gender.

Fields and Willoughby are the only active U.S. cyclists in any discipline (BMX, mountain, road, track) with an individual Olympic medal. Willoughby and Sharrah are two of three active U.S. cyclists in any discipline with an individual world title in an Olympic event (43-year-old Amber Neben, women’s road time trial, 2008 and 2016).

Before BMX made its Olympic debut, a 14-year-old Fields wrote in Sharpie on his parents’ garage wall, “One day I will be national and world champion.”

Then, maybe in two years, an Olympic champion twice.

“I’ve got four years more of experience, four years more to draw from, both good and bad, and mistakes that have been made that I can try not to make it again,” said Fields, who was so overwhelmed at his first Olympics in 2012 that he couldn’t manage a bite of his oatmeal on race day, crashed in the final and finished seventh. “I feel less pressure going in. I’m Olympic champion. I always will be Olympic champion. Nobody can ever take the gold medal away from me. Now I just get the opportunity to get two.”

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Yevgenia Medvedeva leads after short program at Autumn Classic

Yevgenia Medvedeva
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Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva leads after Thursday’s short program at her season opener, the Autumn Classic International. In her first competition since moving to Toronto to train under Brian Orser, Medvedeva scored 70.89 points.

Olympic team event bronze medalist Bradie Tennell sits in second place heading into Friday’s free skate with 69.26 points. Tennell, the reigning U.S. national champion, was joined by countrywoman Starr Andrews in Ontario. Andrews scored 56.70 points and finished fifth in the short program.

France’s Mae Berenice Meite rounds out the top three with 58.23 points.

Earlier on Thursday, Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres from France scored 73.81 points to build their lead over the pairs’ field. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro from Canada were second with 64.73 points, followed by the two American teams: Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier (61.91) and Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson (50.25), who competed internationally as new partners for the first time.

Competition at the Autumn Classic continues this weekend. Friday features the rhythm dance, men’s short program, and the pairs’ and ladies’ free skates. Saturday concludes competition with the free dance and men’s free skate. The event will stream live on Skate Canada’s Dailymotion page.

Elsewhere in the world of figure skating this weekend, Rika Kihira took the ladies’ short program at the Nepela Trophy in Bratislava. The reigning world junior champion attempted her triple Axel to open her “Clair de Lune” program but fell and was awarded -5 Grades of Execution across the board. She tallied 70.79 points and leads Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva by just 0.8 points. Russian Stanislava Konstantinova is third with 65.03 points.

Russian men lead the field after the short program in Bratislava. Mikhail Kolyada scored 96.82 points while Sergei Voronov earned 81.77 points. Japan’s Keiji Tanaka currently sits third with 77.53 points.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc have a three-point lead on the pairs’ field after the short program with 65.68 points. Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay, the other Americans in the field, are third with 59.60 points in their first competition of the season.

Competition continues at the Nepela Trophy this weekend with the rhythm dance and pairs’ free skate on Friday and the ladies’ free skate, free dance, and men’s free skate on Saturday.

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Despite protests, Russias anti-doping agency reinstated

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The World Anti-Doping Agency declared Russia’s scandal-ridden drug-fighting operation back in business Thursday, a decision designed to bring a close to one of sports’ most notorious doping scandals but one bitterly disputed by hundreds of athletes and described as “treachery” by the lawyer for the man who exposed the corruption.

On a 9-2 vote, the executive committee took the advice of the agency’s compliance review panel and declared RUSADA as having satisfied conditions of reinstatement that were gradually softened over the summer.

In most tangible ways, the decision doesn’t change much: RUSADA has been up and running for a while, bringing one of the world’s largest testing programs back on line with the help of officials from Britain and elsewhere. And Russia’s Olympic committee was brought back into the fold after the Pyeongchang Olympics, where athletes who could prove they were clean were able to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”

But RUSADA’s reinstatement now clears the country to again bid for major international events — although soccer’s World Cup was held there this summer despite that restriction.

It also clears a major hurdle for Russia’s track team to be declared compliant by that sport’s international governing body, one of the few to take a strong, consistent stand against doping.

Perhaps most importantly, hundreds of athletes and dozens of world anti-doping leaders see it as a stinging rebuke to the ideal of fair play.

“WADA’s decision to reinstate Russia represents the greatest treachery against clean athletes in Olympic history,” said Jim Walden, the attorney for Grigory Rodchenkov, the former Moscow lab director who exposed much of the Russian scheme.

WADA had been telegraphing the move since Sept. 14, when it released the recommendation of its compliance review committee. Olympic champion Beckie Scott resigned from that committee afterward.

“I’m profoundly disappointed,” Scott said to Canadian broadcaster CBC after the decision. “I feel this was an opportunity for WADA, and they have dealt a devastating blow to clean sport. I’m quite dismayed.”

Even in Russia, where the news was welcomed, it came with a sense that there’s still work to be done.

“These questions will always follow us,” said RUSADA CEO Yuri Ganus, whose appointment to the job was part of the housecleaning at the agency that WADA demanded. “These aren’t the kind of skeletons which can lie unnoticed in the closet. These are the skeletons which will be banging on the closet door all the time.”

The two biggest roadblocks to RUSADA’s reinstatement involved the country accepting findings from a report by investigator Richard McLaren that concluded the government had engineered the doping scandal to win medals at the Sochi Olympics. It also involved Russia agreeing to hand over a trove of data and samples that could be used to corroborate potential doping violations that stemmed from the cheating.

Over a summer’s worth of correspondence between WADA leaders and Russia’s sports minister about how to bridge the gap, a pattern emerged of WADA backing down from its initial requirements and, at one point, essentially asking Russia what it would be willing to say in a letter designed to satisfy the WADA review committee.

“We think that a small addition to the letter, if acceptable to you, could ensure that the letter is well received … and that a positive recommendation is provided,” WADA CEO Olivier Niggli wrote to sports minister Pavel Kolobkov in May in a letter obtained by BBC Sport .

In the end, Russia agreed to accept findings of an IOC-commissioned report that put less onus on the Russian government for the scheme, a move that Rodchenkov said earlier this week was done “for the pure purpose of protecting their top-level apparatchiks who destroyed the Olympic Games in Sochi.”

Russia also agreed to hand over the samples and data by Dec. 31. If it does not, RUSADA will again be declared noncompliant.

“Without this pragmatic approach, we would continue with the impasse and the laboratory data could have remained out of our reach indefinitely,” WADA president Craig Reedie said after Thursday’s executive committee meeting in Seychelles.

Critics said reinstating RUSADA before obtaining the data only amounts to accepting another promise from a country that hasn’t kept many over the five-year course of the scandal.

Travis Tygart, the CEO for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, called the decision “bewildering and inexplicable,” and urged a full revamping of WADA; Reedie also serves as a member of the IOC, which is one of the many conflicts of interest that bother critics of the agency.

“Let’s be clear: Absolutely nothing will be off the table for how we, the anti-doping community, begin the work of reforming WADA,” Tygart said.

Reedie said “WADA understands that this decision will not please everybody.”

“Clean athletes were denied places at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as other major events, and others were cheated of medals,” he said. “It is entirely understandable that they should be wary about the supposed rehabilitation of offenders.”