Chris Froome cleared to race Tour de France, doping case closed

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Chris Froome was cleared of doping by the International Cycling Union on Monday in a decision that could allow him to pursue a record-tying fifth Tour de France title later this week.

Froome had been racing under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample provided during his victory at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level.

“Froome’s sample results do not constitute an AAF (Adverse Analytical Finding),” a UCI statement said, adding that it had decided “to close the proceedings against Mr Froome.”

The Tour begins Saturday and — before the UCI statement was provided — race organizers were reportedly denying him entry.

“I have never doubted that this case would be dismissed for the simple reason that I have known throughout I did nothing wrong,” Froome said.

Froome’s use of asthma medication has been well documented, and the Kenyan-born rider has often been spotted using inhalers during races.

World Anti-Doping Association rules state that an athlete can be cleared for excessive salbutamol use if he proves that it was due to an appropriate therapeutic dosage.

“I have suffered with asthma since childhood,” Froome said. “I know exactly what the rules are regarding my asthma medication and I only ever use my puffer to manage my symptoms within the permissible limits

With one more Tour victory, Froome can match the record of five shared by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

“Today’s ruling draws a line,” Froome said. “It means we can all move on and focus on the Tour de France.”

Le Monde newspaper on Sunday had reported that Tour organizer ASO had informed Team Sky it was forbidding Froome from entering the race until the doping case had been decided.

“The UCI understands that there will be significant discussion of this decision, but wishes to reassure all those involved in or interested in cycling that its decision is based on expert opinions, WADA’s advice, and a full assessment of the facts of the case,” the UCI said, referring to the World Anti-Doping Association. “The UCI hopes that the cycling world can now turn its focus to, and enjoy, the upcoming races on the cycling calendar.”

It is unclear whether the ASO can – or will – appeal the UCI decision to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

ASO, which also runs the Vuelta through a company called Unipublic, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Unipublic said it was “satisfied because we finally have a ruling and because we finally know who the winner of the 2017 Vuelta is.

“It is a ruling we accept and will uphold,” Unipublic said. “Having said that, there needs to be an analysis about the length of time this case took, which was much longer than what we had hoped for.”

The ruling is a controversial one since Italian riders Alessandro Petacchi and Diego Ulissi were banned, in 2007 and 2014 respectively, for excessive salbutamol use.

Monday’s UCI decision also means Froome will be able to hold onto the Giro d’Italia trophy he won in May, which gave him three straight Grand Tour titles.

“We have always had total confidence in Chris and his integrity,” Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said. “This is why we decided that it was right for Chris to continue racing, in line with UCI rules, while the process was ongoing.”

Brailsford added that since the elevated salbutamol reading from stage 18 of the Vuelta was treated as a “presumed” AAF by the UCI and WADA, it required Team Sky to provide further information.

“There are complex medical and physiological issues which affect the metabolism and excretion of salbutamol,” Brailsford said.

“The same individual can exhibit significant variations in test results taken over multiple days while using exactly the same amount of salbutamol.

“This means that the level of salbutamol in a single urine sample, alone, is not a reliable indicator of the amount inhaled,” Brailsford said.

“A review of all Chris’s 21 test results from the Vuelta revealed that the stage 18 result was within his expected range of variation and therefore consistent with him having taken a permitted dose of salbutamol.”

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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