Ryan Lochte’s suspension saddens U.S. swimmers, sends message to the world

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IRVINE, Calif. — Count Chase Kalisz, the world’s best all-around swimmer, among those who will miss Ryan Lochte at the U.S. Championships this week.

“It’s sad to see that Ryan’s not going to be here,” Kalisz, the 200m and 400m individual medley world champion, said Tuesday, one day before the meet begins (TV schedule here). “I feel bad for Ryan. He genuinely is a really good guy. … I couldn’t say one negative thing about Ryan.”

Except that, speaking solely for this case, he broke the rules.

The 12-time Olympic medalist was banned until July 2019 for an IV infusion. Lochte took a legal substance, but an amount greater than the legal limit via IV. He may not have been caught if not for posting photo evidence on social media in May. Lochte claimed he was simply unaware of the World Anti-Doping Agency rule, cooperated with a USADA investigation and accepted the punishment.

“Having a rule like that, while in this case I don’t think it caught a cheater, per se, I think in 99 percent of the cases, it would,” said Ryan Murphy, who swept the backstrokes in Rio.

Actually, two of the U.S.’ best all-around swimmers aren’t competing at the nationals. Neither Lochte nor Madisyn Cox can swim at any sanctioned meet in the next year because of doping-rules suspensions.

Lochte did not take a banned substance. Those who punished Cox believed she didn’t intentionally take the banned substance for which she tested positive. Yet both received suspensions longer than one year, stunting their progress toward the 2020 Olympics.

What kind of message does that send?

“We’re watching the American team be leaders in accountability right now,” five-time Olympic champion Nathan Adrian said. “I don’t think that [Lochte’s] punishment would have necessarily been as strict if he was part of certain other federations, to be totally honest. We have always come down harsh on that, as Team USA, [U.S. Anti-Doping Agency], saying, hey, where’s the accountability here. I think you’re seeing us stay true to our word.”

Fewer know about Cox, the top-ranked U.S. woman in the 200m individual medley, who is not competing in Irvine after failing a February drug test.

FINA, the international governing body for swimming, said it took a “highly unusual step” of accepting that Cox did not intentionally take a banned substance after she argued that she drank contaminated tap water. Cox reportedly said she had “a world-renowned biochemist” equate her level of the banned substance to “a pinch of salt in an Olympic size swimming pool.”

Cox’s ban was reduced from four years to two. She and Lochte will miss the two biggest international meets between now and the 2020 Olympics — August’s Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo and the 2019 World Championships in South Korea.

“It’s really hard to see that happen to a friend and teammate and someone that you’ve looked up to, but, then again, you can’t break the rules like that,” Lilly King, the Olympic 100m breaststroke champion who took a hard stance on doping in Rio, said of Lochte. “You have to follow the rules, and I appreciate that FINA, WADA and USADA and all the doping agencies are cracking down.”

In Rio, King said that anybody who had served a prior doping ban should not be at the Games. That included not only Russian rival Yuliya Efimova, but also U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin.

“Do I think people who have been caught for doping offenses should be on the team?” King said then. “No, they shouldn’t.”

King was asked Tuesday whether she agreed with Lochte being allowed back into competition in 2019 as he tries to make the 2020 Games at age 35.

“I don’t really know,” she said. “I’m not exactly in charge of handing out the sentences. I’m not going to lie, I’m not really that knowledgeable on substances and what they do to the body, just because I don’t take them, and I’m not going to. … But as far as them banning him, if you do something wrong, you should serve time. You should be punished.”

King said she’s never taken an IV infusion. Kalisz and Adrian said they were aware of the rule that Lochte broke. Both mentioned a USADA presentation that athletes visiting the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., can take advantage of.

“USA Swimming will be happy with me for [saying] this. I did sit in a USADA meeting at the USA Swimming building, I think it was three years ago, about it, when they announced that [rule],” Kalisz said. “I don’t know when it came out or what. I definitely know it’s one of the lesser-known rules apparently. Before that I actually didn’t really know about it.”

IV rules pertaining to Lochte’s ban have been on the WADA prohibited list since 2005, according to USADA, and modified in 2012 and 2018.

The prohibited list is updated annually and very detailed. Adrian, a national team member for more than a decade, said there are ambiguities in the doping code but they can easily be sorted out.

“You ask,” he said, noting USA Swimming officials and a direct line to USADA. “You have to ask a lot.”

Adrian was confident that other countries would not have been as strict in a case like Lochte’s (Cox was banned by FINA, not USADA, so that’s a bit different). Adrian did not name names, but recent examples come to mind.

In 2011, Brazilian Cesar Cielo tested positive for a banned diuretic but was not suspended by his national federation. Though FINA pushed for a penalty, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled Cielo was not at fault after he argued that he took a contaminated caffeine pill.

In 2014, China’s Sun Yang was suspended three months for testing positive for the same substance as Cox did this year. The ban was not announced until after Sun had served it and won three golds at the Asian Games, creating more skepticism.

“These are what we’ve been told since we were junior team athletes, that if you mess up, and it’s accidental, you can still get banned for years,” Adrian said. “Those are the messages that have been pounded in our head. This is a message we are sending to the world that we take clean sport seriously.”

Kalisz lamented not being able to race Lochte in individual medleys this week. Both he and Murphy praised Lochte’s character.

“That guy’s an idol for me,” Murphy said.

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USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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Mikaela Shiffrin ties world Alpine skiing championships medals record

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Mikaela Shiffrin took silver behind Italian Marta Bassino in the super-G for her 12th world Alpine skiing championships medal, tying the modern individual record.

Bassino edged Shiffrin by 11 hundredths of a second in Meribel, France, for her second world title after sharing parallel gold in 2021.

“That was the best run I can do on this track,” Shiffrin told Austrian broadcaster ORF. “I had one turn … coming off the [final] pitch where I almost lost it all.

“I’m so happy with my run.”

Austrian Cornelia Huetter and Norwegian Kajsa Vickhoff Lie tied for bronze, 33 hundredths back in a discipline where five different women won this season’s five World Cup races.

Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami, the reigning Olympic and world champ, led at the last intermediate split but lost 44 hundredths to Bassino in the final 18 seconds of the course and ended up sixth.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

With her 12th world medal, the 27-year-old Shiffrin tied Kjetil Andre Aamodt, a Norwegian star of the 1990s and 2000s, for the most in individual events since World War II. Aamodt earned his 12th and final medal in his 27th world championships race. Shiffrin matched him in her 15th worlds start.

Swede Anja Pärson holds the overall record of 13 modern medals. She won two in the team event.

Shiffrin has six gold medals, one shy of that modern record.

Shiffrin, the greatest slalom skier in history, is selective when it comes to the speed events of downhill and super-G. She has never raced the downhill at worlds and will not enter Saturday’s race.

In the super-G, she now has a world championships medal of every color and is one of two skiers in history to make the super-G podium at three consecutive worlds. The other is Austrian legend Hermann Maier.

“I’m emotional because I don’t really feel like I should be winning a medal in super-G right now,” said Shiffrin, who had a win and a seventh place in two World Cup super-G starts this season and was sixth in the super-G run of Monday’s combined. “There are so many women who are strong and fast.”

Shiffrin rebounded from Monday’s first race of worlds, where she was in line for combined gold before losing her balance with five gates left and straddling the third-to-last gate in her slalom run. That snapped her streak of a medal in 10 consecutive world championships races dating to 2015.

After Wednesday’s race, Shiffrin called the past 48 hours “stressful.” She shed tears in the live ORF interview soon after her run, then later clarified that she misunderstood what the interviewer said in German.

“The last two or four weeks, well, really the last year, but especially in the last few weeks, I must have answered 100 questions about this world championships and basically if I’m worried that it’s going to be the same as what the Olympics was last year, if I’m worried about the disappointment, if I’m afraid of it,” Shiffrin, whose best individual Olympic finish last year was ninth, with three DNFs, said in a later press conference when asked about the ORF interview. “I was like, ‘I survived the Olympics, so I’m not afraid that it’s going to kill me if I don’t win a medal this world championships.’ That’s what I’ve been saying, but for sure, you get asked the same thing again and again. It’s so hard to keep the balance in your mind to answer this question and still be positive and still think I can do this. I can ski my best. I can make it to the finish. And then after the combined, I was like, you have got to be kidding me. My DNF rate now in my entire career, over 50 percent of it is at Olympics or world championships. Like, c’mon. It’s almost funny. And it’s only funny because I was able to win a medal today. The pressure’s not off, but there’s for sure a little bit of relief.”

Worlds continue with the men’s super-G on Thursday. Shiffrin’s next race is expected to be the giant slalom on Feb. 16.

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