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USADA survey: U.S. athletes feel pressure of win-at-all-costs culture

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A majority of U.S. athletes responding to an anti-doping survey said they feel pressure from higher-ups to win medals, and the spotlight shines only on those who pile up victories.

Though athletes have often cited the win-at-all-costs culture as a reason they cheat, only a slim number of those surveyed said they would be tempted to take performance-enhancing drugs.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency received responses from 886 athletes in a wide-ranging survey, released Tuesday, that gauged their feelings about a number of issues regarding performance-enhancing drugs.

Sixty-five percent agreed when asked if the U.S. Olympic Committee and individual sports federations pressured elite athletes to win medals; 61 percent agreed with the statement: “When I am failing people are less interested in me.”

Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA, said he wasn’t surprised at the high percentage of athletes who feel they’re part of a “win-at-all-costs” culture.

“It is exactly what we hear from athletes about why they chose to dope when they have, and why we must change this culture if we hope to fully return the playing field to clean athletes,” he said.

But when asked if they would be tempted to use PEDs under a variety of circumstances, including if their coach recommended it, no more than 9 percent of the athletes responded “yes” to any of the scenarios.

USADA billed this as the largest survey of its kind. It was sent last year to 2,000 athletes in the U.S. testing pool. It got the most responses (149) from track and field.

Only 7 percent of the respondents said they had been tested more than 50 times over their career — an interesting figure during a summer in which Serena Williams has suggested she’s discriminated against because she gets tested more than most tennis players.

The plurality, 36 percent, said they’d been tested between once and five times. Authorities commonly increase the number of tests for high-ranked players and players coming off long layoffs.

When asked how other anti-doping programs compare to USADA, 34 percent said they were less effective or not effective, while 49 percent replied “I don’t know” — a high number in an era in which Olympic sports have been bombarded by a stream of reports about Russian doping. Thirty-five percent disagreed with the notion that their international competitors were adequately tested when compared to themselves.

“Certainly, the Russian state-sponsoring doping scheme showed that there are major international players not running an effective anti-doping program, but actually running a “dope to win” program,” Tygart said.

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Russia to finish Youth Olympics with most medals

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Russia clinched the top spot in the Youth Olympic medal standings, two days before the Closing Ceremony in Buenos Aires and eight months after it was excluded from the PyeongChang Winter Games for its doping problems.

The Russians have 52 medals with 25 golds so far, distancing the rest of the world.

1. Russia — 52 total, 25 gold
2. China — 36 total, 18 gold
3. Mixed NOCs — 36 total, 12 gold
4. Japan — 34 total, 14 gold
5. Italy — 31 total, 10 gold
10. U.S. — 15 total, 4 gold

China and Russia went one-two in total medals at the first two Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010 and Nanjing, China in 2014. The U.S. has never topped a Youth Olympic total medal table, be it Summer or Winter Games.

The U.S. has, however, earned the most total medals at the last six Summer Olympics, beginning with the 1996 Atlanta Games.

The Youth Olympics, for athletes ages 14 to 18, do not emphasize medal counts (plus have many medal events where athletes from different nations compete on the same team). The Games include many Olympic events and some that are not on the Olympic program, including break dancing, where a Russian who goes by Bumblebee earned gold last week.

The next Youth Olympics are the winter version in the IOC base of Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2020, followed by the summer version in 2022 in Dakar, Senegal, the first Olympic Games of any kind to be held in Africa.

The Youth Olympics conclude with the last full day of medal competition on Wednesday and the Closing Ceremony on Thursday.

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Aliya Mustafina returns to gymnastics worlds, year after giving birth

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Aliya Mustafina, an all-around medalist at the last two Olympics, made Russia’s team for next week’s world gymnastics championships, 16 months after giving birth to daughter Alisa.

Mustafina, 24, is joined by one Rio Olympic teammate, Angelina Melnikova, and three world championships rookies (plus Olympian Daria Spiridonova as an alternate), according to Russia’s gymnastics federation.

Mustafina is the last non-American woman to win an Olympic or world championships all-around, back in 2010 in her first year as a senior gymnast. A series of injuries followed, including surgeries on both knees and her left ankle.

She missed the 2015 Worlds with back pain but rebounded for a medal of every color in Rio (uneven bars gold, team silver and all-around bronze, just as she had done at London 2012).

Her seven total Olympic medals are tied for the most by a Russian woman since the fall of the Soviet Union with retired gymnast Svetlana Khorkina.

Viktoria Komova, the 2012 Olympic all-around silver medalist who has also struggled with injuries, is not on Russia’s team for worlds in Doha. She last competed at a global championship in 2015, sharing the uneven bars title with three other gymnasts.

Mustafina joins a list of distinguished moms to return to the top level of gymnastics, including Oksana Chusovitina, who began competing in the Soviet Union in the 1980s and, seven Olympics later, is still competing at age 43 (for Uzbekistan).

The most decorated Olympic gymnast, Soviet Larisa Latynina, earned 12 of her 18 medals after becoming a mom.

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