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Russian Olympic medalist cyclist switches countries, fearing Tokyo 2020 ban

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Olga Zabelinskaya, a triple Olympic road cycling medalist, said she switched her nationality from Russia to Uzbekistan in fear of being excluded from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as a Russian who served a doping ban, according to Russian media.

“You see what has been happening in Russian sport over the last two Olympic cycles,” the 38-year-old Zabelinskaya said, according to an RT translation of a Match TV interview. “It all started in Rio, then the situation only deteriorated in PyeongChang. I have a feeling that in Tokyo everything will be even worse. I’m 99 percent confident that my participation in the 2020 Olympics will be impossible under the Russian flag.”

Though Uzbekistan listed Zabelinskaya on its roster for the Asian Games that start next week, Russia’s cycling federation bosses will not cooperate with the switch, which could keep Zabelinskaya out of the 2020 Olympics, according to Olympic Charter Rule 41.

Some Russian athletes were excluded from the 2016 and 2018 Olympics due to the country’s poor anti-doping record. In PyeongChang, Russian athletes were allowed in on an IOC-invitation basis only with stars who previously served doping bans not making the cut to compete as neutrals.

Zabelinskaya served an 18-month doping ban between earning road race and time trial bronze medals at London 2012 and time trial silver at Rio 2016.

That suspension was due to keep her out of the Rio Games, per the IOC’s policy on Russia, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared her as the Olympics began. Zabelinskaya maintained her innocence from cheating despite the charge.

“In the morning they told us we could participate. In the evening, they said we won’t. It was two weeks like this,” she said after the Rio Olympic time trial. “I had my ticket to go back to Russia. … I’m not the only cyclist that has a doping problem in the past.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Michael Phelps: To a naked eye, Milorad Cavic won — 10th anniversary of Beijing butterfly

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So many onlookers thought Milorad Cavic beat Michael Phelps in the Beijing Olympic 100m butterfly. Even Phelps himself.

“To a naked eye, he won the race,” Phelps said in an Omega documentary first published in 2016.

The 10th anniversary of that final — which Phelps won by .01 on a come-from-behind, half-stroke finish — is Wednesday night in the U.S./Thursday morning in China.

It marked Phelps’ seventh gold medal of those Games en route to his final tally of eight, breaking Mark Spitz‘s record for golds at a single Games. But it wasn’t without a little controversy.

Years later, Cavic jabbed again about the results that his Serbian federation unsuccessfully protested in Beijing.

“I don’t necessarily feel like it was an injustice,” the Serbian said in the 2016 film. “Mistakes were made on my side. There were things that I could have done better which would have made it a definite victory for myself, but my gut instinct is that I won.”

Cavic was arguably the favorite on the morning of the final. He broke the Olympic record in the preliminary heats, then was again faster than Phelps in the semifinals, when Phelps was coming off a 200m individual medley final.

After the semifinal, Phelps remembered walking down a Water Cube back hallway with coach Bob Bowman after the 15th of 17 total races.

“I said, ‘I’m done. I don’t have any more energy left. I’m cashed,'” Phelps said. “To put it bluntly, [Bowman] said tough s—. You’ve got a couple races to go, and you can suck it up.”

But Phelps was fired up by Cavic’s comments before the race, that it would be good for the sport if Phelps lost in Beijing. He woke up that morning and was on the starting block in lane five, right next to Cavic looking at him in lane four.

“What does a man do when the devil smiles at him? You smile back,” Cavic said. “It was a religious moment for me because I knew I was destined for this day.”

The race went out as expected, with Cavic leading at 50 meters and Phelps in seventh at the turn.

“I watched the NBC coverage of it, and [analyst] Rowdy [Gaines] was pretty much saying that I’m fighting for a silver medal,” Phelps said. “I knew [Cavic] always struggles the last 15 meters. That’s kind of my chance.”

In the last strokes, Phelps felt Cavic’s splash more and more into his own face. He was inching closer and closer. Then that last stroke. Cavic came up a bit short and glided into the wall. Phelps was even shorter, so he took one more partial stroke, slamming his fingers into the wall.

“If I were to take another full stroke, my arms would actually be at the halfway point of my stroke, with my face hitting the wall,” Cavic said. “He knew that he was behind me, and he knew that if he also had a long finish as I did, he would have lost. So his only option was to take another stroke but make it a half-stroke. It’s not textbook. It’s not something any coach ever wants to you to do.”

Phelps said that when he took the last half-stroke rather than a perfect finish, he thought that had cost him the gold. Each man turned around and stared at the scoreboard.

“The lack of oxygen in your body and in your head, it makes things very, very blurry for your eyes,” Cavic said. “It takes a couple of moments just for everything to clear up.”

“I looked back, and I saw one one-hundredth,” Phelps said, “and I was like, holy s—, that just happened.”

As for the Serbian protest and Cavic’s doubts?

“Well, the results don’t lie,” Phelps said. “That’s all I got to say. … Seeing the [Sports Illustrated] frame-by-frame and watching it in slow-mo, there’s no question in my mind that I won the race.”

That silver was Cavic’s one and only Olympic medal in four Games.

“I will be remembered,” he said. “It was the best and worst thing that happened to me.”

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Kayla Harrison set for second MMA fight at PFL 6; TV, stream info

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Double Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison returns to the cage for her second MMA bout at a Professional Fighters League event in Atlantic City, N.J., live on NBC Sports on Thursday night.

Harrison, 28, faces Jozette Cotton (8-1-0) at 155 pounds on the PFL 6 card.

NBCSN coverage starts at 10 p.m. ET, also streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Harrison, who converted to MMA after the Rio Olympics, won her MMA debut on June 21, forcing Brittney Elkin to submit via arm bar after 3 minutes, 18 seconds, of the five-minute first round.

“I was wicked nervous,” the Massachusetts native said afterward. “This is all so new. No one has ever locked me in a cage and said, go kill someone. … I can’t wait until the next one.”

LIVE STREAM: Kayla Harrison at PFL 6 — Thursday, 10 p.m. ET

Harrison announced in October 2016 that she joined the MMA promotion as a commentator and brand ambassador, but not necessarily a fighter. A year ago, Harrison said she would compete.

The comparisons to former judo training partner and Olympic bronze medalist Ronda Rousey have shadowed her for years.

They won’t stop after Harrison won her first bout using Rousey’s signature arm bar.

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