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Russia doping cases nearly double in 2018

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MOSCOW (AP) — Doping cases in Russia have almost doubled this year as athletes come under more scrutiny, the country’s national anti-doping agency said Tuesday.

Yuri Ganus, the director general of the agency, said it had detected 113 potential breaches of doping rules in the first eight months of 2018 — almost double the 59 it found in all of 2017. The rise comes as Russia tries to reform its anti-doping system after years of scandals across multiple sports.

“The number of breaches is alarming,” Ganus said.

It isn’t clear how many of the cases have resulted in athletes being banned, a process which can take months or even years. Athletes are typically cleared in about 10 percent of cases, Ganus said.

The rise may be partly because of extra testing. Ganus said the agency, known as RUSADA, collected 7,013 samples in the first eight months of 2018, about 800 more than all of last year.

If that pace continues until the end of 2018, RUSADA would roughly match the number of samples that major nations like the United States and China collected last year.

Russia was the leader by quantity of tests ahead of hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. However, RUSADA and the national laboratory were both suspended in 2015 when the World Anti-Doping Agency found evidence of corruption.

WADA later ruled Russian anti-doping authorities routinely covered up positive samples from leading athletes. The number of tests in Russia plummeted as RUSADA was reformed with new staff.

Ganus said Russia’s testing was now much more reliable, in part because of a greater focus on using intelligence to target specific athletes for testing.

There’s also an investigative unit which tracked one group of Russian track and field athletes to a remote part of Kyrgyzstan, where they allegedly worked with a coach who is supposed to be serving a life ban for numerous doping cases.

WADA’s executive committee is due to vote Sept. 20 on whether to formally lift RUSADA’s suspension, although the agency is already carrying out most of its official duties.

“I don’t have any optimism (that the suspension will be lifted),” Ganus said.

He added that the main obstacle was that Russian law enforcement was refusing to release samples from the closed Moscow lab, claiming they are needed for an investigation.

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MORE: Two Russian dopers get Olympic medal upgrades

Javier Fernandez, Alina Zagitova highlight action at European Championships

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Spain’s Javier Fernandez competes for what is expected to be the final time this weekend at the European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus. Olympic champion Alina Zagitova of Russia is also looking to defend her title in the ladies’ field.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program starting on Wednesday, and NBCSN and NBC will also have coverage.

MORE: Schedule/ How to watch

Men

Fernandez, the 2018 PyeongChang bronze medalist, owns six European titles. No man since Austrian Karl Schaefer – who won eight consecutive European titles beginning in 1929 – has won as many straight titles as Fernandez. Fernandez traded world titles during the last Olympic quadrennial with his training partner Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. They both train in Toronto under Brian Orser.

Also in the field are Michal Brezina from the Czech Republic, who most recently finished fourth at the Grand Prix Final at age 28, and three Russian men: Mikhail Kolyada, Maxim Kovtun, and Alexander Samarin.

Ladies

Reigning Olympic gold medalist Zagitova could lead a Russian podium sweep at the 2019 European Championships with teammates Stanislava Konstantinova and Sofia Samodurova.

The competition-within-the-competition at Europeans is also notable: Russia will not choose their World team until after the event. For example, two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is not competing at Europeans, and 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was already told to train for Worlds despite not competing at Europeans.

Pairs

French pair Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres will try and buck a trend at Europeans, where teams representing Russia or the Soviet Union have won 47 of the last 54 titles. Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are looking for a three-peat, though have been inconsistent so far this season and recently returned to last season’s short program.

James and Cipres missed out on bronze by 0.01 points at the 2018 Europeans, and could become the first French pair to win the event since 1932. The last non-Russian team to win Europeans was Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy in 2011.

Ice dance

Three-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France should coast to the gold medal in Minsk for a fifth consecutive title. Other dance teams have won more European titles, but no team has ever won five in a row.

The rest of the podium is more unclear. The Italians, Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, will likely split the difference between the two Russian teams – who have their own domestic battle to contend with: Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin.

As a reminder, you can watch the European Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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How to watch the European Figure Skating Championships

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Javier Fernandez returns to competition for probably a final time with his eyes on a seventh title at the European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus Jan. 23-27.

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova looks for a second European title in the ladies’ field, while two couples from France look to top the podiums in the dance and pairs’ fields.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program from Minsk starting Wednesday with the ladies’ short program.

NBCSN and NBC will also have coverage throughout the weekend.

Preview: Javier Fernandez, Alina Zagitova highlight Europeans

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European Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Wednesday

Ladies’ short program: 3 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 4:30 p.m. on NBCSN

Pairs’ short program: 10:45 a.m. (GOLD)

 

Thursday

Men’s short program: 4 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 7 p.m. on NBCSN

Pairs’ free skate: 11 a.m. (GOLD), begins at 11 p.m. on NBCSN

 

Friday

Rhythm dance: 3:30 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 2 p.m. on NBCSN

Ladies’ free skate: 10 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 6 p.m. on NBCSN

 

Saturday

Men’s free skate: 3:15 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 11 a.m. on NBCSN

Free dance: 8:25 a.m. (GOLD)

 

Sunday

Ladies’ and men’s free skate: 1:30 p.m. on NBC