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Justice Department charges Russians with hacking tied to Fancy Bears doping attacks

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The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday charged seven Russian intelligence officers with hacking anti-doping agencies, tied to the Fancy Bears group that went public two years ago, and other organizations hours after Western officials leveled new accusations against Moscow’s secretive GRU military spy agency.

“This began with a disclosure of Russian state-sponsored doping programs for its athletes. In other words, Russia cheated,” U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said. “They cheated, they got caught, they were banned from the Olympics, they were mad, and they retaliated. And in retaliating, they broke the law, so they are criminals.”

A group that called itself Fancy Bears began posting medical records of Olympians online in 2016. WADA previously said Fancy Bears originated in Russia.

The Department of Justice said Fancy Bears released stolen information that included private or medical information of approximately 250 athletes from almost 30 countries. Fancy Bears posted medical data of Simone BilesVenus WilliamsBradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, among others, in 2016.

Victims also included “U.S. and international anti-doping agencies such as WADA, USADA, CCES [Canada’s anti-doping agency], the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the International Association of Athletics Federation [IAAF, track and field’s international governing body], FIFA and as many as 35 other anti-doping or sporting federations,” Brady said.

The U.S. indictment said that the GRU targeted its victims because they had publicly supported a ban on Russian athletes in international sports competitions and because they had condemned Russia’s state-sponsored athlete doping program.

“Using social media accounts and other infrastructure acquired and maintained by GRU Unit 74455 in Russia, the conspiracy thereafter publicly released selected items of stolen information, in many cases in a manner that did not accurately reflect their original form, under the false auspices of a hacktivist group calling itself the ‘Fancy Bears’ Hack Team,'” according to the Department of Justice. “As part of its influence and disinformation efforts, the Fancy Bears’ Hack Team engaged in a concerted effort to draw media attention to the leaks through a proactive outreach campaign. The conspirators exchanged e-mails and private messages with approximately 186 reporters in an apparent attempt to amplify the exposure and effect of their message.”

Throughout its doping scandals, Russia has tried to stay close to the International Olympic Committee, but the indictment alleges the IOC wasn’t immune from attack.

Two hackers allegedly traveled to the Rio Olympics to steal information from sports officials via their Wi-Fi networks. The Dutch Ministry of Defense even released a photo showing one of the accused posing for a picture at an Olympic arena.

The indictment says hackers targeted the beachfront hotel where Olympic doping cases were heard, including some involving leading Russian athletes, and intercepted an IOC anti-doping official’s username and password to break into WADA’s files.

Eventually, the IOC banned Russia from the PyeongChang Olympics — its athletes were allowed to apply to participate as neutrals — as punishment for doping offenses in Sochi four years earlier.

The impact on the U.S. included athletes — some world-famous — whose medical data was released even where there was no evidence they’d done anything wrong.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was a prime target. As USADA’s CEO Travis Tygart issued stinging attacks on Russian athletes’ drug use, science director Matthew Fedoruk’s email was hacked at the 2016 Olympics. The Fancy Bear website then posted medical data of dozens of U.S.-based athletes who’d asked permission to use otherwise-banned substances for medical reasons.

Tygart called’s indictments it “a reassuring outcome for clean athletes everywhere, especially those whose private information was leaked as a result of the despicable and illegal hacking activity.”

“Let’s not forget that these cyber attacks, which we now know were perpetuated by officials in the Russian government, illegally obtained information during the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio to try to smear innocent athletes’ reputations and make it look like they did something wrong, when in fact they did everything right,” Tygart said in a statement. “These illegal and malicious acts were a desperate attempt to divert attention away from Russia’s state-sponsored doping program and were part of a broader scheme of corrupt and unethical behavior by the Russian government to manipulate international Olympic sport, of which the world now has the incontestable facts: a system that was abusing its own athletes with an institutionalized doping program has now been indicted for perpetrating cyber-attacks on innocent athletes from around the world while yet again trying to win by any means.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry fired back with its own accusations Thursday, accusing USADA of going easy on U.S. dopers and seeking to sideline their Russian rivals.

“American pretentions to leading the fight for clean sport are no more than unfair competition,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, speaking after British and Dutch officials outlined the hacking accusations, but before the full U.S. indictment was published.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MORE: Russia appeals to overturn track and field ban

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s road back through destruction, death

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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