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Russia’s doping ban from Paralympics ends, with conditions

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s 2½-year suspension from the Paralympics was lifted Friday, though the country’s athletes face extra doping tests ahead of next year’s games in Tokyo.

The International Paralympic Committee also put Russia on probation through 2022. Conditions include extra drug testing before competitions — with Russia footing the bill — and a ban on government officials serving on the Russian Paralympic Committee.

“We are looking forward to welcoming the RPC back as an IPC member,” IPC president Andrew Parsons said. “The organization should be under no illusions, however, that should it at any stage not meet the post-reinstatement criteria, the IPC governing board can reconsider its membership status. This could include the IPC revoking the conditional reinstatement.”

Parsons added the probation period is needed because Russia “disappointingly” hadn’t done enough to admit and atone for previous doping and cover-ups.

Russia faces a total bill of more than $1 million, including $125,000 a year for extra drug testing in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Athletes in all but one of 27 Paralympic sports will need to show they’ve been tested in the six months before entering key IPC events, including Paralympic qualifiers. Powerlifting is rated the highest-risk sport, with three prior tests required.

The Russian Paralympic Committee accepted the probation conditions, saying they “do not go beyond” measures it’s already taken to earn reinstatement.

Russia was barred from the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro after the IPC found a “medals over morals mentality” led to widespread cheating.

Documents from the Moscow anti-doping laboratory published as part of a 2016 World Anti-Doping Agency inquiry showed staff discussing how to cover up for disabled athletes who tested positive and suggested some blind athletes may have been given banned substances by coaches without their knowledge. However, no Russian athlete has faced individual doping charges related to the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi.

The IPC first softened its Russia stance when 30 athletes from the country were allowed to enter as Neutral Paralympic Athletes for last year’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The IPC ruled in January that Russia had reformed enough to lift the ban, but only after dropping its demand for Russian authorities to admit earlier doping-related wrongdoing.

At the time, Parsons said there was a stalemate because Russia would “most probably never accept” a report by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren. He found in 2016 there was widespread doping involving a cover-up by sports ministry officials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country never encouraged or covered up doping.

Documents from Moscow’s anti-doping lab revealed in McLaren’s investigation showed that failed doping tests were covered up for athletes across numerous sports, including some with disabilities.

Track and field is the only sport still with a doping ban on the country, though it allows dozens of certified Russians to compete as neutral athletes.

Larry Nassar judge, Olympians back USOC oversight push in Congress

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DENVER (AP) — The judge who sentenced former sports doctor Larry Nassar to prison and a group of Olympians are backing an effort to create a commission to look into the operations of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Michigan Judge Rosemarie Aquilina joined the athletes and Colorado’s U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette in Denver on Monday to announce the planned introduction of the bipartisan bill Tuesday in the House. It mirrors one introduced in January by Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in the Senate, a standard practice in Congress. It would set up a panel of 16 people, half of them Olympians or Paralympians, with subpoena power.

Aquilina urged people to ask their congressional representatives to support the legislation and add their names as co-sponsors. Aquilina said she became involved because this wasn’t a partisan issue, but a “human thing. This is justice for everybody. Isn’t that what judges are supposed to be — about equal justice?”

“It’s troubling for me to hear that money and medals are valued more than the safety of athletes. We have to flip that script,” added Aquilina, who sentenced Nassar to what equates to life in prison. “How is it that the Olympics do not protect their athletes? That’s their company. That’s their bread and butter.”

The latest legislation to establish the commission comes six months after a congressional report in the wake of the Nassar sex-abuse case that recommended a review of the law that governs the USOC and how the USOC can use its authority to more actively protect athletes.

USOC spokesman Mark Jones said in a statement they will “continue to work constructively with both the House and the Senate to create healthy and safe environments for the American athletes we serve.”

Among the panel’s duties would be to evaluate how responsive the national governing bodies of each Olympic sports are to the athletes, and whether the U.S. Center for SafeSport has proper funding to effectively respond to any future reports of harassment and sexual assault. In addition, the panel would review the diversity of the USOC’s board members, its finances and whether it’s achieving its stated goals.

Gardner said he’s talked to former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about serving on the panel. “That’s likely the kind of caliber that we need,” Gardner said.

Olympic champions Nancy Hogshead-Makar, BJ Bedford and Norm Bellingham, along with Paralympic gold medalist Sarah Will were among those in attendance.

“No amount of gold medals are worth putting the health and safety of our athletes at risk,” DeGette said. “When the very body that Congress created to care for our athletes becomes more concerned about winning and protecting a brand than the athletes themselves — it’s time for change.”

Rob Koehler said he believes this will be a big step forward for athletes. He’s the director general of a group called Global Athlete, which is designed to help athletes gain a more represented voice.

“It’s time to make sure there is independent oversight, that the government takes a brave leadership role, not only for the United States but as an example for other countries, that it’s no longer acceptable for sport to self-govern itself,” Koehler said. “It’s all about the athletes. We lose focus of that. This movement is about celebrating athletes’ victories, and the growth potential is there.”

MORE: ‘This is not Burger King’: Nassar request denied by Aquilina

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Luca Urlando breaks Michael Phelps butterfly record

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Luca Urlando, the grandson of an Italian Olympic hammer thrower, appears to be the U.S. successor to Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly.

Urlando, 17, broke Phelps’ national 17-18 age group record in Phelps’ trademark event on Friday night, clocking 1:53.84 at a Tyr Pro Series meet in Clovis, Calif. Phelps’ mark (1:53.93) was set in 2003, when it doubled as the world record. Urlando previously broke high school age group records held by Phelps and Caeleb Dressel in 25-yard pools.

Urlando is now the third-fastest American in history in the 200m butterfly behind Phelps and Tyler Clary. He also ranks third in the world this year behind Hungarians Kristof Milak and Tamas Kenderesi.

But Urlando will not be at July’s world championships as that team was decided in 2018.

Last summer, Urlando was the highest-ranking U.S. swimmer not to make the Pan Pacific Championships team, though it was initially announced that he did make it.

Had Urlando made Pan Pacs and then swum .17 faster there than he did at nationals, he would have made the team for July’s world championships. Urlando went to Junior Pan Pacs instead last summer and did not swim faster than at nationals.

Should Urlando make the Tokyo Games, he is in line to be the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Phelps made his Olympic debut.

His grandfather, Giampaolo Urlando, threw the hammer for Italy at the 1976, 1980 and 1984 Olympics with a best finish of seventh. He originally was fourth at Los Angeles 1984 before being disqualified for testosterone.

Luca’s father, Alessandro Urlando, holds the University of Georgia school record in the discus. Luca, a rising Sacramento high school senior, is committed to Georgia.

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