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Mariya Lasitskene, Russia’s top track and field athlete, slams ‘never-ending disgrace’

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MOSCOW (AP) — The only Russian track athlete currently holding a world title called on the country’s officials and coaches in the sport to be replaced because of the slow pace of anti-doping reforms.

High jumper Mariya Lasitskene’s message — in a country where top athletes rarely speak out against officials — came shortly after Russia’s ban from international athletics was prolonged on Sunday.

“I hope that the people involved in this never-ending disgrace still have the courage to leave. By themselves. And don’t think I’m only talking about the management,” Lasitskene wrote on Instagram.

“It’s also about the current coaches who are still sure that you can’t win without doping. They’re long overdue for retirement. A new generation of our athletes must grow up with a different philosophy, and for any athlete, it’s the coach who provides that.”

Lasitskene’s statement echoed Russian Anti-Doping Agency CEO Yuri Ganus, who said a month ago the Russian Athletics Federation was in “a world of illusion” and needed a purge of top officials. Ganus and federation president Dmitry Shlyakhtin held talks with Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov on Monday.

Lasitskene won world titles in 2015 and 2017, but was barred from the 2016 Olympics because of sanctions against the Russian team. She competes internationally under a neutral flag.

Long jumper Darya Klishina, a world silver medalist in 2017, commented on Instagram that Lasitskene’s call was “right on target.”

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov said the Russian track leadership could struggle without the trust of its top athletes.

“I think that for the federation it’s a bad signal, a bad sign,” he said.

“They don’t have that direct connection with the young guys, the young athletes, and it’s unpleasant information for the federation. Of course, Dmitry Shlyakhtin should meet with them and say what kind of work is being done … and build complete support from our clean athletes, the guys representing our country.”

Sunday’s IAAF decision left Russia with little over three months to avoid competing under a neutral flag at the world championships in Qatar. After Russia was barred from international athletics in 2015 because of widespread doping, the country’s competitors participated at the 2017 worlds as neutral athletes.

The head of the IAAF’s Russia task force, Rune Andersen, said there was evidence the country was “backsliding” on anti-doping reforms. He cited evidence that banned coaches have continued to work with athletes, and an ongoing investigation into whether Russian officials provided fake medical documentation to give high jumper Danil Lysenko an alibi for failing to notify drug testers of his whereabouts.

“I have instructed the federation president (Shlyakhtin) to be completely candid and provide any information that’s required for the special IAAF investigation,” sports minister Kolobkov said.

“It’s in our own interests for this situation to be fully investigated. If there really was a forged document or note, then everyone who was involved in that should be punished.”

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MORE: Russia investigated for doping forgery claim related to silver medalist

Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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