Sergey Bubka, Alexander Popov deny Rio Olympic vote-buying claims

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Olympic gold medalists Sergey Bubka and Alexander Popov denied claims made in a Brazilian court they were paid to vote for Rio de Janeiro’s winning bid to host the 2016 Summer Games.

The International Olympic Committee said Friday its ethics commission has contacted both men about the allegation by former Rio state governor Sergio Cabral, who is serving a prison sentence for corruption.

Cabral’s testimony Thursday echoed details of an alleged Olympic vote-buying scheme in 2009 already in the public domain.

Ongoing criminal investigations in Brazil and France have implicated Brazil’s former top Olympic official Carlos Nuzman, then-IAAF president Lamine Diack and his son, and then-IOC executive board member Frank Fredericks.

Pole vault great Bubka and swimming star Popov were IOC members voting in October 2009 in a four-candidate contest that included Chicago.

“I completely reject all the false claims made by the former Rio State governor,” Bubka, now an IOC executive board member, said in a statement Friday. “My lawyers will write to Mr. Diack to ask him to explain the allegations of Mr. Cabral who wrongly claims in his testimony that Mr. Diack could secure my vote.”

Popov, who is now an IOC honorary member after having full membership from 2000-16, said he didn’t vote for Rio in any of the three rounds of balloting.

“I did not participate in any negotiations and I am not familiar with the topics and with the people who are mentioned … and have never had contact with them,” the Russian swimmer said in a statement.

Popov said he was seeking to cooperate with the IOC’s ethics investigators, and joined Bubka in saying they were preparing law suits for defamation.

Bubka is the 1988 Olympic champion in pole vault and held the world record for 30 years until 2014. Popov is arguably the greatest ever men’s sprint swimmer and won the Olympic 50m and 100m freestyles in 1992 and 1996.

They are the latest high-profile names in Olympic circles to be linked to vote-buying investigations for the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Most of the evidence detailed connects Papa Massata Diack, the son of long-time IOC member Lamine Diack, to irregular payments of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

Fredericks, a four-time Olympic sprint medalist from Namibia, was suspended by the IOC in 2017 after French investigators revealed he received a $300,000 payment on the day of the 2016 Olympics vote in October 2009. It allegedly came from a Brazilian businessman and was routed via Papa Diack.

Fredericks denied wrongdoing and said the money was for consultancy work in athletics.

On Thursday, Cabral told a judge he paid $1.5 million in bribes through intermediaries to Lamine Diack, to secure up to six votes in the meeting of around 100 IOC members awarding the 2016 Summer Games. Cabral added that another $500,000 was paid later to Diack’s son to secure three more votes for Rio.

Cabral repeated publicly known claims that Nuzman handled negotiations, and the money allegedly came from businessman Arthur Soares.

Nuzman is due to stand trial for money laundering, tax evasion, and racketeering. French authorities said last month they want both Diacks to stand trial on corruption charges. The elder Diack has been detained in France since 2015 and his son has evaded questioning in their native Senegal.

Fredericks faces preliminary charges of passive corruption and money laundering.

The IOC said Friday is it “fully committed to address any issues” with Olympic bidding which has been reformed since 2013 when Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Summer Games.

“With these reforms the IOC has turned the page with regard to good governance and in particular the procedure of the election of host cities,” the Olympic body said.

MORE: Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat eliminated from worlds

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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