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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.

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40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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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