AP

Russia fears missing Olympics over doping data tampering

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The World Anti-Doping Agency is giving Russia three weeks to explain possible signs of tampering with data from its doping laboratory, an accusation which Russian officials fear could lead to a ban from next year’s Olympics.

WADA heard about the possible tampering at its executive committee meeting Monday in Tokyo. Turning over the data was a key requirement for the reinstatement of Russia’s anti-doping agency, and WADA has formally opened a compliance procedure that could lead to a new ban if the data was manipulated.

The computer files were critical to prosecuting cases against athletes alleged to have cheated at the 2014 Olympics and other major events.

“The situation is very serious,” Russian Olympic Committee president Stanislav Pozdnyakov said in a statement.

He added that if Russia can’t either refute the claim or identify potential suspects, “then the Russian Olympic team’s prospects of taking part in the Games in Tokyo next year could be under threat.”

Russia was already required to send an officially neutral, smaller-than-usual squad of “Olympic Athletes from Russia” to last year’s Winter Olympics as a punishment from the International Olympic Committee for doping offenses. However, the IOC has since signaled that it considers the matter closed.

When asked about the data investigation Tuesday, the IOC said it “fully respects this process” and WADA’s jurisdiction.

The data was handed over to WADA in January after Russia breached an earlier deadline of Dec. 31, 2018. Before then, it was stored in a sealed-off area of the laboratory under the control of Russian law enforcement.

The data has been used to support suspensions against 12 Russian weightlifters, including 10 former world or European championship medalists, and cases in the winter sport of biathlon. WADA said it would continue to pursue cases while this latest review is ongoing.

The International Weightlifting Federation said it will “urgently liaise with WADA” about how to continue its cases.

WADA has been criticized for reinstating RUSADA under terms less stringent than the original roadmap. But director general Olivier Niggli told The Associated Press he stood by the decision.

“I believe it was actually a very important decision and absolutely the right decision,” Niggli said. “I’m convinced that we would not have the data if we had not taken that decision, so we would not even be talking about it today. There would still be a cloud of suspicion and nothing would have gone forward.”

Niggli conceded the tampering could force WADA to drop some of the cases, “but there will be a good number of cases which can still move forward.”

WADA would not set a firm timetable on a decision. The case is heating up a few days before the start of the track world championships in Doha, where 30 Russians will compete as neutral athletes while Russia’s track federation remains under suspension by the sport’s governing body.

Russia’s sports minister Pavel Kolobkov said his office had been told about the discrepancies between the data turned over by a whistleblower and data from the lab, which was being used to corroborate the whistleblower information. He indicated that Russian technical specialists will have access to the review.

“What, exactly, these inconsistencies are and what they are related to, that will be cleared up by experts in the field of digital technology from both sides, who are already cooperating,” Kolobkov said. “From our side, we will continue to offer all possible assistance.”

The Russian track federation said Monday it knows of 14 open investigations against its athletes, including the former Olympic gold medalists Anna Chicherova and Elena Lashmanova. The federation said it found out during failed attempts to secure neutral status, which would have allowed them to compete at the world championships.

Both Chicherova and Lashmanova have already served doping bans for other offenses and would likely have been refused the status regardless.

The head of the U.K. Anti-Doping Agency, which led the overhaul of its Russian counterpart, said the manipulation of data could spark fresh cynicism about whether the country had cleaned up its act.

“Clearly it’s incredibly concerning and incredibly disappointing,” UKAD CEO Nicole Sapstead told the AP. “This is data that should have been made available right from the off, it wasn’t.

“A number of obstacles were placed to avoid that data being obtained. And then when it’s finally obtained and you’re rooting through it and assessing it and assimilating it, you suddenly find that it all doesn’t quite tally.”

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Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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