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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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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