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Nike Oregon Project shutting down after Alberto Salazar ban

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The Nike Oregon Project is being shut down by the apparel giant, one week after its founder, distance-running coach Alberto Salazar, was handed a four-year ban from a six-year U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Investigation.

“While the panel found there was no orchestrated doping, no finding that performance enhancing drugs have ever been used on Oregon Project athletes and went out of its way to note Alberto’s desire to follow all rules, unfortunately, Alberto can no longer coach while the appeal is pending,” Nike CEO Mark Parker said in an internal memo reported by media Thursday night. “This situation, along with ongoing unsubstantiated assertions, is a distraction for many of the athletes and is compromising their ability to focus on their training and competition needs. I have therefore made the decision to wind down the Oregon Project. We will help all of our athletes in this transition as they choose the coaching set up that is right for them. And, as we have said, we will continue to support Alberto in his appeal as a four-year suspension for someone who acted in good faith is wrong.”

The Nike Oregon Project, created in 2001 after the top U.S. finish in the Boston Marathon was sixth, has included some of the world’s top distance runners — formerly Olympic champions Mo Farah and Matthew Centrowitz (who both left before Salazar’s ban) and currently Olympic and world medalists Galen RuppSifan HassanDonavan Brazier and Clayton Murphy.

Rupp and another Oregon Project star, Jordan Hasay, are scheduled to race the Chicago Marathon on Sunday.

Last week, USADA said in a news release that an arbitration panel decided on the four-year penalty for Salazar and endocrinologist Jeffrey Brown for, among other violations, possessing and trafficking testosterone while training top runners at the Nike Oregon Project (NOP).

In a statement released by NOP, Salazar said he was shocked by the arbitration outcome, and that he would appeal. He said throughout a six-year investigation, he and his athletes “endured unjust, unethical and highly damaging treatment from the USADA.”

“The Oregon Project has never and will never permit doping,” Salazar said.

The existence of the long-running USADA investigation became public after a 2015 report by BBC and ProPublica that detailed some of Salazar’s practices, which included use of testosterone gel and infusions of a supplement called L-carnitine that, when mixed with insulin, can greatly enhance athletic performance.

The 61-year-old Cuban born coach was a college star at Oregon, who went on to win four major marathon titles, in New York and Boston, from 1980-82.

USADA’s dogged pursuit of him in a difficult case that never directly implicated any of his athletes was a reminder of how track’s doping issues stretch well beyond the Russian scandal that has overtaken the sport over the last several years.

USADA said it relied on more than 2,000 exhibits between the two cases and that proceedings included nearly 5,800 pages of transcripts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MORE: Top 400m runner forced to 200m at worlds due to testosterone rule

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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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MORE: Japanese athlete’s bid to become oldest Olympian in history still alive

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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