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Doping report shows depths of Russia cover-up

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The Russians were running out of time. Experts from the World Anti-Doping Agency were heading to Moscow to finally receive the trove of data they’d been seeking for two years.

Instead of getting ready to hand it over, Russian authorities stayed busy in a round-the-clock endeavor to keep changing, deleting and manipulating the data. Granular details of the plot are sprinkled throughout WADA’s previously confidential 89-page report, obtained by The Associated Press.

Among the most brazen projects, the report says, was the rewriting of memos to make it look as though the man who exposed the plot was leveraging the Russian doping scheme to line his own pockets. The rewrites were also designed to eliminate any record that one of Russia’s own key defense witnesses in the case had done anything wrong.

“Treat all the files the same, and you can take your Bonus home,” said one of the doctored messages, purported to have been written by whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov to another worker, Timofey Sobolevsky, at the now-infamous Moscow antidoping lab.

In fact, the original messages were to Sobolevsky from a key Russian witness and purveyor of the plot, Evgeny Kudryavtsev. Those simply said “OK,” and “Tim, we will soon be giving it.” Kudryavtsev has called Rodchenkov, who lives in hiding in the United States, a liar. Rodchenkov was not part of the original exchange.

The doctored message was one of thousands of manipulations that were concocted long after Russia had agreed to hand over the data in its original form. In fact, Russia was doctoring files as late as Jan. 16, 2019, while WADA’s team was already in the building, one day away from leaving Moscow with the now-sullied data in tow.

The details of the deception, portrayed by WADA investigators as the “smoking gun” in the Russian manipulation case, are included in the report, which spells out the ways Russia reworked data that was supposed to be used to prosecute doping cases stemming from its state-run system to win Olympic medals.

Sprinkled throughout the 89 pages are a number of explanations the Russians gave for the discrepancies — among them, system malfunctions and routine space-clearing operations that occurred at the beginning of every year — each of which is incisively batted down by the WADA team of investigators, who went to painstaking lengths to conduct forensic research on 23 million megabytes of data.

Regarding the forged messages, the investigators drew a forceful conclusion: The Russians were so focused on altering the messages that made them look the worst that they scoured through 11,227 of the exchanges to “identify and delete 25 highly inculpatory messages.”

“They therefore planted fabricated evidence into the 2019 … database that would allow them to blame those discrepancies on Dr Rodchenkov, Dr Sobolevsky” and another worker, the report said. “Such bad faith is indeed stunning, and … it provides a lens through which the explanations offered by the Russian authorities for the following subsequent events should be observed.”

On Tuesday, the day after the release of WADA’s conclusions — along with the recommendation to ban the Russian flag and its dignitaries, but not all of its athletes, from the next two Olympics — the reactions out of Russia were varied.

Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called it the latest attempt among Western efforts “to put Russia in a defensive position accused of pretty much everything in every sphere of international life.”

But Yuri Ganus, the head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, said the sanctions “were to be expected, and they’re justified.”

RUSADA was basically the only Russian actor that came off relatively unscathed in the WADA report, in large part because it has been totally revamped in the wake of the scandal.

But as the report spells out in alarming detail, the government was busy trying to cover its tracks and tell new stories right up until WADA packed up the data and took it away.

WADA’s executive committee is scheduled to review the report on Dec. 9 and decide whether to accept the sanctions recommended by the compliance review committee.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

MORE: World’s top skater leaves famed coach

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Respectfully, Donavan Brazier believes he has a chance at legendary record

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On the night of the biggest race of his life, Donavan Brazier met the man whom he is trying to succeed and, perhaps, supplant.

David Rudisha, the two-time Olympic 800m champion and world-record holder, told Brazier before the Oct. 1 world championships 800m final that he believed in the 22-year-old American more than any other man in that night’s event.

Later that evening in Doha, Brazier proved the sidelined Kenyan prophetic, winning in a national record 1:42.34 and becoming the first American to win a world title in the event.

Brazier, in his first global championship final, also ran the fastest time by somebody that young since Rudisha’s 2012 Olympic title and world-record epic pulled that field to personal bests.

Rudisha’s mark of 1:40.91 — from a race Brazier has watched dozens of times — is still significantly faster. That hasn’t stopped followers from wondering if Rudisha’s days as world-record holder may be numbered.

Sounds like Brazier may be wondering, too.

“I think I definitely have the opportunity,” Brazier told NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey in a watchback of his 2019 Diamond League and world titles. “If we’re looking at guys that are currently racing right now, I think I might have the best opportunity to do it.”

Brazier exercised caution. He was by no means predicting such a feat.

“David Rudisha, when he first broke it, he was a once-in-a-century athlete,” Brazier said. “For someone to break it so quick and just to say it so nonchalantly, I think it’s not really giving David Rudisha the respect that he deserves. A 1:40.91 is a really dangerous record to break.”

Brazier, who took up running in middle school in Michigan rather than football because he was “terribly skinny,” quickly became a dangerous prospect. In 2016, he went into the Olympic Trials ranked third in the world as a Texas A&M freshman.

Then came the obstacles. Brazier was eliminated in the first round of trials, three weeks after winning the NCAA title on the same Oregon track. In 2017, he won the U.S. title but failed to make the world final. He didn’t race at all outdoors in 2018 due to a foot injury.

Brazier looked at 2019 as a redemption year. He hit a series of successes: an American indoor 800m record, the world’s fastest indoor 600m in history, his first Diamond League win, a repeat national title and the Diamond League Final title.

Brazier said that last victory in Zurich took him from “not a well known guy, maybe a medal contender, maybe not,” to the world championships favorite. Rudisha hasn’t raced since 2017 due to injuries.

Brazier, after meeting Rudisha and former world-record holder Seb Coe, capped the season with his biggest title yet in Doha. The feeling was more relief than happiness. Brazier, after getting knocked down repeatedly in his first two seasons as a pro, noted that Muhammad Ali also won his first world title at age 22.

Brazier mouthed “thank you” after crossing the finish line, a salute to everybody who helped him reach that point.

“I’m thanking myself, too, because I’m the one who put in all the hard work to do it,” Brazier said. “I’m not saying that this is the end of my career, but it was definitely the peak of my career and the pinnacle of it. I never accomplished anything on a stage like that.”

MORE: Dalilah Muhammad rewatches 2019 world records

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