Russia doping: Impossible to know number of cheating athletes, court panel says

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The highest court in sports blasted Russia for engaging in “a cover up of the cover-up” in another desperate attempt to deny culpability for a state-sponsored doping scheme, while also justifying its decision to reduce the country’s punishments at the next two Olympics.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s 186-page decision for the case it ruled on last month between the Russians and the World Anti-Doping Agency. The decision is expected to be made public this week.

WADA had proposed a four-year ban for Russia, while allowing for athletes to compete as neutrals, for manipulating potentially inculpatory data it held in its Moscow lab for years before handing it over to investigators early in 2019. CAS reduced the sanction to two years.

Despite alleviating that and other sanctions, the CAS arbitrators denounced Russia while once again laying out the intricate details of the plot to manipulate the lab data. The panel concluded the fabrications mean “it will never be possible to know the number of cheating athletes or officials who may have escaped detection.”

“The manipulations show that the Russian authorities remain as willing as ever to interfere with, and corrupt, the anti-doping system,” the panel said.

Still, CAS called for more lenient terms than WADA wanted, lowering the burden for Russian athletes to gain eligibility to compete as neutrals at the upcoming Games in Tokyo and Beijing and softening a proposed ban on Russian government officials.

The panel said it cut the sanction in part because WADA only ever intended the ban to include one Summer and one Winter Olympics. (Four years would have brought the 2024 Paris Games into play, as well.) The coronavirus pandemic forced the IOC to reschedule the Summer Games for 2021, and CAS said the reduction would also help avoid further disruptions to preparations “particularly in the light of disruption occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Further, the panel acknowledges that imposing severe consequences upon an entirely new generation of Russian athletes may go further than necessary to achieve the objectives of the (WADA sanctioning rules.),” the panel wrote.

When the decision was announced last month, both parties took victory laps — WADA because CAS essentially agreed with every part of its case, and Russia because, despite that, it had its sanction reduced.

CAS said the reduction should not be read as “any validation of the conduct of [Russian Anti-Doping Agency] or the Russian authorities.”

But the release of the full report, which rehashes details of Russia’s plot to erase, rewrite and sometimes completely make up new files in the 23 million megabyte cache of information it held at the Moscow lab, sends a mixed message.

For instance, one of Russia’s biggest victories was the loosening of conditions for Russian athletes to compete as neutrals. WADA had insisted athletes be able to prove they hadn’t been implicated in Russia’s non-compliance. But CAS ruled that was too high a burden. Why? Because much of the proof of their innocence might have been tucked in parts of the 23 million megabytes that had been compromised.

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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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