Biathlon report outlines corrupt conduct, favors for Russia

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SALZBURG, Austria — A report commissioned by the International Biathlon Union stated Thursday there was evidence of “systematic corrupt and unethical conduct at the very top” of the governing body, especially in protecting Russia on doping issues.

The report, published in a redacted version, accuses former IBU president Anders Besseberg of lobbying intensely for Russia’s interests while showing little appetite for pursuing doping cases which might embarrass the country.

It also said Besseberg, who ran biathlon for 25 years, was taken on hunting and fishing trips for free in Russia and had IBU employees transport his trophies home to Norway. The report cites evidence from a police investigation that Besseberg admitted he “received the service of a prostitute” while staying in Moscow, which he believed had been paid for by a third party.

The commission which wrote the report said Besseberg “appears, in the view of the Commission, to have had no regard for ethical values and no real interest in protecting the sport from cheating,” and that he did only the “absolute minimum” on anti-doping issues.

The report accuses the IBU leadership of repeated failures to even look for evidence in Russian doping cases. With regard to blood doping, the report says a cover-up was impossible because the athletes’ profiles hadn’t been checked for signs of doping.

There is testimony from Moscow anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov, who said he overheard a conversation between two Russian officials about a sum of $200,000 to $300,000 which was supposedly paid to Besseberg and that Russia had “leverage” over Besseberg. The commission did not have access to bank account data, but said Norwegian authorities were investigating whether Besseberg illicitly received money or other benefits.

Former IBU general secretary Nicole Resch is accused of having failed to request extra testing of Russian athlete Evgeny Ustyugov at the doping-tainted 2014 Sochi Olympics after indications of “highly abnormal values” in his blood. Ustyugov went on to win a gold medal but was stripped of the honor last year after a ban over a separate allegation of past steroid use.

The report also said Resch offered “undercover” help with doping appeals by three Russians and tried to influence the chair of an anti-doping panel considering a case the IBU brought against another Russian.

Besseberg is also accused of failing to act on allegations of bribery, both when one Russian official supposedly tried to buy votes at an IBU congress and when Resch said she was offered a jewelry box by another official in 2008 or 2009 when doping cases were being investigated. She said she did not accept the box or open it.

Both Besseberg and Resch stepped down from their posts in 2018, shortly after a raid on the IBU’s headquarters by Austrian police. Neither has been charged or convicted of a crime. The report said Besseberg declined to answer questions while a criminal investigation into his conduct remains open, and Resch said she couldn’t be interviewed for health reasons.

Besides his IBU role, Besseberg was formerly a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s foundation board representing Winter Olympic sports until he stepped down in 2018.

“The allegations featured in this report are abhorrent to all who care about sport integrity,” WADA president Witold Banka said in a statement. “However, it is to the credit of the IBU that in the wake of this scandal, it has taken significant steps to enhance the integrity of its anti-doping program.”

The report could lead to more athletes being charged over past doping offenses. Jonathan Taylor, who chaired the commission, said it unearthed a previously unnoticed tactic used by the Russian anti-doping agency from 2012-14 to conceal apparent doping.

Taylor said it involved holding on to suspicious blood data and entering it into the global anti-doping system only much later, so that “the values found of athlete biological samples were not matched to the athlete until many months or years after the fact.”

Evidence which wasn’t acted on while Besseberg and Resch ran the IBU was still available for other investigations, Taylor said, as was a syringe containing traces of blood and the banned substance EPO. The syringe was found discarded at a World Cup venue in 2015 but a DNA sample from the blood was never matched with any athlete.

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Svetlana Romashina, seven-time Olympic champion artistic swimmer, retires

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Russian Svetlana Romashina, the most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history with seven gold medals, announced her retirement at age 33.

Romashina entered seven Olympic artistic swimming events and won all of them, starting in 2008. She won four Olympic titles in the team event and three in the duet (two with Nataliya Ishchenko and one with Svetlana Kolesnichenko).

The Tokyo Games marked her last major competition.

Romashina is the only woman to go undefeated in her Olympic career while entering seven or more events. The only man to do so was American track and field athlete Ray Ewry, who won all eight of his Olympic starts from 1900-08, according to Olympedia.org.

Romashina also won 21 world championships medals — all gold, second in aquatics history behind Michael Phelps‘ 26.

She took nearly two years off after giving birth to daughter Alexandra in November 2017, then came back to win three golds at her last world championships in 2019 and two golds at her last Olympics in 2021.

Romashina is now an artistic swimming coach, according to Russian media.

Russian swimmers swept the Olympic duet and team titles at each of the last six Olympics.

Russians have been banned from international competition since March due to the war in Ukraine.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

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Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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