A ban on Russian athletes is lifted, but where are the Russians?

Russia Fencing

This week was supposed to mark the return of the first athletes from Russia and Belarus to be reinstated since the IOC updated its recommendations to international sports federations, providing a conditional path to partially lift bans in place since the invasion of Ukraine.

The International Fencing Federation (FIE) was the first Olympic sport body to act, actually doing so before the IOC’s update in March but not putting it into effect until the second half of April. (Other sports, including cycling, tennis and in the NHL, have been allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete since before the IOC update.)

Yet no Russians or Belarusians are entered in a sabre Grand Prix in Seoul that starts Thursday, not even as neutral athletes.

It is the sport’s first top-level competition in a month (after other national federations canceled events due to the reinstatement) and first top-level event during a year-long Olympic qualifying window that began April 3.

On Wednesday, Russian Fencing Federation president Ilgar Mamedov said that Russian fencers will not compete in Seoul because of “some bureaucratic snafus and foot-dragging” by the FIE, according to Russian news agency TASS.

“We did everything in due time, as they had instructed us previously,” Mamedov said, according to the report. “We repeatedly warned them, however, that it would be impossible for us to participate if they continued to drag the process out.

“We were assured, however, that everything was all right, that we should not worry and that we would be eligible by the deadline. However, we are now seeing the exact opposite result.”

The FIE has not responded to requests for comment over the last two months on its stance on Russian and Belarusian fencers.

Mamedov also said that the Russian Fencing Federation requested to strip the Seoul event of “qualifying points” — presumably Olympic qualifying points — since Russians are not taking part.

At the last two Olympics, women from Russia won gold and silver in individual sabre, plus gold in team sabre.

Fencers from Ukraine have been on the Seoul entry list for at least the last week. In late March, the Ukraine government said that its athletes should not take part in any Olympic qualifying competitions that allow Russians and Belarusians.

On Tuesday, the Ukraine Fencing Federation said it appealed to a court in Switzerland, where the FIE is based, to stop the FIE from readmitting Russians and Belarusians.

There are also no Russians yet on the entry lists for Grand Prix or World Cup events in the other weapons — épée and foil — next week in Colombia, Bulgaria and Mexico.

Russian fencers topped the Tokyo Olympic standings with eight medals and three golds, competing under the Russian Olympic Committee name rather than Russia due to the nation’s doping violations.

Belarus, which has zero Olympic fencing medals, had no fencers at the Tokyo Games and one fencer at the Rio Games.

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback

Elina Svitolina French Open

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

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Marcell Jacobs still sidelined, misses another race with Fred Kerley

Marcell Jacobs

Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy will miss another scheduled clash with world 100m champion Fred Kerley, withdrawing from Friday’s Diamond League meet in Florence.

Jacobs, 28, has not recovered from the nerve pain that forced him out of last Sunday’s Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, according to Italy’s track and field federation.

In his absence, Kerley’s top competition will be fellow American Trayvon Bromell, the world bronze medalist, and Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala, the world’s fastest man this year at 9.84 seconds. Kerley beat both of them in Rabat.

The Florence Diamond League airs live on Peacock on Friday from 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jacobs has withdrawn from six scheduled head-to-heads with Kerley dating to May 2022 due to a series of health issues since that surprise gold in Tokyo.

Kerley, primarily a 400m sprinter until the Tokyo Olympic year, became the world’s fastest man in Jacobs’ absence. He ran a personal best 9.76 seconds, the world’s best time of 2022, at last June’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Then he led a U.S. sweep of the medals at July’s worlds.

Jacobs’ next scheduled race is a 100m at the Paris Diamond League on June 9. Kerley is not in that field, but world 200m champion Noah Lyles is.

The last time the reigning Olympic and world men’s 100m champions met in a 100m was the 2012 London Olympic final between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. From 2013 to 2017, Bolt held both titles, then retired in 2017 while remaining reigning Olympic champion until Jacobs’ win in Tokyo, where Kerley took silver.

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