Nick Zaccardi

OlympicTalk Editor

Sun Yang defends failure to take drug test

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MONTREUX, Switzerland (AP) — One of China’s biggest Olympic stars fought Friday for his right to compete at the Tokyo Games during a rare public hearing that turned combative at times, as champion swimmer Sun Yang defended his refusal to complete a doping test last year.

During a 10-hour session marred at times by translation problems, Sun maintained that inspectors drawing blood and urine samples failed to have proper identification papers.

The interpretation issues in both English and Chinese brought a halt to the landmark Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing several times, frustrating lawyers for both sides during Sun’s opening cross-examination. Sun’s mother later took the stand, at one point admonishing lawyers, “I haven’t finished yet.”

One lawyer said he could not tell if Sun was being evasive or if it was simply a case of misunderstood translation.

The case stems from the three-time Olympic champion’s refusal to cooperate with three anti-doping officials during a random test that became a confrontation in the early morning hours at his home in China in September 2018.

“During inspection, I realized they don’t have any authorized papers to prove their identification,” Sun testified Friday.

A World Anti-Doping Agency expert disputed Sun’s account, saying the inspectors’ credentials were in order.

A tribunal appointed by the swimming world body FINA initially gave Sun only a caution, but WADA appealed the case to CAS. Its judges are not expected to hand down a verdict until next year. If the ruling goes against him, Sun could be banned from the 2020 Olympics.

The 6-foot, 7-inch Sun became a star in China as the country’s first man to win an Olympic title in swimming. He won the 400m and 1500m freestyles at the 2012 London Olympics. He added gold in the 200m in Rio.

The 27-year-old Sun, who also has 11 world championships, has been a polarizing figure in the sport.

In Rio, Australian rival Mack Horton called him a drug cheat as anger built over a three-month ban for his positive test in 2014 that some considered too lenient. The ban was initially kept secret by Chinese authorities and FINA, which some accused of appearing to protect one of its biggest names in a key market.

Sun provoked more anger among rivals by winning two world titles in July while the CAS appeal was pending. Medalists Horton and Brit Duncan Scott refused to stand on the podium with him in Gwangju, South Korea.

The translation problems at Friday’s hearing began almost from the start, and it was unclear at times how much of the testimony and questions were understood, with both judges and lawyers expressing frustration.

At one point, Sun’s Geneva-based lawyer, Ian Meakin, apologized for asking his client leading questions, saying: “The translation was so bad.”

The translation was so poor that “you couldn’t tell if (Sun) was monumentally evasive or couldn’t understand the questions,” said Richard Young, a lawyer for WADA.

When the hearing resumed after a break, judging panel president Franco Frattini also apologized for its poor quality.

The court noted that Sun’s team selected the translators, who were replaced at a lunch break by a WADA staff member. Lawyers were told an accurate transcript of the morning sessions would later be provided to all parties.

Sun detailed how he and his entourage had doubted the qualifications of the officials conducting the doping test at his home.

“How are you able to trust them?” said Sun, whose personal doctor had been summoned to the scene.

A security guard, under instructions from Sun’s mother, used a hammer to smash a box containing a vial of his blood during the late-night dispute after the swimmer questioned the collection team’s credentials.

Sun said he was not respected by the officials, including a chaperone he said asked to take his photograph.

“This is really ridiculous,” Sun said in translated comments.

Although Sun and his entourage were criticized for their conduct, the first FINA tribunal panel said the sample mission was void and invalid because anti-doping protocol was not followed. Technically, Sun was judged to be not properly notified of needing to give samples.

WADA has asked for a ban of between two and eight years, saying Sun voluntarily refused to submit to give samples.

“That is pretty sensational,” Young, the WADA lawyer, said of the hammer-smashing incident. “But he was nailed on a tampering violation before any of that happened.”

If WADA’s appeal is upheld, Sun risks a longer sanction that could bar him from the Tokyo Games because it would be his second offense. The first offense brought the three-month ban imposed by Chinese authorities in 2014, after Sun tested positive for a banned stimulant.

That initial ban was quickly addressed by Sun and his legal team on Friday. He said it was a prescribed medication for a heart issue because he sometimes fainted after training.

Lawyers for WADA repeatedly asked if Sun had learned in his long career of the serious consequences for refusing to give a sample. He repeatedly answered that the lead anti-doping official had not warned him specifically.

Sun’s anti-doping history was detailed, with 180 samples given at competitions and during training from 2012-18. A total of 60 were organized by the Sweden-based firm IDTM, which sent the collection team to Sun’s home in 2018.

CAS judge Philippe Sands pressed Sun about whether IDTM staff had shown different kinds of documents of authorization on the 59 previous occasions he gave samples without problems.

Friday’s hearing, the first open to the media and public observers since 1999, played out inside a ballroom annex set among lakeside hotel gardens in the upscale Swiss resort of Montreux. Next door stood the concert halls of the city’s famed jazz festival.

Amid concerns over witness intimidation, the three anti-doping officials who visited Sun’s home testified earlier and did not attend Friday’s session, which was watched by more than 100 accredited observers in the room and streamed live on the CAS website.

The hearing ended with Sun surprising his own legal team by waving his arms and calling another translator from the public seats to better articulate his closing statement.

“Who is this guy?” asked an incredulous Judge Frattini, a former Italian foreign minister. “It is not up to you to appear before the court.”

“There are some rules,” he said.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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Sun Yang should get lengthy ban if he loses doping hearing, WADA says

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The World Anti-Doping Agency wants China’s star swimmer Sun Yang banned for up to eight years for alleged doping rules violations.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport said Tuesday ahead of a rare appeal hearing in open court on Friday that WADA requests a ban of two to eight years. Sun served a three-month ban in 2014 for a positive test.

If WADA wins, the three-time Olympic freestyle champion will miss the Tokyo Games.

WADA has challenged world swimming body FINA’s ruling to merely warn Sun after a disputed attempt by sample collectors to take blood and urine from him at his home in China in September 2018. The late-night confrontation lasted from 11 p.m. to beyond 3:30 a.m.

The day-long hearing will examine why a secure box storing a glass vial of blood came to be destroyed by Sun’s entourage, who questioned the sample team’s authority. A FINA tribunal panel agreed the officials lacked proper credentials to make the sample collection valid.

WADA believes Sun broke anti-doping rules by refusing to submit to a sample collection.

All sides agreed to Sun’s request to hold a first CAS appeal in public for 20 years.

A verdict is unlikely until early next year.

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