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Russia prevents WADA from finding doping data in Moscow lab

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MOSCOW (AP) — World Anti-Doping Agency inspectors are leaving Moscow empty-handed after Russian authorities prevented them from accessing key doping data that the country’s authorities had agreed to hand over.

WADA reinstated the suspended Russian Anti-Doping Agency in September on the condition Russian authorities hand over lab data, which could help confirm a number of violations uncovered during an investigation that revealed a state-sponsored doping program designed to win medals at the Sochi Olympics and other major event.

But Friday, WADA said its delegation “was unable to complete its mission” because Russia unexpectedly demanded its equipment be “certified under Russian law.” WADA says the demand wasn’t raised at earlier talks. The deadline to turn over the data is Dec. 31.

WADA says team leader Toni Pascual will now prepare a report on the failed mission. The WADA compliance review committee that recommended RUSADA’s reinstatement will meet Jan. 14-15, where it could recommend the ban on RUSADA be re-imposed. WADA kept open the option of returning to the lab before year’s end if Russia resolves the issue.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov told local media the WADA team would return, but there was no word on the date and no mention of the issue raised by WADA.

WADA leaders portrayed Russia’s willingness to turn over the data as a key reason for agreeing to reinstate RUSADA despite its failure to comply with key requirements on the “roadmap” WADA had set out.

“We’ve tried to come to terms with the Russians on how this was to be done, and this is the first time since discussing it that they’ve actually said ‘yes,’” WADA director general Olivier Niggli in September, in an impassioned defense of the decision. “We hope they’ll fulfill that promise.”

It was a widely criticized decision, and the reaction to Friday’s news was predictable.

“Surprise, surprise — anyone shocked by this?” said Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “Let’s hope WADA leadership has finally learned the lesson and immediately declares them non-compliant. Anything else is simply another shiv in the back of clean athletes.”

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Katie Ledecky’s competition is near, far for best U.S. female swimmer ever

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Moments after Katie Ledecky disappeared from the front of the stage at last month’s Golden Goggles, her record sixth Female Swimmer of the Year trophy in tow, the woman long known as the greatest female swimmer in U.S. history approached the microphone.

“Tray-cee Caul-kins, Tray-cee Caul-kins, Tray-cee Caul-kins,” crowd members chanted at USA Swimming’s annual dinner and awards event. Tracy Stockwell (née Caulkins) smiled and blew a kiss as her fellow presenter, NBC Sports swimming voice Dan Hicks, stepped to the side and bowed toward her.

They bantered before naming the next award’s candidates inside a Midtown Manhattan hotel ballroom.

“For the last six years, we’ve been hearing Katie, Katie, Katie, Katie, Katie,” Stockwell said in jest. “I mean, she’s great, she’s great, but I’m just saying, will Katie ever set an American record in every stroke?”

“True, but I don’t believe you ever won one of your races by more than 15 seconds,” Hicks replied.

“OK, you got me there,” Stockwell said. “Only 9.5 seconds in the 400m IM in the Olympic final … but again, all four strokes.”

Stockwell ended the amusement there.

“Katie, you know I love you,” she said. Hicks and Stockwell moved on to read the Male Swimmer of the Year candidates.

Is Ledecky the greatest U.S. female swimmer in history?

Longtime NBC Sports analyst Rowdy Gaines, a close friend of Stockwell’s on the 1980 and 1984 Olympic teams, introduced Stockwell as “simply the greatest” at a 2013 panel where the two iconic women met for the first time.

Back then, Ledecky was just 16 years old and had competed at one Olympics (one gold medal) and one world championships (four gold medals).

Stockwell earned five golds and a silver at the 1978 World Championships, missed what would have been her first Olympics due to the Moscow boycott, then earned three golds at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Other U.S. women earned more medals since, but none had the all-stroke mastery of Stockwell, who swept the medleys at the Olympics and worlds.

“I love the bar-room talk of who the greatest is of any sport,” Gaines said. “It’s not a competition on the men’s side, so it’s nice to have a little battle back and forth about the greatest woman.”

Ledecky joined the discussion in the last Olympic cycle. She earned four titles in Rio and last year upped her biennial world championships gold-medal count to 14, most for a woman from any country.

Granted, worlds were held every four years in Stockwell’s era, when swimmers rarely competed beyond college age.

“I know some of the old guard might want to argue with me here, but [Ledecky] is the greatest female swimmer in history,” Gaines told the Golden Goggles crowd while helping auction a 24-by-36-inch painting of Ledecky training for $5,000. “Tracy Caulkins, I know, is like 1A.”

Neither Stockwell nor Ledecky is of the public disposition to much care of owning the label. It’s for others to talk about, and the chatter is good for the sport.

“It’s nice to be remembered. It’s a nice thing to include we has-beens, I guess,” Stockwell said with a laugh when asked about the debate. “I’m flattered that people would say I’m considered one of the greatest. It brings back a lot of good memories. It makes me proud of my versatility. Back then, at 21, when I finished swimming, that was considered old.”

Stockwell speaks with a mix of her native Nashville twang and an Australian accent from living in Queensland for nearly half of her 55 years. She met Aussie swimmer Mark Stockwell at the Los Angeles Games. She retired that year despite having one season of eligibility left at the University of Florida.

“I kind of felt like I had done everything that I wanted,” she said. “I wasn’t really prepared to give it the effort that I had for so long, and I didn’t think that would be fair on me or the team.”

They married in 1991 and raised five children in Brisbane, the youngest now 15. Stockwell spent much of that time in roles championing women’s sports within Australia. She now serves on Swimming Australia’s board.

“Part of the deal was, if I ever had to get back to the USA or Nashville, then I could,” said Stockwell, who also flies to Gainesville, to present a scholarship endowed in her name, and to Southern California or New York City for Golden Goggles, supporting USA Swimming. “Next year I will be half and half, 28 years in America and Australia 28 years.”

Stockwell realized that her allegiance was torn as she watched the famous 4x100m men’s freestyle relay at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The air guitar-strumming Aussies handed the Americans their first defeat in the event in Olympic history.

“People would ask me, who are you going to cheer for,” she said. “I was like, oh gosh, I hadn’t even thought about that. I kind of feel like I have two teams to cheer for.”

One child, son William, swims for Australia, ranking fourth in the nation in the 50m backstroke this year. It’s a different age from the complicated one that his mom dominated.

She swam against East Germans during the country’s state-sponsored doping days, missed what would have been her peak Olympics due to a boycott and then starred at the 1984 Games that those East Germans sat out.

“Even though I probably had a shorter career than many swimmers, and we didn’t have the opportunity to go to the 1980 Olympics, to go to one Olympics was the highlight of my career and what I dreamed of since I was a little girl,” she said. “A lot of my friends who made the ‘80 team tried again in 1984 and didn’t make it or just missed out. I remember those Olympic Trials being quite emotional because of that. Now I see so many athletes are going to two or three or four Olympic Games, and I think isn’t that wonderful that they’ve got the support mechanisms. They’re not considered old and washed-up at 21 years of age.”

When Gaines introduced Stockwell at that 2013 panel (titled “Swimming Through the Decades,” along with Janet EvansMatt BiondiLenny Krayzelburg and Ledecky), he reeled off some of her accomplishments:

  • 63 American records, most by any swimmer in history
  • Youngest athlete to win the Sullivan Award at age 15 in 1978
  • Only swimmer to have an American record in every stroke at the same time

Stockwell and Ledecky sat, separated by Krayzelburg, while the gold medalists compared eras and took questions from a small crowd.

“I had followed her a bit and seen what she did in London,” Stockwell said of Ledecky, who at age 15 became the youngest U.S. Summer Olympic gold medalist in any sport in 16 years. “She was so young, and it kind of took me back to my career.

“What really impressed me [at the panel] was how together she was for such a young athlete and how she was the whole package. Not only a great swimmer, but she spoke really well, was really well-balanced, nice, very smart. Just delightful.”

Stockwell caught up with Ledecky’s family at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships in Australia.

In 2016, she flew to the States for the Honda Cup presentation to the top NCAA female athlete (another accolade: Stockwell is the only woman to win the Honda Cup twice outright).

She tacked on a trip to Omaha for the Olympic Trials. Ledecky had a dinner at the end of the event where she thanked her supporters.

“I popped in to see her, congratulate her and wish her good luck [in Rio],” Stockwell said.

Asked what stuns her the most about Ledecky, Stockwell says all of it. The dominance (winning the Olympic 800m free by 11 seconds), the range (world titles from 200m to 1500m) and what recently put Ledecky in the minds of many atop U.S. female swimming: the longevity.

Gaines noted that Ledecky’s golden streak is now at six years, matching the length of Stockwell’s elite international career from 1978 to 1984.

“The ability to keep improving, because I know that’s a real challenge,” said Stockwell, who dropped to a pair of bronze medals at the 1982 Worlds. “I know that was hard for me. It’s easier on the way up, but once you get there and you’re Olympic champion and you’re world-record holder, you’re the standard and everyone’s aiming to beat you. It’s more difficult to stay motivated, to continue to improve.”

If there is still an argument that Caulkins is No. 1 and Ledecky 1A, it’s her conquering of all four strokes.

In track and field, the Olympic decathlon champion is known as the world’s greatest athlete. The 400m IM is swimming’s decathlon. Watch Caulkins’ 400m IM from the 1984 Olympics, and you will think of Ledecky as the camera pans out to fit the trailing swimmers in the frame.

“Katie and Tracy are not equally versatile, but Katie is a lot more versatile than we give her credit for,” Gaines said. “I think if she concentrated on the 400m IM, she would be extremely dangerous [Ledecky briefly held the American record in the 400 IM in short-course yards while at Stanford]. The versatility also, even though it’s one stroke [freestyle], the versatility of that stroke is amazing.”

There’s another U.S. swimmer that Ledecky could try to chase in the greatest-ever debate. That’s Michael Phelps, whom Gaines can’t see being caught.

“She would have to kind of repeat what she did in ‘16 at the next two Olympic Games,” he said. “She’d have to almost triple her number of world records (Ledecky has 14; Phelps 39).”

VIDEO: Katie Ledecky, Elizabeth Beisel perform ‘Let it Be’ duet

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Yevgenia Medvedeva’s struggles continue at Russian Nationals

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Yevgenia Medvedeva rough season hit another stumbling block Friday. She placed 14th in the short program at the Russian Championships.

The Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion botched her opening combination and then fell on a double Axel (video here). She scored 62.24 points, 18.38 behind Olympic champion Alina Zagitova in the deepest national competition in the world.

The second-, third- and fifth-place finishers in the short are all 14- and 15-year-olds that aren’t eligible for senior international events this season. This is key, as Medvedeva is vying for one of three Russian spots at January’s European Championships and March’s world championships.

Zagitova and 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who is out with pneumonia, would seem obvious candidates for two spots at Euros. Medvedeva’s primary competition for a spot are Stanislava Konstantinova, who was fourth in the short, and Sofia Samodurova, who was sixth.

Samodurova had the best fall Grand Prix season of the trio, placing fifth at the Grand Prix Final in her first senior international campaign.

Russia has in the past named its world championships team after the European Championships, making the latter another selection event.

Medvedeva went undefeated for two years from 2015 to 2017 but hasn’t won in more than a year, placing second, third or fourth at her last five events since suffering a broken bone in her foot in fall 2017. She has fallen in all four of her competitions this season.

Training partner Zagitova edged Medvedeva for gold in PyeongChang by 1.31 points, after which Medvedeva moved from Moscow to Toronto to train under Brian Orser.

Orser, who has stressed patience as Medvedeva processes technique changes for the second act of her career, encouraged Medvedeva after Friday’s skate. They conversed in the kiss and cry as fans would not stop applauding her during the wait for her scores.

“Stand up and wave,” Orser urged her. She obliged, smiling, The scores came up. She nodded and repeated her placement, “14th.”

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