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China continues big-name Winter Olympic coaching hires with biathlon king

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China took another step toward its bid for home success at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games by hiring two of the greatest biathletes in history as national team coaches.

Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, the male record holder with 13 Winter Olympic medals, and his wife, Belarus’ Darya Domracheva, a six-time medalist, will lead a Chinese biathlon program that has never earned an Olympic medal.

Previously, China hired Shaun White‘s former coach to guide its snowboarding program, a world champion German to coach bobsledders, a world champion Canadian to coach skeleton sliders, a world champion Swede to coach curlers and Dutch and South Korean coaches in speed skating.

China, the closest rival to the U.S. in Summer Olympic medals over the last 20 years, earned its first Winter Olympic gold medals in 2002. It reached as high as eighth in the total medal standings at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.

The Chinese dropped to 14th place in PyeongChang with one gold medal from short track speed skater Wu Dajing.

But if China’s success in hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics is any indication (leading 48 gold medals, 100 total medals), it will become a major factor in two years.

MORE: China’s Olympic men’s basketball streak in danger

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China’s Olympic men’s basketball streak in danger; Iran, Nigeria qualify for Tokyo

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China sent a men’s basketball team to every Olympics from 1984 through 2016. Its streak is in danger of being snapped.

China lost to Nigeria 86-73 in its last FIBA World Cup game on Sunday. That means Iran claimed the lone Asian Olympic qualifying spot available at the tournament, after the Iranians beat the Philippines 95-75, also Sunday.

China will get a last chance to qualify to play at its 10th straight Olympics at a tournament next year, where it likely must go through a higher-ranked European nation.

Nigeria’s win meant that the D’Tigers are going to their third straight Olympics. Nigeria needed to beat China to overtake Tunisia for the lone African Olympic berth available at the World Cup.

Nigeria, which went 1-4 at its two Olympics in 2012 and 2016, has a roster that includes current and former NBA players Al-Farouq Aminu, Josh Okogie and Ike Diogu.

Iran goes to its first Olympics since going winless in 2008, when it qualified with a boost by not having to better host nation China. Its roster is led by former Memphis Grizzlies 7-footer Hamed Haddadi.

Iran and Nigeria join Australia and Japan as the first four teams in the 12-team Olympic field. Four more nations will qualify for the Olympics at this month’s World Cup — two from the Americas and two from Europe.

The last four will be determined next year at those last-chance qualifying tournaments.

Only Australia has played in more consecutive Olympic men’s basketball tournaments on the active list than China.

China and the U.S. each played in every tournament starting with the 1984 Los Angeles Games. China didn’t participate in the Summer Olympics at all from 1956 through 1980. The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games.

China lost 12 straight Olympic contests dating to when it hosted the 2008 Beijing Games. Now-retired Yao Ming led the team in 2000, 2004 and 2008, but the nation has never reached an Olympic semifinals.

Yao, now president of China’s basketball federation, was reportedly asked who was responsible for this failure. “Me,” he replied to end the brief interview.

Fellow former NBA big man Yi Jianlian is the new elder statesman, at 31 years old and perhaps on his way to a fifth Olympics. In 2004, Yi played at age 16. He remains the youngest man to play Olympic basketball since 1948.

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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Sun Yang’s Australian coach speaks out amid podium protest echoes

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Sun Yang‘s Australian coach, Denis Cotterell, reportedly said that those who call the controversial Chinese swimmer a doper are being hypocrites.

“What is the definition of a drug cheat?” Cotterell, who guided Australian swimmers for decades before being hired to work with Chinese swimmers more than a decade ago, said, according to the Australian. “Someone who has failed a test? By that definition, they have got drug cheats on the Australian team. I have been on teams where people have failed a drug test, accidentally and through no fault of their own. I would never call them cheats. It seems to be very hypocritical.”

Sun, who owns 11 individual world titles (second only to Michael Phelps), faced podium protests from Australian silver medalist Mack Horton and British bronze medalist Duncan Scott after winning the 400m and 200m freestyles at the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, this week.

Neither Horton nor Scott would shake Sun’s hand or pose for the traditional post-medal ceremony photos. Horton, the Rio 400m free champion who called Sun a “drug cheat” at those Games, stood behind the podium rather than on it during the Chinese anthem. All three swimmers were issued warnings by FINA.

Sun is in the midst of his second known doping controversy.

First, in 2014, he was banned three months after testing positive for a banned stimulant that he said he took for years to treat an existing heart problem. The stimulant was added to the banned list that year. The length of the ban was not so much a major issue, given the circumstances, but that it wasn’t announced until after he had served it.

Then this March, the British newspaper the Sunday Times reported incidents involving Sun when a doping control official visited his home in China last September. A vial of Sun’s blood was reportedly smashed with a hammer, and his entourage disputed the official’s credentials.

Sun “noticed during the test that one of the unauthorized officers was secretly filming him without his permission,” said a statement from Sun’s lawyers.

The dispute continued beyond 11 p.m., and his request for replacement officials from Swedish-based collection agency International Doping Tests and Management was denied, his lawyers claimed. “The officers then decided to stop the testing and gave the blood samples back to Sun Yang,” the statement said.

FINA issued Sun a warning. The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed for a stricter punishment to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The court set the hearing for after the world championships in September, which rankled other swimmers as Sun competes at worlds in the meantime.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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