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Gamze Bulut
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Athletes completing doping bans get unexpected chance at Olympics

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BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — Athletes completing doping bans over the next year will be eligible to compete in the postponed Tokyo Olympics, an unintended effect of the coronavirus pandemic that has some crying foul.

Turkish runner Gamze Bulut, for example, will now have plenty of time to qualify for a games she likely would have missed had they gone ahead as scheduled.

“It doesn’t seem like a fair punishment,” Irish race walker Brendan Boyce told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “They haven’t really missed the events they were supposed to miss.”

The 2020 Olympics were officially postponed last month for one year, with the opening ceremony now set for July 23, 2021.

Bulut originally won 1500m silver at the 2012 London Olympics but was stripped of her medal because of irregularities in her biological passport, which monitors an athlete’s blood profile. She was given a four-year ban that began in 2016 and expires on May 29 — giving her an unexpected full year to qualify for Tokyo.

“I’m trying my best to (attend) the Olympics,” the 27-year-old runner said. “I hope I can join.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit estimates that about 40 of the 200 or so banned track and field athletes who stand to gain from the Olympic postponement are international-level competitors. The AIU maintains a global list of track athletes banned for doping violations.

More than 11,000 athletes are expected to compete in 33 sports in Tokyo, with about 2,000 of them in track and field.

Boyce, a two-time Olympian who has qualified for Tokyo, said restrictions on the number of competitors could make it harder for clean athletes to earn places.

“I wouldn’t be too happy now if I lost an Olympic spot because of an anomaly like what’s going on at the minute,” Boyce said.

The Irishman protested on social media but stopped short of filing any formal complaints. British long-distance runner and Tokyo hopeful Lily Partridge agreed.

“I don’t believe in second chances with regards to serious doping offenses unless you provide serious assistance to anti-doping authorities and even then I don’t believe you should have the privilege of being able to compete and earn money from the sport,” Partridge told the AP.

However, World Anti-Doping Agency President Witold Banka said the unforeseen health crisis doesn’t mean authorities can “cherry-pick” when athletes have completed their bans.

“While an athlete cannot choose when he or she would like to be ineligible, an (anti-doping organization) cannot either,” Banka said. “This is entirely consistent with principles of natural justice and other areas of the law as it relates to sports or even criminal activity. When an offender has done the time, the sentence is considered to be served.”

Sebastian Coe, the Olympic great who is now president of World Athletics, was less definitive in comments shortly after the games were postponed.

“This is something we will need to look at,” Coe said. “I know it’s something the Athletics Integrity Unit, and I’m sure all the other agencies out there in concert with our sports, will need to think about, and that will just be another issue in an overflowing inbox at the moment.”

Athletes who have already qualified for Tokyo have been assured that they’ll keep their spots as future qualification decisions unfold.

Among notable athletes due to come off doping bans are Polish weightlifter Tomasz Zielinski and Irish boxer Michael O’Reilly. Neither returned messages seeking comment.

Boyce, the race walker, said it would be difficult for an Irish athlete to compete after a doping ban.

“Having a doping ban in Ireland is much more than serving time away from your sport,” he said. “It’s really crippling for your life because you’re basically seen as a criminal. It’s a form of fraud. In other countries, you see some athletes who are on doping bans just training normally and they’re just waiting to come back and nobody in that country seems to be too bothered.”

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U.S. escapes Turkey at FIBA World Cup in closest win in 13 years

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The U.S. looks vulnerable on paper at the FIBA World Cup. Turkey proved it on the court on Tuesday, nearly handing the Americans their first loss at a major tournament since 2006 to end a 44-game win streak at the Olympics and worlds.

The U.S. eked out a 93-92 win in overtime in Shanghai, its closest at a major tournament since its last loss in the 2006 World semifinals to Greece.

“The team that we played tonight, again, shows its experience and the improvement that we have to make,” U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’ve known for a long time how big basketball has become in China, of course, but all over the world.”

Turkey led 92-91 when it missed four straight free throws with nine seconds left in OT. A full box score is here.

Khris Middleton, one of two 2019 NBA All-Stars on a superstar-less U.S. roster, made two free throws with two seconds left before Milwaukee Bucks teammate Ersan Ilyasova missed a contested three-pointer as time expired that would have sent shockwaves across international basketball.

“The game was in our hands, not their hands,” said Furkan Korkmaz, a Philadelphia 76ers swingman and one of three NBA players on the Turkish roster.

Turkey is a decent opponent, the 2010 World silver medalist ranked No. 17, but tougher nations are believed to be coming in the knockout rounds.

“We didn’t play to our expectations,” Middleton said.

Much has been made about this U.S. roster lacking NBA superstars — it has one Olympian (Harrison Barnes) and two 2019 NBA All-Stars (Kemba Walker, Middleton). Many potential Tokyo Olympians opted out of suiting up for Team USA this summer — even with highly respected Gregg Popovich making his U.S. head coaching debut — a common occurrence in World Cup years.

Ten days ago, a 78-game win streak when including exhibitions with NBA players was snapped in a pre-World Cup loss to Australia.

The U.S. didn’t trail against Turkey until the final minute of regulation. With 12 seconds left, Jayson Tatum was fouled while attempting a go-ahead three-pointer. Tatum made two of three free throws to force OT.

The U.S., which beat the Czech Republic 88-67 in its opener on Sunday, finishes group play against Japan, lowest-ranked of the four-team group, on Thursday.

Also Tuesday, Canada was eliminated after losses to Australia (108-92) and Lithuania (92-69). That means the Canadians, seeking their first Olympic men’s basketball berth since 2000, will likely vie for one of the final four Olympic spots at a last-chance qualifying tournament next year.

Canada might have the most NBA options of any nation outside the U.S., but Andrew Wiggins, RJ Barrett, Jamal Murray and Tristan Thompson were all absent from the World Cup roster.

The top two nations at the World Cup from North and South America qualify for the Olympics.

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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‘Pocket Hercules,’ Olympic weightlifting legend, exhumed

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Naim Suleymanoglu, Turkey’s triple Olympic champion weightlifter nicknamed “Pocket Hercules,” was reportedly exhumed for a paternity test, seven months after his death at age 50.

The paternity case was filed by Sekai Mori, claiming to be the 27-year-old daughter of Suleymanoglu and a Japanese journalist he met at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, according to Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News.

Suleymanoglu was exhumed Wednesday to the opposition of two of Suleymanoglu’s daughters, according to the report.

“Exhumation is a routine in paternity cases if the father is dead,” Mori’s attorney said, according to the report, adding that the lifter’s DNA samples from a hospital were “insufficient for a paternity test.”

Suleymanoglu died Nov. 18, a month after undergoing a liver transplant and remaining in intensive care due to a brain hemorrhage and further surgery, according to Turkish media.

The 5-foot, 136-pound Suleymanoglu became the first weightlifter to win three Olympic titles, doing so in 1988, 1992 and 1996.

He could clean and jerk three times his body weight, helping gain his famous nickname.

Suleymanoglu was born Naim Suleimanov in a Bulgarian mountain village. He wanted to start weightlifting at age 9, when he was 3-foot-9 and 55 pounds.

He was a world medalist by age 16 and a world champion by 18 but missed the 1984 Olympics in between due to Bulgaria joining the Soviet-led boycott.

He defected from Bulgaria in 1986 after charges of human rights violations, even murders, by Bulgarian authorities against the country’s ethnic Turks.

All this happened during Suleymanoglu’s eight-year winning streak in major competition, starting as a Bulgarian competitor and finishing representing Turkey.

Suleymanoglu dominated the Olympic featherweight division in 1988 (broke six world records) and 1992 (won by 33 pounds).

Suleymanoglu came out of retirement ahead of the 2000 Sydney Games. At 33, he hoped to join Carl LewisAl Oerter and Paul Elvstrom as the only athletes to win four golds in an individual event.

He failed at all three attempts in the snatch, eliminating him from the competition.

The Turkish government reportedly rewarded Suleymanoglu with a new house every time he won a world title (seven world titles, plus the three Olympic golds).

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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