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Darya Domracheva, triple Olympic gold medalist in Sochi, retires

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Darya Domracheva, a triple 2014 Olympic gold medalist and Belarus’ most decorated Olympian, has retired from biathlon at age 31.

Domracheva is leaving the sport because she could not continue in biathlon while raising daughter Xenia with husband Ole Einar Bjørndalen, the 13-time Olympic medalist biathlete for Norway.

“All the time after the season, I was trying to find a compromise which would allow me to raise a child and combine with a professional career at the same time,” Domracheva said, according to the International Biathlon Union (IBU). “Unfortunately I did not find an optimal solution which would allow me to combine those two important life parts. This decision is well weighted and very tough, but I finish my sports career.”

Domracheva was one of the biggest stars of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games as the only athlete to claim three individual gold medals, four years after being put on a Belarus postage stamp for earning an individual bronze. Domracheva could have competed for Russia, having been born in Minsk but raised in the remote western Siberia oil boom town of Nyagan, the birthplace of Maria Sharapova.

She became Belarus’ first female Olympic champion, saying she was “the hope of” Belarus, then was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, “Hero of Belarus.”

After winning her only World Cup overall title in 2015, Domracheva missed the 2015-16 campaign with glandular fever, then in April 2016 announced she and Bjørndalen were in a relationship and having a child.

Domracheva returned to take a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships, then entered PyeongChang ranked fifth in the world. Domracheva struggled early in PyeongChang with finishes of ninth, 37th and 27th before earning mass start silver and relay gold.

Her six career Olympic medals are two more than anybody else from Belarus, and her four golds are double anybody else’s total from her country.

Belarus has only competed independently since the 1994 Lillehammer Games, having previously been part of the Soviet Union. Its top athletes who competed under other flags included gymnasts Olga Korbut (six medals, four golds for the Soviets) and Vitaly Scherbo (six golds in 1992 for the Unified Team; four bronzes in 1996 for Belarus).

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

MORE: Biathlon president steps down after doping raid

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Biathlon president steps down after doping raid

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The longtime president of International Biathlon Union stepped down Thursday as Austrian prosecutors investigate the organization for possible doping offenses, fraud and corruption.

Police raided the IBU’s headquarters in Salzburg on Tuesday on a tipoff that Russian doping cases had been covered up in return for bribes.

Prosecutors said the alleged wrongdoing covered a period from 2012 until the February 2017 world championships in Austria — much more recent than most Russian doping scandals.

Prosecutors said the bribes amount to $300,000. They said they are also treating $35,000 in prize money as fraudulent earnings if it was won by athletes who doped and should have been banned.

The case spans three countries, with searches also conducted in Norway and Germany.

The IBU said Thursday that Anders Besseberg, the only president in the organization’s 25-year history, “is stepping down from his position as long as the investigation is ongoing.”

Besseberg had been expected to leave his post later this year rather than run for a new term.

The IBU board also suspended general secretary Nicole Resch a day after saying she had taken a leave of absence.

The acting IBU president will be Klaus Leitner, an Austrian who had been in charge of finances. A senior Russian official, Viktor Maygurov, had been next in line for the presidency after Besseberg but didn’t want the job, the IBU said.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has said its investigation department provided information which led to the raids, and a lawyer for Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov said he was involved. Besseberg sits on the WADA board as a representative of Winter Olympic sports.

Russian doping scandals have torn apart the sport of biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and shooting.

The American, Canadian and Czech teams all boycotted last month’s World Cup finals after the IBU refused to move the event from Russia. Numerous Russian athletes, including Olympic medalists, have been banned for doping in recent years.

At the 2017 world championships — a focus of the Austrian investigation — French athlete Martin Fourcade walked out of a post-race podium ceremony following a dispute with Alexander Loginov, a Russian who had recently returned from a doping ban.

The International Olympic Committee said Thursday it has “full confidence in (WADA) and the authorities to deal with this issue.”

The IOC declined to say if Olympic revenues due to the IBU from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games could be withheld. The IOC’s executive board next meets on May 2-3 in Lausanne.

Resch is a German lawyer who was the IBU’s top administrator since 2008. She was appointed by the IOC to a panel assessing preparations for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. It is next due to visit China on Sept. 16-18.

The IOC did not immediately answer a question about Resch’s status as a member of the group, which was originally chaired by Russian IOC member Alexander Zhukov.

Resch previously was assistant to Austrian predecessor Michael Geistlinger. Geistlinger had a key role in the wider Russian doping saga in January as one of four Court of Arbitration for Sport judges selected to hear appeals by athletes against lifetime Olympic bans for doping linked to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

A total of 28 Russians had their IOC-imposed sanctions overturned, and 11 bans were upheld. Three cases involving Russian biathletes were postponed.

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Grigory Rodchenkov’s name comes up as police raid biathlon federation

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Biathlon’s governing body was raided by Austrian police on Wednesday in an operation that officials said was linked to a doping investigation.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said the raid of the International Biathlon Union’s headquarters in Salzburg was part of a wider investigation into the IBU by law enforcement in Austria and Norway. WADA told The Associated Press in an e-mailed statement that “the issue is linked to doping.”

The IBU said the raid was focused on Anders Besseberg, who has been the governing body’s president since it was founded in 1993, and secretary general Nicole Resch, who handles much of the day-to-day running of the sport.

The IBU said Resch “has requested a leave of absence” because of the investigation, but didn’t comment on Besseberg’s future. Austria’s federal prosecutor’s office for financial crimes and corruption was responsible for the case, police said. The prosecutor did not immediately comment on the investigation.

Biathlon, which combines skiing and shooting, is one of the most popular winter sports in Europe, but it has been shaken by doping scandals involving the Russian team. Some of the sport’s key names have called for the IBU to take stronger action against Russia, while nations including the United States and Canada boycotted a World Cup round in Russia last month.

The investigation into the IBU was related to testimony given by Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, Besseberg’s wife, Wenche Besseberg, told the AP. Anders Besseberg was not immediately available for comment.

Norwegian broadcaster NRK published an interview with Rodchenkov on Wednesday in which he said the IBU had colluded with Russian anti-doping authorities to cover up suspicious blood tests by the country’s athletes in previous years.

“Dr. Rodchenkov has been cooperating with the investigation of the International Biathlon Union, and with other investigations. We are hopeful that all doping fraud and corruption in international sports is fully exposed, and we will continue to work diligently to make that a reality,” Rodchenkov’s lawyer Jim Walden said in a statement.

Several Russian athletes have been sanctioned for doping in recent years, including Olympic medalists from the 2014 Sochi Games, where Russia has been accused of operating a doping scheme and cover-up.

The IBU and Resch did not respond to questions Wednesday about Rodchenkov’s allegations.

The IBU said its executive board “is taking the matter (of the raid) extremely seriously and continues to be committed to operating under the highest standards of good governance and transparency.”

Austrian authorities have tried to tackle doping in biathlon before.

Police raided the lodgings of the Kazakhstan team ahead of last year’s world championships after a box containing medical equipment and team documents was left by the roadside. The raid didn’t result in any criminal charges and the team passed drug tests, though a team doctor was provisionally suspended by the IBU.

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