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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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Emil Hegle Svendsen joins list of Norway Olympic star retirements

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In the last week, three Norwegians who won a combined 36 Winter Olympic medals announced retirements.

The latest came in a tearful news conference on Monday.

Biathlete Emil Hegle Svendsen ended his career at age 32 after four Winter Games and eight medals, plus 21 world championships medals (including 12 golds).

Svendsen said it was “actually a huge pleasure” to retire, that he “needed a little time after the Olympic Games season because I often felt that the spark could come back. But I wasn’t close to [getting it back],” according to The Associated Press.

Svendsen’s farewell came after the two most decorated Winter Olympians of all time — biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen and cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen — announced their retirements last week.

Svendsen would come to be billed as “The Prince” and heir to the throne of “The King” Bjørndalen, who is 12 years older. Svendsen was 20 years old when he debuted at the Olympics in 2006 with a sixth-place finish in the mass start.

He blossomed into the World Cup overall champion in 2009-10, a season where he took individual and relay Olympic gold, plus silver in the sprint in Whistler, B.C.

Svendsen dominated the 2013 World Championships with a pair of individual golds, two more relay golds and an individual bronze medal. His Sochi Olympics didn’t start well — ninth, seventh and seventh in his first three events — but he won the mass start in a photo finish over French rival Martin Fourcade.

Svendsen is also remembered for shocking struggles in the last event in Sochi — the men’s relay. He was given the lead to anchor the Norwegian quartet, and a chance for Bjørndalen to earn his record-breaking ninth career Winter Olympic title. But Svendsen missed three targets, and Norway fell from first to fourth.

Svendsen went into PyeongChang believing it would be his final Olympics. Again, he made up for poor early finishes (10th, 18th and 20th) by making the mass-start podium (bronze). He then earned silver medals in the relays.

“It’s a good idea that all such decisions are taken based on the feeling you have, and that is that I’m in the dessert in my career,” Svendsen said last fall, according to NBC Olympic Research.

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