All posts by Associated Press

Larry Nassar loses last appeal in sexual assault scandal

The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday rejected a final appeal from sports doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to decades in prison for sexually assaulting gymnasts, including Olympic medalists.

Lawyers for Nassar said he was treated unfairly in 2018 and deserved a new hearing, based on vengeful remarks by a judge who called him a “monster” who would “wither” in prison like the wicked witch in “The Wizard of Oz”.

“I just signed your death warrant,” Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said of Nassar’s 40-year sentence.

The state Supreme Court said Nassar’s appeal was a “close question” and that it had “concerns” about the judge’s conduct. But the court also noted that Aquilina, despite her provocative comments, stuck to the sentencing agreement worked out by lawyers in the case.

“We decline to expend additional judicial resources and further subject the victims in this case to additional trauma where the questions at hand present nothing more than an academic exercise,” the court said in a two-page order.

More than 150 victims spoke or submitted statements during an extraordinary seven-day hearing in Aquilina’s court more than four years ago.

Nassar pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting gymnasts and other athletes with his hands under the guise of medical treatment for hip and leg injuries. He worked at Michigan State University and at Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, travelling the world with the elites of the sport.

“Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment,” the judge said. “If it did, I have to say I might allow what he did to all of these beautiful souls, these young women in their childhood. I would allow someone or many people to do to him what he did to others.”

Nassar subsequently received another 40-year sentence in a separate case in a neighbouring county.

He is currently in federal prison for child pornography crimes in a different case that grew out of the same investigation. The sentences effectively mean Nassar, 58, will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The Nassar case turned Aquilina into a celebrity. She appeared at the 2018 ESPY awards in Los Angeles, where his victims were honored. The judge said she trademarked her name after it started appearing on T-shirts, including one worn by actress Natalie Portman on Saturday Night Live.

The scandal has not faded. More than 100 women, including Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, are collectively seeking more than $1bn from the federal government for the FBI’s failure to stop Nassar when agents became aware of allegations against him in 2015. He was arrested by Michigan State University police in 2016, more than a year later.

Michigan State, which was accused of missing chances over many years to stop Nassar, agreed to pay $500m to more than 300 women and girls who were assaulted by him. USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee made a $380m settlement.

Caster Semenya offered to show track officials her body

Double Olympic champion Caster Semenya said she offered to show her vagina to track officials when she was just 18 years old to prove she was a female.

She also accused the world athletics body of making her take medication that “tortured” her and made her fear that she was going to have a heart attack, according to a report on Monday in British newspaper The Telegraph.

The Telegraph published what it said were parts of an interview the South African runner did with HBO Real Sports. The full HBO interview is due to air in the United States on Tuesday.

In the interview, the Telegraph said Semenya reflected on the 2009 world championships in Berlin, where she won the 800-meter world title in dominant fashion as an 18-year-old newcomer at her first major athletics meet.

But her performance and muscular physique led the world track body to order the teenager to undergo sex tests, causing a firestorm of controversy. According to the Telegraph, Semenya said track officials from the governing body “probably” thought she had a penis. “I told them, ‘It’s fine. I’m a female, I don’t care. If you want to see I’m a woman, I will show you my vagina. Alright?’” Semenya said in the interview with HBO Real Sports, according to the Telegraph.

Following her world title win, Semenya was forced by the world track body to take medication that artificially lowered her naturally high testosterone if she wanted to compete against other female runners. Although the world track body has never released details of Semenya’s specific medication, it’s believed she took birth control pills or something with similar properties to lower her testosterone.

“It made me sick, made me gain weight, panic attacks, I don’t know if I was ever going to have a heart attack,” Semenya said of the medication. “It’s like stabbing yourself with a knife every day. But I had no choice. “I’m 18, I want to run, I want to make it to (the) Olympics, that’s the only option for me. But I had to make it work.”

Forcing athletes to take medication to alter natural hormone levels in order to compete in sports has been criticized by medical experts as being clearly unethical. It’s also never been revealed what dosage of medication Semenya had to take to lower her testosterone to a level set as acceptable by track chiefs to allow her to run.

The Telegraph reported that World Athletics lawyer Jonathan Taylor also spoke to HBO Real Sports and defended the medication, which wasn’t named, by saying leading experts said they would prescribe it for female athletes with high testosterone. Semenya also responded to that. “Jonathan must cut his tongue and throw it away,” the Telegraph quoted Semenya as saying.

“If he wants to understand how that thing has tortured me, he must go and take those medications. He will understand.” The 2009 world championships was the start of Semenya’s 13-year battle against track authorities to be able to compete against female athletes.

Now 31, Semenya is banned from competing in distances from 400 to the mile at top-level track meets in updated testosterone regulations unless she agrees to again take medication to lower her testosterone. She has refused, and hasn’t run an 800-meter race at a major meet since 2019. The regulations prevented Semenya from defending her Olympic title last year in Tokyo.

Semenya has one of a number of conditions referred to as differences of sex development, or DSDs. It results in a testosterone level that is higher than the typical female range and which World Athletics says gives her an unfair advantage against other female athletes.

She has challenged the testosterone regulations twice in court, losing appeals at the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Swiss Federal Tribunal. She has launched a third appeal against them and is waiting for a hearing date to be set at the European Court of Human Rights.

Semenya has rarely spoken in detail about her experiences with the world track body, which was previously known as the IAAF and rebranded to World Athletics. However, details of the sometimes bitter battle came to light in 2019 when court documents from Semenya’s first legal challenge revealed the track body categorized her as “biologically male.” Semenya said she was outraged at a sports body “telling me that I am not a woman.” Semenya was identified as female at birth and has identified as female her whole life.

Yet some experts say that her elevated natural testosterone gives her a clear advantage against other women. Before she was banned from running in the 800 in 2019, Semenya went more than 30 races unbeaten.

15 year-Old Russian superstar tests positive

Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old Russian superstar who was expected to deliver her nation its third straight Olympic gold medal in women’s figure skating, practiced as usual Thursday, hours after reports that she tested positive for a banned substance.

Valieva tested positive for a banned heart medication before the Beijing Games, the Russian newspaper RBC reported.

The sample was reportedly obtained before Valieva won the European championship last month in Estonia, a performance that solidified her status as the leader of Russia’s “quad squad” of elite women’s figure skaters.

It’s unclear if Russia is appealing or fighting the result. Her appearance at practice implies that the federation isn’t accepting any finding that would eliminate her.

“She is not suspended,” Russian figure skating federation spokeswoman Olga Ermolina said, with no further detail.

Valieva ran through her program and skated with teammate Alexandra Trusova while getting pointers from coach Eteri Tutberidze at the practice rink. Valieva flashed a smile to one of her coaches near the end of the roughly 30-minute session, and none of the skaters took questions from reporters.

When Valieva left the press conference area, she gave a gesture with a fist in the air. It appeared she responded to something inaudible asked by a journalist speaking to her in Russian.

A positive test could cost Russia the gold medal from the team competition and threaten Valieva’s chance to win the individual competition that starts Tuesday. She is the heavy favorite.

The typically tight-lipped Russian team was even more guarded during the men’s free skate, where Mark Kondratiuk simply said, “No comment,” to a series of questions about the squad and whether he thought Valieva’s case would be resolved. The 18-year-old Kondratiuk performed both men’s programs during the team competition and stands to lose his gold medal.

The drug detected, trimetazidine, is a metabolic agent that helps prevent angina attacks and treats vertigo, according to the European Union’s medicines agency. It is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency because it can help endurance and increase blood flow efficiency.

The most famous case of trimetazidine in sports doping involved Chinese star swimmer Sun Yang. The three-time Olympic champion served a three-month ban in 2014. Russian bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva tested positive for trimetazidine at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. She was disqualified from the two-woman bobsled event and served an eight-month ban.

It is unclear whether Valieva applied for a therapeutic use exemption or has a history of heart problems.

Russian athletes are in Beijing competing as the “Russian Olympic Committee” (ROC), after the country was banned because of a massive state-sponsored doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee and Switzerland-based International Testing Agency, which oversees the Olympic drug testing program, have declined to comment on the case.

On Thursday, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said it would not be appropriate to talk of an ongoing legal case or “all sorts of speculation that I have also seen overnight.”

The case is more complicated because minors have protection within the World Anti-Doping Code from being identified.

“Obviously everyone has been worried, waiting for a decision,” said Morisi Kvitelashvili of Georgia, who trains with Valieva in Moscow, adding he is in contact with her but doesn’t know details of case. “Her condition is good, and it seems like everything is fine.”

The uncertainty in Valieva’s case contrasts with swift action taken by the ITA against an Iranian skier at the Beijing Games. Hossein Saveh Shemshaki gave a sample Monday that tested positive for an anabolic steroid and was provisionally suspended late Wednesday.

The International Skating Union can also take out athletes with interim bans if they test positive at its events, or in samples it gets before Jan. 27, when the ITA took over the Olympic anti-doping program. The ISU has declined to address reports of Valieva’s positive test, saying it “cannot disclose any information about any possible anti-doping rule violation.”

The first indication of a problem with the results of the three-day team competition — which concluded Monday with Russia winning gold, the U.S. silver and Japan bronze — came when the medal ceremony was postponed indefinitely.

Adams said Wednesday “legal consultation” was required between Olympic officials and the ISU, and acknowledged “we have athletes that have won medals involved.”

If the Russian team is disqualified, the U.S. team would be elevated to the gold medal for the first time in the event. Japan would be awarded silver and fourth-place finisher Canada would receive the bronze.

If any athlete and team is disqualified or had results nullified, an appeal is likely, which could further delay the medals presentation. The Court of Arbitration for Sport has set up an office in Beijing to hear urgent cases.

Reporters asked the Kremlin about the potential doping issue late Wednesday.

“Let’s, for the sake of understanding, wait for some explanations either from our sports officials or from the IOC,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

While the Russian team dominated the competition, Valieva was the star. Along with winning the short program and free skate, she became the first woman to land a quadruple jump in Olympic competition.

Many of the skaters that took part in the team competition, including American star Nathan Chen and Russian’s Mark Kondratiuk, are due to leave Beijing shortly after competing Thursday. They would miss any medal ceremony held later.

“Everyone is doing absolutely everything that the situation can be resolved as soon as possible,” Adams said, though he cautioned “as you know, legal issues can sometimes drag on.”

Traditional doping is uncommon in figure skating because additional muscle mass is generally a negative. But many skaters have been caught over the years trying to control their weight with diuretics, which are banned for their ability to mask steroid use, and other medications that could give them the slightest edge.

Russian skaters in particular have a history of positive results dating to 2000, when decorated pairs skater Elena Berezhnaya was stripped of a gold medal from the European championships for testing positive for pseudoephedrine.

Three years ago, pairs skater Alexandra Koshevaya was given a two-year ban after testing positive for torasemide, which she claimed to have used for a foot injury. Later that year, ice dancer Anastasia Shakun was given a one-year suspension for taking furosemide after she claimed a pharmacy suggested it for swelling in her eye.

In July 2020, Maria Sotskova was dealt a 10-year ban just months after announcing her retirement for allegedly forging a medical certificate to explain a doping violation. Sotskova finished eighth at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Mourners, athletes demand justice Agnes Tirop at funeral

Olympic running greats came together on Saturday to bid farewell to rising Kenyan star Agnes Tirop, whose murder earlier this month sent shockwaves across the nation and the athletics world.

A double world championships bronze medallist tipped for future stardom on the track, Tirop was buried in a white casket in central Kenya on what would have been her 26th birthday.

Her body was found on October 13 with stab wounds in the bedroom of her home in Iten, a high-altitude training hub for top-class athletes.

Tirop’s husband appeared in court this week as a suspect in her killing after being arrested and remanded in custody.

Among the mourners gathered in Mosoriot, Tirop’s childhood village about 30 kilometres (18 miles) south of Eldoret, were two-time Kenyan Olympic champion David Rudisha and fellow gold medallists Joshua Cheptegei and Peruth Chemutai of Uganda.

Many in the congregation wore the signature red shirts of Athletics Kenya, which described Tirop as a “jewel” and one of the fastest-rising stars on the international running circuit.

Her death sparked outpourings of grief and condolences from Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, but also anger at a life taken so young.

Impassioned speakers at her funeral demanded swift justice for Tirop, and huge crowds marched in Eldoret on Friday calling for an end to violence against women.

Tirop’s death has thrown a spotlight on the pressures faced by the country’s female athletes who pay a huge — and often tragic — price for their spectacular success in a male-dominated society.

Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo also came today as we lay our girl Agnes Tirop to rest. PHOTO: COURTESY

“The injustice against female athletes here in Kenya is a threat to all of us athletes all over the world,” said Olympic 5000 metres champion Cheptegei.

“We are here in solidarity to show that we condemn such acts in such a manner.”

Athletics Kenya announced on Saturday that the Kenyan leg of the World Cross Country Tour would be named after Tirop.

Born to a peasant farming family, Tirop launched her athletics career less than a decade ago but swiftly ran up a host of second-place finishes in national and international cross country races.

She went on to become one of Kenya’s rising stars — as the 2015 world cross-country champion, a two-time world medallist over 10000m, and came fourth over 5000m at the Tokyo Olympics this year.

Boston Marathon returns with fewer runners, more masks

In addition to a medal, some water and maybe a banana, volunteers will be handing out masks to the Boston Marathon finishers as they leave the socially distanced course and disperse into the city’s bustling Back Bay.

With an indoor mask mandate in Boston, race organizers have ordered 200,000 of them for their staff, volunteers and runners who didn’t slide them onto their arms or into their pockets when they got off the bus in Hopkinton and took off for Copley Square.

That’s just one of the changes when the first-ever fall Boston Marathon hits the streets Monday following the cancellation of the 2020 race and a six-month delay in ’21.

“It’s been more than 900 days since we last ran together here,” Boston Athletic Association President Tom Grilk said at a safety briefing on Thursday. “While the streets remain the same, pretty much everything else is different.”

The biggest changes are a field that shrank by more than a third — a total of 18,252 people are expected — and a new, rolling start: Instead of an athlete’s village in Hopkinton, where runners typically stretch and grab some last-minute calories and liquids, and corrals where they wait for the gun, they get off the bus and go.

Pierre d’Hemecourt, one of the race’s medical directors, said the result should be more space at the start and on the course.

“There will be less milling around in Hopkinton. Use the bathroom, get water, immediately start running,” he said. “The race itself will be much more protected because the athlete itself will have much more room to social distance.”

Originally scheduled for April 2020, the 125th edition of the Boston Marathon was first postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, then canceled for the year – the first time since 1897 that no version of the race has been run. The 2021 race was postponed from April for six months to give the pandemic more time to abate.

Now, 30 months after Lawrence Cherono and Worknesh Degefa broke the tape on Boylston Street, the world’s most prestigious road race is back.

At the safety briefing – usually held indoors but moved outside this year to the plaza in front of the historic Trinity Church – d’Hemecourt said a COVID medical advisory panel began meeting in August 2020 when it wasn’t clear if the event would return in its usual April slot, move to the fall or be canceled for a second straight year.

Their plan started with making sure everyone participating in the race is either vaccinated or tests negative for the coronavirus. Runners will be required to stop by a tent to verify their vaccine status; unvaccinated runners can take a rapid test that would allow them to pick up their bib number.

Masks will be worn indoors, including on the buses to the starting line. D’Hemecourt said about 95% of the runners are vaccinated, and everyone working in the medical tent will be.

The finish line medical tent will also be stocked with extra equipment to avoid the need to transfer some cases to already overburdened local hospitals.

“We’re doing special things like extra crutches so somebody with a stress fracture doesn’t need to be sent to the emergency room,” d’Hemecourt said. “They can be evaluated … given crutches and sent on their way.”

The marathon’s first fall race is also expected to luck out on the weather, with forecasts of temperatures in the 50s and 60s and a chance of rain in the morning.

“We’re going to have a beautiful date, so that helps,” said Samantha Phillips, the director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. “Sometimes in April the weather can be a bit unpredictable.”

The unexpected unpredictability for public safety officials: the possibility of a Red Sox playoff game about a mile away. The ballclub would meet the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 4 of the AL Division Series, unless one of the teams sweeps.

“It’s very much on our radar that we could have these co-occurring wonderful events,” Phillips said.

Although COVID-19 was the main topic at the news conference, authorities also promised they remain vigilant at the site of the 2013 terrorist bombing. Participants and spectators passing through checkpoints will be prohibited from bringing in not just weapons, flammable liquids and backpacks, but also large blankets and bulky costumes.

Drones are also banned.

“As in past years, the public should expect to see a significant law enforcement presence along the route,” Phillips said. “We want to encourage spectators to attend and cheer on the marathon participants. The weather looks like it will be beautiful. But remain aware of your surroundings.”