Friday, October 25, 2002
The Court of Arbitration of Sport ruled on Kyoko Ina's case, handing the least severe penalty of a four year suspension with no additional fine. FoxSports provides quite a different picture of the Ina incident, making her appear more the inconvenienced athlete. I'm still a bit confused about the boyfriend issue, since reports provide conflicting testimony.
Ina, who has paired with John Zimmerman to win the last three U.S. Championships, refused a urine test at her home at 10:30 p.m. after stating in a fax to the agency that she would be home from dinner at that time.
The CAS panel concluded that Ina did not make herself available during the day and that her fax was "an invitation to test at this hour of the night given her personal schedule."
Ina also chose to sign an athlete refusal form, which is an admittance to violating USADA protocol and a subjection to sanctions. Her boyfriend, who also was present, warned her of the possible media implications.
In her argument, Ina alleged a number of "procedural infirmities" justified her refusal. She said the doping control officer had an expired sticker on her credential and the USADA after-hours call-forwarding service malfunctioned that day.
The CAS concluded that the doctor's credential had an expired sticker because she had moved and had not received the proper replacement and that Ina only called the service to reschedule the no-advance test "because it was inconvenient."
In addition, the USADA website has the full ruling on the Ina case, including the dissenting opinion. The vote was 2-1.
I was thinking about this last night. Elena Berezhnaya failed a drug test at an actual competition because she had taken a cold medication. She was given a three month suspension. Explain to me how Ina gets four years for "refusing" a test.
Obviously Ina & Zimmerman will be turning professional now. They'll probably spend the next four years touring in ice shows, never competing again unless someone brings back the pro circuit successfully. A real shame for everyone involved.
Tuesday, October 22, 2002
U.S. Anti Doping Agency has "caught" another athlete in their spiderweb of regulations. Pairs champion Kyoko Ina faces a potential lifetime ban and a $1 million dollar fine for "refusing" to take an unannounced drug test. Ina has posted a statement on her official website, including her account of what happened. pointing out that as a three time Olympian and world team member for the last 8 years, she has passed numerous drug tests. She cooperated to the best of her ability with the request. She simply couldn't produce a urine sample on request. She had asked for an extension, signed paperwork asking for the delay, but instead was slapped with a refusal to take the test.
According to Ina's account, Donna Koch, USADA representative, showed up unannounced at her home at 10:30pm at night on July 18th. At 11:15pm when it was clear Ina wasn't able to produce a usable urine sample, Ina asked for Koch to perform the test the next day at the Ice House in Hackensack where she trains with John Zimmerman. They attempted to call USADA's 24 hour hotline to determine the procedure, but there was no answer. They had arranged for Koch to show at the Ice House. She wrote a note on the USADA form asking for the delay, but Koch said she couldn't return with Ina's signature. Ina signed and that was used as her refusal to comply.
In the AP wire report, Ina is quoted, "They never showed at the Ice House during normal hours. But they decided to show up at 10:30 at night at my house. When I asked the USADA representative how often they come to someone's house at such hours, the answer was never." Adding to the intrigue, Koch's USADA credentials had expired. Koch had also reportedly brought along an "uncredentialed chaperone", referred to Ina as her "boyfriend".
The American Arbitration Association has already rejected Ina's appeal of the ruling. That ruling could lead to an ISU suspension between 4 years to life. (That sentence would ironically be longer than the one currently being carried out by both Le Gougne & Gaillghauet. Four years is presumably to suspend them from at least one Olympics.) Ina says she will take the case to the Court of Arbitration of Sport. USADA and USFSA aren't commenting until the appeal is through, but USADA CEO Terry Madden said the sanction is "appropriate" given the facts. So either we're not hearing all the facts or someone is conveniently ignoring the ones that should matter.
The USFSA site provides introductory information on the USADA program and how the anti-doping regulations affect their skaters. The fascinating document explains the procedures for filing quarterly location information with the agency so they can find the athlete for a test. These locations include an athlete's home address and any training sites. Anytime the athlete's schedule changes from that listed on the form, the athletes have to contact them with the changes.
The information includes warnings on potential positive triggers like medication or nutritional supplements. I was aware that certain asthma medications were on the banned list; Tonya Harding used an inhaler to control her asthma because of those rules. Elena Berzhnaya received a suspension for testing positive for a cold medication. I hadn't realized that insulin was also considered a "banned substance". If something is essential for someone to survive, how is that performance enhancing? How do insulin-dependent Olympic athletes manage? Apparently they have to have a separate form clearing them to take the drugs from their doctor. Having done a quick search online, I obviously underestimated the uses of insulin. Some athletes use insulin along with growth hormones to promote muscle growth. This all makes you wonder if athletes can take anything!
This whole case is quite saddening. I've followed Kyoko Ina's career since she made the Olympic team in 1994 with her former partner Jason Dunjen. Only last year did I become a fan of Ina & Zimmerman when they had their best season to date. If this ban is upheld, her competitive skating career is gone. Ina and Zimmerman can turn pro, but the only competitions currently on board are ISU pro-am competitions. With the demise of Dick Button's World Professional Championships, Ice Wars ironically is the only all-pro competition left. Started as a made-for-tv competition after the Tonya-Nancy scandal, Ice Wars is limited to singles competitors. So Ina would theoretically be limited to touring or skating in exhibitions.
Add to the mix was Ina's continuing shoulder problems. She had dislocated the shoulder last year, skating with the pain throughout the Olympic season. She reinjured it and finally elected to have the surgery last month. When I originally saw something on her, I thought "Uh-oh, she won't be able to skate at all..." Not this.
This is another case of the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law. The letter requires the athlete to be ready to take the drug whenever and wherever the USADA says. The letter of the law places all the burden on the athlete to comply with the testing under duress with no allowances at all. And to the best of her ability, Kyoko Ina complied. But the spirit of the law should remember that these athletes are human beings.
Sarah Hughes won the individual “Sportswoman of the Year” achievement award given by the Women’s Sports Foundation. Sue Bird, NCAA basketball star, won the team “Sportswoman of the Year” achievement award for leading the University of Connecticut Huskies to an unbeaten season and a national title. Jayne Torvill, 1984 Olympic gold medallist in ice dancing with Christopher Dean for Great Britain, was inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Friday, October 18, 2002
The new skating season started at the Campbells Classic two weeks ago in Daytona Beach. Michelle Kwan debuted a new long program to "Concerto D'Aranjuez", beating a surprising Ann Patrice McDonough. Sarah Hughes admitted that she only started back into skating in last few weeks with a new long program. Sasha Cohen debuted her new Rachmaninoff long program, but still stumbled on some jumps. Alexei Yagudin won in a lackluster mens event. Only one male skater "landed" a quad; Michael Weiss two-footed a quad lutz. Both Yagudin and Plushenko fell on their quad attempts. Timothy Goebel fell absolutely apart, a dire warning of things to come.
Injuries are already becoming the news of the season. Yagudin has an injured hip, yet plans to compete in the Grand Prix series and tour with Stars on Ice. Goebel has an injured hip, pulling out of his early Grand Prix events. And now the real story, Sarah Hughes tore a muscle behind her right knee, allowing Michelle Kwan to take her place at Skate America. Okay, color me stunned. I'm sure ABC/ESPN is breathing a sigh of relief. I'm hoping that Michelle's technical content for "Aranguez" is improved.
And it appears that Didier Gailhaguet wants trouble. He has announced that he will attend whatever competitions he likes, even Worlds or Skate America, even though, he is prohibited from off-ice activities in the terms of his suspension. Officials have pointed out that there's nothing stopping him from buying a ticket and attending like a common fan. However, he theoretically wouldn't be allowed backstage or to hobknob with the other skating officials and judges. While judges are credentialled like media, most skating federation presidents aren't necessarily. FBI agents have talked to some of the skating officials who blew the whistle and discussed how to talk to other international judges when they come into the country for competitions here.
Oh, and those whistleblowers... Sally Stapleford not only lost her job on the technical committee, but she only has *one* judging assignment this year. Do the math. And they wonder why people don't come forward in this sport...
Saturday, September 28, 2002
FBI continues its investigation into Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov and his involvement in the Olympic judging scandal. They have interviewed several of the judges who came forward during the scandal with an eye to interviewing more as the international judges arrive for Skate America and World Championships. According to the USA Today, the USFSA is becoming increasingly disgruntled with the ISU approach to the scandal, forming their own task force to improve American influence in the sport. The ISU has announced that the suspensions of Marie-Reine Le Gougne and Didier Gailhaguet are final with appeals denied. They have also been suspended from off-ice activities, presumably forbidding them from participating in any unofficial lobbying.
LA Times has reported that Michelle Kwan is working with a new coach, Scott Williams. Though more known for skating in professional competitions, Scott Williams is a very innovative and talented choreographer in his own right who created the American Open professional competition. Whether this partnership will be successful remains to be seen. Kwan is confirmed to compete in the Campbell's Classic in Daytona Beach.
Sunday, September 08, 2002
The summer season continues to provide some surprising news for skating fans.
Stars on Ice continues to finalize its cast for their new season, adding three new pairs teams, Sale & Pelletier, Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze and Ina & Zimmerman. Todd Eldredge and Aleksei Yagudin will headline the singles skaters, providing some technical firepower. Yagudin claims he still wants to compete in the eligible events this coming season, but one wonders how he'll be able to pull off both. Eldredge has asked for a sanction from USFSA so he still maintains his Olympic eligibility. Ina & Zimmerman would like to maintain their eligibility, but admit that it's up to the federation. Sale & Pelletier, exhausted from the Olympics and judging madness, have retired from eligible competition. Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze are taking a year off from competitions; again one wonders if they'll return in the current skating climate.
Sasha Cohen has surprised everyone in skating by leaving John Nicks to work with Tatiana Tarasova in Connecticut. Tarasova is known as an ice dance genius, but she has also coached Ilia Kulik and Aleksei Yagudin to Olympic gold medals. Time will tell if Tarasova will be able to tame skating's little firecracker. Maybe getting Sasha a *real* choreographer will improve her overall skating. Also now working with Tarasova is Naomi Lang & Peter Tcherneyschev who have left Sasha Zhulin.
Tragically U.S. skating also lost a promising star recently. William Sears had been novice pairs champion with Katie Boxwell in 2002 when he passed away suddenly. No cause of death has been determined. He was 20 years old.
And for those who read my earlier post on the tennis stars: let's hear it for the old guys!
Thursday, August 29, 2002
When is it time to leave? When should a legend retire? When should the old guard by replaced by the young guns?
Figure skating recently faced this age old sports question at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, watching as Todd Eldredge and Elvis Stojko skated in their final Olympics. At 30, they had both outlasted and outskated their younger rivals for far longer than expected in the sport. Stojko helped usher in the quad jump mania landing the first quad-triple combination in 1997. Eldredge perhaps reminded the sport of what was lost with the jumping beans by displaying fine overall skating, including terrific spins and edges.
Watching USA Network's coverage of the US Open, I was reminded of an interesting parallel to skating occurring right now in men's tennis. For a good portion of the 1990s, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras dominated men's tennis, winning a combined total of 20 major titles. Both over thirty now, the two tennis stars seem in no hurry to take that final bow at centre court, even though their opponents are getting younger and stronger, with even faster serves.
During an interview today, Sampras said, "I want to win another major." Ranked 17th in the world now, many wonder whether Sampras has enough to beat the Hewitts and Safins and Roddicks of the tennis world. One of his recent opponents said "He still has the serve." Which as I discovered is something of an empty compliment. If you don't have the rest of the game to back it up, you're in trouble. You might fool some of your opponents, but eventually someone will figure you out. Agassi is still considered a threat with strong finishes throughout the season, but one wonders if he still has the stamina to endure the long tennis schedule.
These quotes from the USA Network coverage speak volumes about the situation for any sport:
From Pete Sampras, longtime and former #1, now older and ranked #17 at the US Open, after his round one win: "I'm going to play as long as I'm enjoying it and as long as I'm in contention. I feel like I can still do it. But it happens in all sports with all athletes - when they get a little older and they're not as dominant. You know, everyone thinks they're an expert and what I should be doing and how I should leave and... I just can't listen to all that stuff. Just believe in yourself, go out there and play and keep it simple."
The commentary below followed the clip of Sampras' interview:
Jim Courier (retired champion player): "Why do we want to retire our athletes? If Pete Sampras wants to keep playing and he's earned his right to be in the draw, why do we want him to go? This is a great champion; let him stay around and play as long as he wants to play."
Chris Myers (broadcaster): "It doesn't taint the great accomplishments that...?"
Jim Courier: "What he's done is in the books. They won't be erasing those 13 titles, and if he wants to add one more, and whether that happens or not, we'll see..."
Tuesday, August 20, 2002
Imagine being an Olympic level athlete trying to afford your training... without the typical scholarships available to most team sports athletes, you find corporate sponsors and endorsements. You do well enough to compete at the Olympics with intentions of competing in the next games. But you also want to go to college and play football for your school. Sounds like a great dream, right?
Except the NCAA has very specific rules. While it allows students to be professionals in one sport and compete as an amateur in another, players are prohibited from endorsing products based on their athletic ability. Student-athletes are only allowed to receive money deriving from their participation in other pro sports if that money is made in salary. Never mind most Olympic level sports have no traditional salary structure. Imagine if say Michelle Kwan decided she wanted to play basketball for UCLA... (unlikely given her height, I know, but think about it)
ESPN Sportscenter ran a long piece on the Jeremy Bloom case. Jeremy Bloom, a US freestyle moguls skier, recently gave up his contracts to play wide receiver for the University of Colorado Buffalo. He had to give the endorsements up before he joined the team to avoid sanctions being levelled against his university. Bloom filed a lawsuit against the NCAA to have a judge bar those rules from applying to his case; the judge denied his request. He still intends to find a way to train in both sports, making him one of the more unique two sport athletes around.
Bloom's lawyers pointed out that the money Bloom had earned came from skiing, not football. The counter argument could be that the endorsements are for his general *athletic* ability, not necessarily one specific sport. They also pointed out the hypocrisy of the NCAA who have contracts with shoe and uniform manufacturer. They held up a Univ of Colorado football jersey with a Nike swoosh symbol and Bloom's skiing uniform with corporate logo. Where is the difference between wearing a pair of name brand Nike shoes versus holding up a name brand skis?