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U.S. athletes push for action on doping issues

U.S. athletes in several different Olympic sports, frustrated by inaction and bureaucratic infighting about doping issues at the highest levels, are going public with their displeasure and pushing for action from specific reforms to potential event boycotts.

Athletes attending USA Track & Field's annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, last weekend drafted a petition which calls for the World Anti-Doping Agency to become completely independent of the International Olympic Committee, and for the IOC to provide sufficient funding for WADA to do an effective job.

The document, generated by USATF's athlete advisory committee (AAC), had been signed by more than 80 current and retired athletes as of Monday morning, including 2016 Olympic shot put champion Michelle Carter and 4x400-meter relay gold medalists Phyllis Francis and Natasha Hastings, along with past medalists Bernard Lagat (5,000 meters), Adam Nelson (shot put), Brigetta Barrett (high jump) and Terrence Trammell (110 meter hurdles).

Newly elected AAC chair Jeff Porter, a two-time Olympian in the 110-meter hurdles, said athletes are deeply dissatisfied with what they view as slow, piecemeal responses by international authorities to the Russian doping scandal that has unfolded over the last two years. He said U.S. track and field athletes wanted to make a statement ahead of what they anticipate will be more evidence of corruption when law professor Richard McLaren releases Part II of his WADA-commissioned independent investigation on Friday.

"These systemic issues can no longer be tolerated," Porter told ESPN.com. He added that many athletes are galvanized to the point where they would contemplate more drastic actions, such as boycotting events. "I am hopeful and optimistic that we won't need to, but if we need to, I think the athletes are prepared to," Porter said.

The petition backs proposals made by a coalition of national anti-doping agencies last August in Copenhagen, the most pointed of which seeks to eliminate conflicts of interest by excluding international sports executives or policy makers from WADA executive positions. A number of IOC members sit on WADA's executive committee and Foundation Board, and current WADA president Craig Reedie, who was just re-elected to a second three-year term, is a longtime IOC member.

"We feel strongly that IOC and WADA governance should be separate, and that the IOC should invest the necessary funding in WADA for it to be effective," the petition states. "These would be landmark steps toward protecting clean sport athletes globally, and restoring faith in Olympic Sport. We, the undersigned, are concerned citizens who urge our leaders to act now to support the Copenhagen Reform Proposal."

The upcoming conclusion to the McLaren report is looming large in the minds of athletes, who wonder if the fourth major set of investigative findings to be issued in the last 13 months will be enough to tip leaders into aggressive action. McLaren's July findings regarding state-sponsored doping in Russia "fed every conspiracy theory" that athletes normally try to keep from distracting and deflating them, said recently retired U.S. distance runner Lauren Fleshman.

"We give up a lot of personal freedom and allow our privacy to be invaded for drug testing, and we do it on the assumption that it's being done everywhere else," Fleshman, a two-time national champion in the 5,000-meter event, told ESPN.com.

"It should be [the IOC's] responsibility to pay for things that are going to keep their brand from public humiliation. Everyone tells us that athletes can make a difference. But we've never tested it."

The petition drive took shape after athletes heard a presentation by U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart, who traveled to Orlando at the athletes' request, Porter said. USADA was among the agencies that participated in the Copenhagen meeting.

Lauryn Williams, one of a handful of athletes to have won medals at both the Summer (2012 gold, 4 x 100 meters) and Winter Games (2014 silver, two-woman bobsled), also signed the petition and said she is outraged that competitions are still being scheduled in Russia.

"They were passing [urine] samples through a hole in the wall and they expect athletes to go back there?" she said, referring to revelations made by former Moscow laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov about drug-testing sabotage at the 2014 Sochi Games. "Stop backing athletes into a corner. Move the competition and don't tell me it's too expensive. That's bullshit."

The IOC executive board asked winter sports federations to "freeze" preparations to hold major events in Russia. However, the February 2017 world championships for bobsled and skeleton in Sochi are proceeding as planned, and the international biathlon federation recently awarded its 2021 worlds to Tyumen, Russia, a city in western Siberia.

WADA has threatened the biathlon federation with an edict of non-compliance if it does not provide a "satisfactory" explanation.

The New York Times reported Sunday that U.S. bobsled and skeleton athletes are considering a boycott of next year's world championships. Reigning British skeleton gold medalist Lizzy Yarnold has previously said she would consider skipping the event.

Athletes and officials in various ski disciplines are taking issue with remarks made by the longtime president of their international federation last month, which they view as symptomatic of a greater problem. Gian-Franco Kasper, reacting to a slew of retested samples that came back positive from the Beijing and London Games -- most of which disqualified athletes from Russia and former Soviet republics -- told The New York Times, "We need to stop pretending sport is clean. It's a noble principle, but in practice? It's entertainment. It's drama."

The comments by Kasper, a senior Swiss official who is also an IOC member and sits on WADA's Foundation Board, prompted 2010 Nordic combined gold medalist Bill Demong to post a response on his Facebook page that included this:

"Any success we have had is in spite of doping and an attitude like that just perpetuates the narcissistic attitude required to cheat."