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Four Dew Tour events to watch Thursday

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With the Sochi Games a mere 14 months away, some of the top Olympics snow sports athletes are in Breckenridge, Colo. for the Dew Tour this week to start preparing their runs for the world’s biggest stage. Here are four events you shouldn’t miss on Thursday. (And don’t worry, you can catch them from your work desk here on NBCSports.com)

Men’s Freeski Superpipe Semi-Final (10 a.m.)

Kevin Rolland has been the undisputed champ of the pipe over the past few years, winning gold at the 2010 and 2011 X-Games and sweeping the 2011 Dew tour. The 23-year-old Frenchman was also an ambassador for the 2012 Innsbruck Youth Olympics, mentoring younger athletes along with Lindsey Vonn.

Defending X-Games champion David Wise and 2010 Breckenridge winner Simon Dumont were set to headline the American contingent. The latter underwent wrist surgery Wednesday after suffering an injury in practice and will not compete. Gus Kenworthy, Tucker Perkins and Tanner Hall are three other Americans to watch.

Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle Semi-Final (Noon)
Lake Tahoe native Jamie Anderson staked her claim as the best American slopstyle rider by winning three events in 2012, including gold at the X Games. Still just 22, she has a good chance of making it to Sochi.

Canadian Spencer O’Brien won the Dew Tour event in 2012 and is looking to repeat this season. Great Britain’s Jenny Jones and Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi are names you’ll likely hear again come 2014.

Men’s Snowboard Superpipe Semi-Finals (2:30 p.m.)
Shaun White, Louie Vito, and Scotty Lago – the three top names in the sport – are all set to compete at Dew Tour. Joining the American trio will be the Mitriani brothers (Luke and Jack) and California native Greg Bretz.

Switzerland’s Iouri Podladtchikov – the 24-year-old who has two X Games silver medals to his name – enters Dew Tour 2012 as a legitimate podium threat. Finland’s Peetu Piiroinen should also be in the mix. Kohei Kudo and Kazuhiro Kokubo each give the Japanese an outside shot at making the top 3.

Men’s Freeski Big Air Finals (5:30 p.m.)
Nick Goepper is a name to stash in the back pocket. The Lawrenceburg, Ind. native has been a consistent slopestyle skier since 2011, and at just 18, has plenty of room for growth. Tom Wallisch, 25, has struggled in the past during Big Air (similar to aerials), but will be one to watch in anticipation of the slopestyle event.

The favorite here should be Breckenridge native Bobby Brown, who has two X-Games gold medals to his name. Look for the 21-year-old to put on a show in front of his hometown crowd.

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Russia track and field boss: ’50-60 percent’ chance of Olympics

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Russia’s new track and field federation president said he thinks his nation’s track and field athletes have “between 50 and 60 percent” of a chance of competing in the Rio Olympics, according to Reuters.

The IAAF is expected to rule June 17 whether Russia’s ban from international track and field competition will be lifted before the Rio Olympics.

Russia’s track and field athletes were banned indefinitely in November by the IAAF, after an independent World Anti-Doping Agency report alleged widespread doping issues.

Russia was given criteria to earn reinstatement, and Dmitry Shlyakhtin, elected new Russian track and field chief in January, believes the situation has improved.

“A mouse would not be able to slip past us now!” Shlyakhtin said, according to Reuters.

Russia has recently come under more scrutiny following reports of widespread winter sports doping leading up to the Sochi Olympics and cheating during those Winter Games to avoid positive drug tests.

MORE: Yelena Isinbayeva to sue if barred from Rio Olympics

Yelena Isinbayeva to sue if barred from Rio Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva plans to file suit if Russia’s ban from global track and field competition remains in place and she is barred from competing at the games in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s a direct violation of human rights, discrimination,” Isinbayeva said.

Russia’s athletics federation was suspended by the IAAF in November after a World Anti-Doping Agency commission report detailed systematic, state-sponsored doping. The IAAF is due to rule next month on whether to reinstate Russia ahead of the Rio Olympics in August.

“In the case of a negative ruling for us, I will personally go to an international court regarding human rights,” Isinbayeva said. “And I’m confident that I’ll win.”

Speaking from her home city of Volgograd in a Skype interview arranged by Russian track officials, Isinbayeva held up four forms documenting recent drug tests she had passed — proof enough, she said, that she should be allowed to compete in Rio.

“Of course I’m angry because of this helplessness. All I can do now is train,” she said, adding that young Russian athletes’ careers could be destroyed if they have to wait until 2020 to go to the Olympics. “Four years, it’s a long time. Many of them can be, how can you say, broken.”

Isinbayeva’s comments came as a key adviser to Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said that Russia’s government supports making doping a criminal offense.

Adviser Nataliya Zhelanova told reporters at the ministry that the government hopes to get the law on the statute books for 2017, targeting coaches and officials who encourage or coerce athletes to dope. Fines or prison sentences were possible, she said, though this could change during the legislative process.

“It’s quite a long procedure but now everyone understood that we are in crisis and we have to do quick steps to fix the situation,” Zhelanova said.

In December, the IAAF asked the Russian track federation to consider lobbying for distribution and trafficking of doping substances to be made a criminal offense.

The new head of the Russian track federation maintained Russia was on track to meet IAAF conditions for reinstatement, but admitted to The Associated Press that a notorious training center was still part of the country’s track and field system.

The IAAF last year demanded the federation “immediately suspend all cooperation” with race-walking coach Viktor Chegin‘s state-funded center in the city of Saransk, which has been linked to more than 25 doping cases.

While Chegin was later banned for life, several of his top athletes are still competing and would be Olympic medal contenders if Russia is reinstated.

“I don’t rule out that (athletes are) living and training there,” Russian track and field president Dmitry Shlyakhtin said in an interview with the AP, adding that dozens of coaches who were part of Chegin’s hierarchy remained part of the federation’s system.

“If we shut down the Chegin center as a key point, we can’t stop and we won’t stop 75 coaches who are clean and transparent,” Shlyakhtin said.

Shlyakhtin said those coaches were working with children, but documents from this year’s national championships show top Russian walkers continuing to work with coaches from the main Chegin center. Officially, the athletes now represent local clubs and sports schools in and around the city.

Former Olympic gold medalist Olga Kaniskina, who lost her 2012 Olympic silver medal because of a doping ban, won the Russian 20-kilometer title in February in the fastest time recorded in the world this season. Federation documents list her as being coached by three trainers from the Chegin center and officially representing a children’s sports school, even though she is 31 years old.

“Kaniskina has finished her ban. She’s completely rehabilitated,” Shlyakhtin said. “Western people who are caught doping are not outcasts (either).”

Sergei Kirdyapkin, who lost his Olympic gold medal from 2012 due to a doping ban, is listed as being coached by Chegin center coaches, as is national champion Sergei Bakulin, who was stripped of his 2011 world championship gold. Both recently returned from doping bans.

Ahead of next month’s IAAF vote, Shlyakhtin said he was confident that Russia had made a significant effort to reform.

He said “90 percent” of the conditions for reinstatement had been fulfilled, including extra testing for Russia’s national track team in recent months and a shakeup of senior management.

Shlyakhtin suggested political interference, rather than a lack of reforms, could keep Russia out of the Rio Games, saying that countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, India and “especially China” deserved similar scrutiny on doping. He hinted that international officials turned a blind eye to some violations.

“The brakes are put on a lot of issues and they go away. Let’s all play fair according to one set of rules,” he said.

MORE: Russia’s top swimmer has meldonium ban lifted