Evan Strong

U.S. wins its first Sochi Paralympic gold, sweeps snowboarding event

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The first U.S. gold medal of the Sochi Paralympics was historic, and it came on an eight-medal Friday for the American team in Sochi.

Evan Strong led a U.S. sweep of the podium in the debut of men’s para snowboard cross at the Paralympics. Strong was joined by silver medalist Michael Shea and bronze medalist Keith Gabel.

“Today is a dream. I’m ecstatic, I’m over the moon,” Strong said in a press release. “I don’t even feel like my feet are on the ground right now. Today this course is super fun, you can generate lots of speed but it was super challenging and very stressful.”

Strong, 27, is a rare Winter Paralympian who grew up in Hawaii.

He was on his way to a career as a professional skateboarder when, 10 days before he turned 18, he was struck by a drunk driver in a head-on collision while riding his motorcycle and had a partial amputation of his left leg.

He moved to Lake Tahoe in October 2007 and took up snowboarding. He excelled, winning gold in the Winter X Games, World Championships and adding two world overall titles. The Paralympic gold capped his collection.

Video: Evan Strong’s strong resolve

Amy Purdy added a U.S. bronze in the first women’s snowboard cross event. Purdy, a contestant on “The Amazing Race” in 2012, is set for “Dancing with the Stars” this season after the Paralympics.

“It’s a breath of fresh air to have done it,” Purdy said. “The whole journey has been amazing. Most of us have been here from the very beginning. This is a great debut to show what we’re capable of.”

The U.S. won four medals in Alpine skiing super combined events on Friday — Mark Bathum (silver, visually impaired), Heath Calhoun (silver, sitting), Danelle Umstead (bronze, visually impaired) and Stephanie Jallen (bronze, standing).

The U.S. now has 16 medals, surpassing its 2010 total of 13 with two days of competition left. Russia, with more than 50 medals, will win the total medal count.

Paralympic broadcast schedule

Carolina Kostner wants to return to competition

Carolina Kostner
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MILAN (AP) — With her suspension coming to an end, Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner already has her sights set on the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang.

The Italian figure skater will be eligible to return to competition on Jan. 1 after serving a suspension for helping her ex-boyfriend evade doping controls.

”The desire is there, and it includes also obviously a possible Olympics,” the 28-year-old Kostner said Tuesday.

Kostner received clearance this week from the Court of Arbitration for Sport to return to competition next year after agreeing to have her 16-month suspension extended by five months, but then backdated, freeing her to skate earlier than anticipated.

As part of the agreement, Kostner also agreed to act as a spokeswoman against doping, her lawyer said.

But Kostner said it was too soon to lay out a program for her comeback.

”Knowing that I can return to competition in 2016 gives me great strength and great serenity to make a decision,” Kostner said.

Italian skating federation president Andrea Gioss said it would be difficult for Kostner to qualify for the European Championships from Jan. 25-31 because of time constraints. She would have time to qualify for the World Championships in Boston in March by picking up points at sanctioned international competitions.

As she has in the past, Kostner admitted she ”made an error,” by helping her ex-boyfriend, Olympic race walking gold medalist Alex Schwazer, evade a doping test and other infractions. She has said she was unaware he was doping.

”This period for me was a moment of great growth and maturation,” she said, adding she has broken off all contact with Schwazer but did not wish him ill.

Kostner, who missed out on the Worlds last year but won bronze at the Sochi Olympics, said she has been concentrating on the artistic aspects of skating since the suspension took effect in January, and will be able to return to full training in federation-sanctioned rinks from Nov. 1. In the meantime, she is preparing for an ice show in Verona this week, and spent last winter in a dance studio practicing ballet.

Kostner said she misses competing but that she had nothing to prove by returning to the rink.

”I have a big trove of experience, Olympics that have gone well, Olympics gone badly, falls, getting back up,” Kostner said. ”In a certain sense, I feel the desire and need to give it all meaning, if only to be part of a team and have the young future Italian champion turn to me and ask advice, `You, at those moments, what did you do?”’

MORE FIGURE SKATING: New star emerges at Japan Open

Rio Olympics cutting costs with Brazil deep in recession

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Olympic organizers, faced with the reality of a country deep in recession, are trimming costs to keep their budget balanced.

To keep spending in line, officials say they will cut back on printed material, reduce staffing at dozens of test events and trim costs for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“This is a very strict budget,” said Sidney Levy, the organizing committee’s chief executive officer. “There’ll be no excess, but we are not going to compromise the essentials.”

Levy has said often over the last few months he will trim costs and cut non-essential purchases.

News of the budget austerity comes as hundreds of journalists from around the world are in Rio this week visiting Olympic venues and talking with organizers about how the Games will run when they open Aug. 5, 2016.

The organizing committee’s budget remains at 7.4 billion reals ($2 billion), which is for putting on the games themselves. It does not include building venues, subway lines and highways to help stage the games.

Operating income is from ticket sales, local sponsorships, merchandising and licensing with the largest contribution from the International Olympic Committee.

Brazil hosted the World Cup last year with year-long protests leading up to the event. Now the Olympics are causing a strain.

Brazil’s currency has lost 70 percent of its value against the dollar in the last year and inflation is running at 10 percent. The economy is expected to remain in a steep recession through the games, and there are calls to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, partly driven by a $2 billion bribery scandal involving state-run oil company Petrobras.

Olympic organizers face other problems.

The venues for sailing, rowing, canoeing, triathlon and open water swimming are heavily polluted with viruses and bacteria with only stop-gap measures possible to contain the problem. Organizers have said athletes are not at risk, though some athletes have openly questioned competing in the dirty water.

An Associated Press study published on July 30 showed high levels of viruses in all of Rio’s water. Organizers say they are looking at viral testing but do not plan to move any venues.

MORE RIO 2016: Watch Rio Olympic park venue progress video