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Kenya track and field won’t be banned from Olympics

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya’s track and field athletes won’t be banned from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro despite serious concerns over the African country’s anti-doping program, the IAAF said Friday.

The IAAF said in a statement to The Associated Press that Kenya remains on a “monitoring list” of countries with doping problems until the end of the year. But, despite Thursday’s decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency to declare Kenya’s drug-testing agency non-compliant, the nation’s athletes can still compete through to the end of 2016.

“During the monitoring process … Kenyan athletes remain eligible to compete nationally and internationally,” the IAAF said.

That means Kenyans will be able to take part in track and field at the Rio Games in August, unless the International Olympic Committee steps in. That is considered unlikely.

The IAAF did say that WADA’s decision to suspend Kenya’s anti-doping program “is a further reflection of the IAAF’s concerns about the level of commitment to anti-doping at the national level in Kenya.”

It also said Kenya’s elite athletes were now the most tested of any country by the IAAF. Kenya could face more serious sanctions from the track body at the end of the year if its drug-testing program is still a mess.

Kenya’s anti-doping program needed to be “significantly strengthened by the end of the current year,” the IAAF said.

Fearing the possibility of an Olympic ban, Kenyan authorities were scrambling earlier Friday to sort out their problems. Parts of a new anti-doping law that was ruled inadequate by WADA — and led to the non-compliant declaration — would be hurriedly rewritten and pushed through parliament, the sports minister said.

Kenyan Sports Minister Hassan Wario said that WADA had pointed out which parts of the law needed changing. He said the problem areas can be “rewritten or rectified.”

“Meaning that as soon as parliament reviews those highlighted bits of the legislation we are fully compliant,” Wario said in a statement sent by text message to reporters. “No ban was mentioned in the body of the letter.”

That’s because WADA doesn’t have the power to enforce a ban on Kenya’s athletes, but the IAAF does, and it did with Russia after its anti-doping program was declared non-compliant following allegations of corruption and doping cover-ups last year.

WADA’s surprise decision to suspend Kenya’s anti-doping body came after the East African nation finally passed the legislation last month following two missed deadlines. Kenya celebrated the passing of the law then and hailed it a success, but WADA on Thursday described it as “a complete mess.” Late changes had been made, causing it to be rejected, WADA said.

That briefly raised the possibility that the IAAF body might use WADA’s decision to go a step further and suspend the distance-running powerhouse from international competition.

Since the 2012 London Olympics, 40 Kenyan track and field athletes have been banned for doping — a rate of about one per month — and four senior track officials are under investigation by the IAAF for potential subversion of the anti-doping process. One of those officials is a current member of the IAAF’s governing council, and another a former member.

The IAAF noted Friday that there was a possibility, albeit remote, that the IOC could take action against Kenya ahead of Rio.

“As far as Kenya’s participation is concerned across all sports at the Olympic Games in Rio, the IAAF notes that WADA has referred its decision on non-compliance to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and UNESCO for their consideration and action,” the IAAF said.

MORE: Russia track, anti-doping changes ‘just fake’ so far, whistleblower says

Olympic ski cross champion suffers serious knee injury

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Canadian Marielle Thompson, the reigning Olympic and World Cup ski cross champion, ruptured an ACL and MCL in a training crash in Switzerland.

Alpine Canada did not say when the accident happened or what Thompson’s chances are of returning to defend her Olympic title in PyeongChang.

Thompson flew from Switzerland to Vancouver for an MRI that confirmed the injury.

“I’ll be making a plan with my team moving forward and when the time is right getting back on the ski cross course stronger than ever,” Thompson said in a press release.

Thompson, 25, tore a meniscus in January 2015 and returned to competition 11 months later. She won seven of the 13 World Cup races last season.

Other Olympic medal contenders include Swede Sandra Näslund and Swiss Fanny Smith.

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Nathan Chen leads Yuzuru Hanyu at Grand Prix opener (video)

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U.S. champion Nathan Chen hopes to become comfortable in this spot this season — ahead of reigning Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu in the standings.

The 18-year-old Chen landed two quadruple jumps in his short program at the opening Grand Prix event in Moscow, taking a 5.69-point lead over Hanyu going into Saturday’s free skate.

Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia topped the women’s short program with 80.75 points (one tenth off her world record).

Full Rostelecom Cup results are here.

Chen’s tally — 100.54 points — is the second-highest short of his flourishing international career. It would have been higher if not for two of his three jumping passes receiving negative grades of execution for wonky landings.

The Japanese megastar Hanyu fell on his final jump, a triple toe loop, on Friday. No matter, Winnie the Pooh bears rained down on the ice from the adoring crowd, many of whom traveled from Japan.

Hanyu scored 94.85 points, one month after breaking his world record short program score with 112.72 points in a small event in Canada.

“Today I made some mistakes in my short program, but overall it didn’t feel bad,” Hanyu said, according to the International Skating Union.

Hanyu, though he is the current PyeongChang favorite, has never won his season-opening Grand Prix event in seven tries.

Chen has now outscored Hanyu, who is four years older, in four of their last eight head-to-head skates.

Hanyu was better in the two biggest programs at last season’s world championships. Chen placed sixth at worlds in April, perhaps gassed at the end of his first senior season while competing on duct-taped skates.

In the women’s standings, Medvedeva topped Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy by 6.13 points.

American Mirai Nagasu landed a triple Axel that was called under rotated and fell on her other two jumping passes. She ended up ninth, two spots behind U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell.

In the short dance, two-time world medalists and U.S. champions Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani tallied 77.30 points.

The siblings lead by .97 over Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev going into the free dance.

Russians are one-two in pairs. World bronze medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov by 5.49.

All of the free skates are Saturday, live on Olympic Channel. A full schedule is here.

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Rostelecom Cup
Men’s Short
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 100.54
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 94.85
3. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.77
11. Grant Hochstein (USA) — 67.56

Women’s Short
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 80.75
2. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 74.64
3. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 69.60
7. Mariah Bell (USA) — 63.85
9. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 56.15

Short Dance
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 77.30
2. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 76.33
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 71.32
7. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 59.41

Pairs Short
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 76.88
2. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) — 71.39
3. Valentina Marchei/Ondřej Hotárek (ITA) — 68.48
7. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran (USA) — 54.37