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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

John-Henry Krueger makes Olympics, four years after swine flu

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Four years ago, John-Henry Krueger spent Friday night and early Saturday morning at Olympic Trials lying on an apartment bathroom floor, unable to keep food down due to swine flu.

Tonight, Krueger celebrates his first Olympic berth.

“The win today in spite of what happened four years ago just made the victory that much sweeter,” Krueger said on NBCSN.

He topped the 1500m at the Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, to become the first of five men to qualify for PyeongChang this weekend.

Krueger was second in the first of two 1500m races behind three-time Olympic medalist J.R. Celski. Celski went into the second and final 1500m as the heavy favorite but slipped and fell with a lap and a half left.

Krueger won the race and moved ahead of Celski in the overall standings for the one Olympic berth available. Celski will have more chances Saturday and Sunday to get one of the last four Olympic men’s spots.

Vancouver Olympian Lana Gehring swept the women’s 1500m to make the Olympic team, too. Gehring, 27, held off Jessica Kooreman by .113 of a second in the second 1500m final to clinch the spot. Kooreman was later disqualified.

Gehring failed to make the Sochi Olympic team, retired, unretired in late 2015 to try long-track speed skating, then switched back to short track this year.

In 2014, the U.S. won zero individual short track medals at an Olympics for just the second time since the sport debuted at Albertville 1992.

Celski and Kooreman came the closest to the podium, each picking up a fourth-place finish.

Individual medal prospects in the six events in PyeongChang are not great. The U.S. bagged one individual World Cup medal this season in 24 total races — a bronze from Celski.

Krueger leads the program with five individual World Cup medals since Sochi, one coming in the last three years.

In 2013, he also won a World Cup medal and was a favorite to make the team. But he came down with swine flu the week of Trials.

He fought, even finishing second in one of the Saturday finals after that harrowing night in the bathroom, but didn’t have enough strength to make the Olympic team.

“All the lovely side effects that come with swine flu,” Krueger, who now lives and trains in the Netherlands, said earlier this fall. “I had all the classic symptoms of that.”

The best U.S. hope in PyeongChang may be the men’s relay, where the U.S. made the podium at the last three Olympics. A U.S. quartet anchored by Celski broke the world record last month.

The four men who will join Krueger in PyeongChang will be decided the next two days in Utah. The top finishers in the 500m (Saturday) and 1000m (Sunday) are guaranteed Olympic berths.

The U.S. women did not qualify an Olympic relay, but the 500m and 1000m winners will join Gehring in PyeongChang for individual races.

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MORE: U.S. Olympic short track skater gets 4-year doping ban

U.S. Olympic Short Track Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Friday 6:45-8 p.m. 1500m rounds STREAM LINK
8:30-10 p.m. 1500m finals NBCSN | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12-1:45 p.m. 500m rounds STREAM LINK
2:30-4 p.m. 500m finals NBC | STREAM LINK
Sunday 10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. 1000m rounds STREAM LINK
1-3 p.m. 1000m finals NBC | STREAM LINK

Chloe Kim qualifies for U.S. Olympic snowboard team

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — In 2014, Chloe Kim ranked high enough to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team in snowboard halfpipe, but she was too young to compete at the Winter Games.

Four years later, she’ll finally have the opportunity to represent the red, white and blue at the Olympics.

Kim won her second straight Olympic qualifier, which will secure her nomination to the U.S. halfpipe team. The 17-year-old, who is the only woman currently capable of landing back-to-back 1080s, is considered the gold medal favorite for PyeongChang 2018.

“It seems like a dream almost, and I’m trying to wake up,” Kim said of earning her spot on the Olympic team. “I think today when I get home, it’s going to sink in, and I’m probably going to cry.”

With the pressure of Olympic qualifying over with, Kim says that cleaning up her cab 1080s will be a primary focus as she prepares for PyeongChang.

Who will join Kim on the women’s halfpipe team remains up in the air, though Kelly Clark is in good shape after a third at the Copper Grand Prix and a second at Dew Tour Breckenridge, which hosted Friday’s qualifier.

The three-time Olympic medalist crashed on her first two runs in the final and needed to be checked out by the medical staff after hitting the deck on a frontside 1080 attempt on Run 2. With a bandage on her nose, she came back undeterred in Run 3, landed the frontside 1080 and got onto the podium.

“These are Olympic qualifying events, and me ending up in the middle of the pack isn’t really going to benefit me,” Clark said. “I have one shot, so I went for it.”

The men’s halfpipe competition produced a surprise winner in 19-year-old Jake Pates, who outdueled not just his own U.S. teammates but also a stacked field of international riders.

Pates came out firing on his third and final run, putting down a sequence of tricks that ended with a unique variation on the double McTwist 1260 made famous by Shaun White. Instead of doing a standard grab, Pates executed a tail grab on the trick that added extra difficulty and clearly caught the eye of the judges.

“That was a trick I’ve been wanting to do forever,” Pates said of the double McTwist, which he had never landed in a contest before. “Seriously, I saw that happen when I was, like, 8 years old. I saw that happen at X Games and it was crazy.”

According to Pates, it was just the fourth time he had ever landed the trick on snow.

With such a stacked group of riders on the U.S. team, Pates was mostly overlooked when it came to Olympic qualifying favorites. Now he’s suddenly in the discussion as a possible medal contender.

“I never thought in a million years I would have won this event today,” he said. “I just wanted to land that run, actually I’ve never done that before. I’ve been dreaming about that all week.”

Ben Ferguson, who was the top American at the first selection event, took a strong step toward making his first Olympic team as well by finishing third overall and second among Americans in Breckenridge. He and Pates will both be in position to potentially secure their spots on the team at the next qualifier.

“For every other American out there, there is another level of pressure we’ve got to deal with doing these [Olympic qualifiers],” Ferguson said afterward. “And for me, doing well in these last two has kind of pulled some of that pressure off and relieved a little bit of anxiety, and I can just focus on having fun more.”

Aside from helping to shape the U.S. Olympic team, the men’s halfpipe competition in Breckenridge also provided a showcase of international stars who will be in the mix for medals in PyeongChang.

Scotty James of Australia unveiled a new run which included back-to-back double cork 1260s and a switch backside 900. It was a very technical run which earned him a massive score and would have given him the victory were it not for Pates stepping it up at the very end.

Also standing out was Japan’s Ayumu Hirano. The Sochi silver medalist started his run off with a massive indy air before going into a difficult sequence of tricks that included a frontside double cork 1440 and frontside double cork 1260. He finished in fourth.

Absent from the men’s field was White, the two-time Olympic gold medalist. White was unable to put down a clean run amid snowy conditions during Thursday’s qualifying round and therefore failed to advance to the final.

Despite the disappointing result, White is still in good shape when it comes to Olympic qualifying. He was second among U.S. riders at the first selection event and still has two qualifying events left.

Up to three spots on the U.S. team for both men and women will be allocated through automatic qualification. In order to be eligible, riders need a top-three finish at one of the selection events. Each rider’s two best results will be used as a tiebreaker.

There are two selection events remaining for snowboard halfpipe, and they will both take place in January.

Olympic qualifying for snowboard and freeski slopestyle resumes Saturday in Breckenridge.

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MORE: Shaun White details crash that led to 62 stitches

Snowboard Halfpipe
Qualifying Standings 
(through two of four events)
1. Ben Ferguson — 1,800*
2. Jake Pates — 1,320*
3. Danny Davis — 1,200
4. Shaun White — 1,120*
5. Gabe Ferguson — 950
5. Chase Josey — 950

1. Chloe Kim — 2,000* (QUALIFIED)
2. Kelly Clark — 1,400*
3. Maddie Mastro — 1,300*
4. Arielle Gold — 1,100*
5. Elena Hight — 850
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

Breckenridge Finals (all times Eastern)
Friday
Men’s Ski Halfpipe — 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Women’s Ski Halfpipe — 12:45-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 4:15-5 p.m.

Saturday
Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 11-11:45 a.m.
Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 12:15-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Ski Slopestyle — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Ski Slopestyle — 4:15-5 p.m.