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Four Russian skeleton athletes banned amid Sochi doping probe

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Four Russian skeleton athletes were provisionally suspended by the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation in response to an International Olympic Committee investigation into Russian doping at the Sochi Winter Games.

The IBSF did not name the suspended athletes nor did it say if they were all Sochi Olympians. Russia sent six skeleton athletes to the 2014 Olympics, with two earning medals.

Aleksandr Tretiyakov took gold in the Olympic men’s race. Yelena Nikitna took bronze in the women’s race, .04 ahead of American Katie Uhlaender. Tretiyakov and Nikitina have continued to race on the World Cup circuit, which resumes next week in Altenberg, Germany, following its usual holiday break.

The IBSF announcement came one week after the IOC said it opened disciplinary proceedings against 28 Russian Olympians for whom there was “evidence of manipulation of one or more of their urine samples” from the Sochi Winter Games.

The IOC move was in response to a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report by Richard McLaren that said more than 1,000 Russian athletes were involved in organized doping. Russians who won 15 medals in Sochi had their samples tampered with, according to the report.

“It has been a hard time for all of us in sports after the publication of the McLaren Report,” IBSF president Ivo Ferriani said in a press release Friday. “The IBSF is fully committed to ensure all necessary steps will be taken to gain back the integrity of sport.”

The International Ski Federation (FIS) already suspended six Russian cross-country skiers in connection with the Sochi doping cases.

Like the IBSF, FIS has not released the names of the skiers, though Russian media has reported they include the two most decorated Russian skiers from the Sochi Olympics. Those two skiers are not on Russia’s roster for the annual Tour de Ski, which starts Saturday, after competing in World Cups this season.

MORE: Katie Uhlaender, fourth in Sochi, contacts Russian skeleton bronze medalist

Chinese lead, star pairs struggle in world championships short program

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China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong recorded the highest pairs short program score in the world since the 2014 Olympics, topping the world championships field in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Two-time defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are well behind in seventh and 13th place, respectively.

Sui and Han, in just their second event this season, tallied a personal-best 81.23 points.

They lead by 1.39 over Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot going into the free skate Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are in third.

The Chinese will go for their first world title after giving up a short-program lead last year and taking silver for a second straight time.

Full worlds short program results are here.

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Sui and Han missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at the Four Continents Championships in February and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

Duhamel and Radford, looking to become the first pair to three-peat in 40 years, came in slowed by Radford’s hip injury suffered in the last week. Radford was off-balance on his triple toe loop landing Wednesday. Duhamel’s hand touched the ice on her throw triple Lutz landing.

They scored 72.67 points, which is 8.56 behind Sui and Han.

Stolbova and Klimov both suffered falls in their short program and scored 65.59, qualifying for the 16-pair free skate by four points. The Russian champions missed the autumn season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury.

The top U.S. pair was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, who posted a personal-best 72.17 points for eighth place. The husband-and-wife pair are competing for the second time this season after Scimeca Knierim’s serious abdominal injury.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier suffered two falls and placed 20th, matching the worst U.S. pairs finish in worlds history. They did not qualify for the 16-pair free skate.

Therefore, the Knierims must finish 10th or better after the free skate to ensure the U.S. earns two pairs places at the 2018 Olympics.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. medal in pairs at worlds came in 2002. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

North Korean pair Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik placed 14th in the short program, the highest of any pair expected to compete for one of four final Olympic quota spots in September.

North Korea sent no athletes to the Sochi Olympics, and it’s not a guarantee it will qualify any athletes for PyeongChang, or if it will send athletes to South Korea in February. But Ryom and Kim’s personal best by nearly 11 points on Wednesday was very encouraging.

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MORE: U.S. pairs skater back from life-threatening condition

Pairs Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 81.23
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 79.84
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 79.37
8. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 72.17
20. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 56.23

Missy Franklin out due to shoulder surgeries

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Missy Franklin is sidelined from swimming competition for an undisclosed period of time to recover from surgeries on both of her shoulders due to bursitis, according to her social media.

“This is what’s best for me to come stronger than ever,” was posted on Franklin’s Instagram. “I’m so far from being done with this sport.”

The five-time Olympic champion was diagnosed in early January following an MRI, underwent surgeries that month and has returned to limited training.

Franklin, who has not raced since the Rio Olympics, will not compete in the next USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., in two weeks.

Her return date is not set.

The U.S. Championships are in June in Indianapolis and serve as a qualifying meet for the world championships in Budapest in July.

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