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Russia athletes can qualify for PyeongChang Paralympics as neutrals

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Russia’s ban from Paralympic competition was extended until November, putting the nation at further risk of being excluded from the PyeongChang Winter Games in March, but there are reasons for optimism.

The International Paralympic Committee is “impressed and encouraged” at significant progress made by Russia to meet anti-doping criteria for reinstatement, president Philip Craven said in a press release Wednesday.

The IPC is confident enough that it is allowing Russian athletes to attempt to qualify for the Winter Games. Athletes can apply to be cleared as neutral athletes apart from the Russian flag and federations, similar to the current setup for Olympic track and field athletes.

“This limited interim measure is intended to preserve the ability of the RPC [Russia Paralympic Committee] to enter its qualified athletes into the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games should it have its suspension lifted in time,” the IPC said. “The IPC also hopes this decision will further encourage the RPC and importantly the Russian authorities to meet the remaining reinstatement criteria as soon as possible.”

Russia has been banned from IPC-sanctioned competition since August 2016 due to its poor anti-doping record. That included a suspension from the Rio Games last September.

Russia topped the Winter Paralympic medal standings in 2006, 2010 and 2014. It won a record 80 medals and 30 golds in Sochi, more than three times as many as the second-place nations.

Craven is confident that Russia can meet five of seven remaining reinstatement conditions “in the near future.” The other two — the reinstatement of Russia’s anti-doping agency (RUSADA) and the acknowledgment and acceptance of the McLaren Report into Russian doping — have to wait until a World Anti-Doping Agency meeting in November.

Russians will be able to compete as neutrals in four of the six Winter Paralympic sports this fall — Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing and snowboarding.

Russia already missed the chance to qualify for PyeongChang in hockey. That’s key, as Russia took silver behind the U.S. men at the Sochi Paralympics and bronze at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds before its suspension.

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MORE: Five Paralympic storylines ahead of PyeongChang

French skiers to start in Lake Louise after David Poisson’s death

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PARIS (AP) — The French skiing federation says its athletes will compete in Lake Louise at the first World Cup speed events of the Alpine season despite the death of David Poisson earlier this week.

The 35-year-old Poisson died on Monday in a crash while training at the Canadian resort of Nakiska, which staged Alpine skiing races of the 1988 Olympics.

The federation said in a statement Sunday that it has provided psychological support to all members of the French squad who were present in Nakiska when Poisson died, and that “all athletes decided to start the first speed World Cup of the season on Nov. 25-26 in Lake Louise, Canada.”

Poisson, who won the downhill bronze medal at the 2013 world championships, was training for the upcoming World Cup races in North America.

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MORE: Alpine skiing season broadcast schedule

John Shuster, 30 pounds lighter, rallies for 4th Olympic curling berth

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John Shuster is going to a fourth Olympics. It’s one more chance to prove Urban Dictionary wrong.

Shuster, 30 pounds lighter since his second straight Olympic failure in Sochi, led a team that beat Heath McCormick‘s squad at the U.S. Olympic Trials finals in Omaha on Saturday night.

Shuster, Tyler GeorgeMatt Hamilton and John Landsteiner lost the opener of a best-of-three finals series on Thursday.

They came back to deliver in a pair of must-win games, 9-4 on Friday night and 7-5 on Saturday, after spending each day at the Omaha Zoo.

The new-look Shuster — leaner and, at least this weekend, clutch — would astonish those who know him by scenes at the last two Olympics.

After taking bronze in 2006 as a role player, he led the last two U.S. Olympic teams to 2-7 records in 2010 and in 2014. Last place in Vancouver, where he was benched after an 0-4 start. Next to last place in Sochi.

After the last Olympics, the former bartender from Chisholm, Minn., was left off USA Curling’s 10-man high performance team.

He took it as motivation to get in shape.

Shuster, a father of a 2- and a 4-year-old who once said, “If I don’t have pizza three or four times a week, I’m not happy,” now totes meal replacement shakes. He’s starting to enjoy Olympic lifting.

Shuster, George, Hamilton and Landsteiner, all absent from that USA Curling high performance list, formed their own team. They became Team USA in their first season together and represented the Stars and Stripes at worlds in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Their results — fourth, third and fifth —  marked the best string of U.S. men’s or women’s finishes at that level in a decade.

Shuster is set to join Debbie McCormick as the only Americans to curl at four Olympics. The sport was part of the first Winter Games in 1924, then absent as a medal sport until 1998.

“I don’t think it’s about the four Olympics for me,” Shuster said on NBCSN. “What this is about — and what I’m about — is getting my teammates to now. I have two new Olympians on this team, and I know how special that is.”

George, the 35-year-old vice skip for Shuster, led a team that lost to Shuster in the 2010 Olympic Trials final. The liquor store manager from Duluth, Minn., is going to his first Winter Games.

As is the 28-year-old Hamilton, whose younger sister qualified for PyeongChang earlier Saturday.

Landsteiner, a 27-year-old corrosion engineer, played with Shuster since 2011, including in Sochi.

Alternate Joe Polo can go 12 years between Olympic appearances after taking bronze on that Torino team.

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MORE: U.S. Winter Olympic Trials broadcast schedule