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KHL could pull out of Olympics over Russia doping cases

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MOSCOW (AP) — The Kontinental Hockey League may withdraw its players from the PyeongChang Olympics in protest at doping investigations into Russian athletes, the league president suggested Saturday.

The Moscow-based KHL, widely considered the strongest league outside the NHL, contains leading Russians but also many players who could represent the United States, Canada, and various European nations.

The stars include former NHL All-Stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk of Russia. Plus American Ryan Zapolski, one of the league’s top goalies this season.

In a statement, KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko said the International Olympic Committee “is destroying the existing world order in sports” by pursuing doping cases against Russians in other sports who are suspected of using banned substances around the time of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Chernyshenko referenced the NHL’s absence from PyeongChang this February after failing to reach a deal with the IOC, and said “the KHL is ready to respond accordingly.”

IOC commissions “suspend athletes without a basis of real facts confirming doping,” Chernyshenko said. A Russian gold medalist in cross-country skiing was stripped of his title by an IOC panel on Wednesday using evidence of Russian doping cover-ups and tampering with sample bottles.

Chernyshenko previously headed Russia’s organizing committee for the Sochi Olympics, where Russia has since been accused of operating a state-sponsored program of drug use and cover-ups.

Russians were being unfairly targeted by the IOC, Chernyshenko said. He referred to a recent speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin in which Putin accused the U.S. of lobbying the IOC for Russia’s exclusion from the PyeongChang Olympics or trying to force IOC officials to make Russians compete under a neutral flag.

A KHL pullout from the Olympics would leave Russia with very few players to choose from — if Russia was still allowed or willing to take part in the Olympic ice hockey tournament.

For the U.S. and Canada, it would mean a greater reliance on junior or college players, or those scattered across smaller European leagues.

Countries like Finland and Sweden could benefit — they’d lose some KHL-based players, but would be in a comparatively stronger position because of the depth in their national leagues.

The KHL contains clubs across seven countries from Finland to China, but the vast majority are in Russia. Many teams are funded by Russian state companies, regional governments or businessmen close to Putin. The league chairman is Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire who used to be Putin’s sparring partner in judo.

“The KHL won’t talk about a ban [on players going to the Olympics], but about reviewing the calendar,” KHL board member Alexander Medvedev told Russian news agency TASS. “In that case, contracted players won’t be able to go anywhere. Legally, it’s absolutely permitted. If Russia isn’t taking part in the games, then there’s no sense in having a break [in the KHL season].”

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Men’s snowboard big air preview

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Now that Anna Gasser of Austria has successfully captured the first-ever Olympic gold medal in women’s snowboard big air, it’s almost time to crown the first-ever Olympic champion on the men’s side.

Big air snowboarding has progressed tremendously in recent years, and there’s been a lot of build-up to these Olympics, so expect heavy tricks to come out quickly in the final.

Or as Mark McMorris put it: “There’s probably [going to be] some mind-boggling s—.”

Every time there’s a big air event, there’s always talk about “quads” — a type of trick that features four inverted flips. It’s such a progressive trick that only two riders have landed a quad in competition, only a few others have done it in training, and many are hesitant to even try.

Read the full preview at NBCOlympics.com

Karen Chen shares disappointment, thanks fans

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Karen Chen was the last U.S. figure skater to make her PyeongChang debut (and her Olympic debut for that matter). A mistake on her opening jump in the short program left her in 10th place going into the free program. Two days later, her free skate also had technical mistakes, and she finished 11th overall. While Team OAR won its first Olympic gold of the PyeongChang Games and got a silver to boot, the U.S. women were plagued with falls and technical errors, and Chen was no exception.

NBCOlympics.com: Alina Zagitova is Olympic Athletes from Russia’s first gold medalist of PyeongChang

Just hours after the ladies’ event concluded, Chen took to Instagram to share her frustration, disappointment and newfound perspective.

Chen, 18, is the youngest woman on the 2018 U.S. figure skating team. Chen was born and raised in Fremont, California, she cites gold medal figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, who is also from Fremont, as a mentor. Unlike most in the world of figure skating, Chen makes her own costumes and choreographs her own programs. Last season, Chen won the U.S. national championship. She skated an inconsistent 2017-18 season, but her third place finish at nationals was enough to land her a spot on Team USA.