Vladimir Putin allows Russians to compete at Pyeongchang Olympics


MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t boycott the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Putin said Wednesday his government will allow Russians to compete as neutral athletes at the upcoming Winter Games in South Korea.

The International Olympic Committee banned the Russian team as punishment for doping violations at the Sochi Olympics. The IOC, however, plans to invite individual Russians to compete under the Olympic Flag.

“Without any doubt we will not declare any kind of blockade,” Putin said in televised remarks after launching his re-election campaign at an automobile factory. “We will not block our Olympians from taking part, if any of them wish to take part as individuals.

“They have been preparing for these competitions for their whole careers, and for them it’s very important.”

Putin said Russia still did not accept accusations that it ran a state-backed doping system around the Sochi Olympics, and called the IOC ruling unfair “collective punishment.”

Russian athletes, coaches and politicians have lined up to condemn the IOC ruling, but most say it’s better to accept it and compete.

Russian IOC member Yelena Isinbayeva, a two-time Olympic pole vault champion, came out against a boycott.

“I’d like to tell all Russian athletes preparing for the Olympics in Pyeongchang not to get disappointed in any case and definitely not to do anything stupid like a boycott,” Isinbayeva told state TV. “It’s clearly not worth it.”

She said the IOC choice of “Olympic Athletes from Russia” as the official designation, instead of a more neutral tag, decided the issue for her.

Some Russian sports officials have been criticized for not doing enough to prevent the ban, with senior lawmakers and sports figures calling for them to be fired.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said blaming officials was not a priority and that “protecting the interests of our athletes” was more important.

Under particular pressure is Vitaly Mutko.

He was Russia’s sports minister during the Sochi Olympics, when the IOC ruled drug-test samples were tampered with as part of a doping scheme. Mutko is now a deputy prime minister and in charge of the country’s preparations for next year’s soccer World Cup.

He was barred from the Olympics for life by the IOC on Tuesday.

“(Mutko) took the country into such a nightmare,” figure skating coach Tatyana Tarasova said, according to R-Sport, accusing him of not doing enough to protect Russian athletes from accusations of doping. “I’m sorry for the people who have suffered because of his incompetence.”

The Kremlin vehemently denied running a state-sponsored doping program. State media on Wednesday dismissed the ban as part of a plot to hurt Russia.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the Russian parliament’s upper house, said the ruling is “clearly part of the West’s policy to restrain Russia.”

But he also insisted that local sports officials are to blame and “ought to bear personal responsibility” for letting it happen.

Vladimir Poletayev, deputy chairman of the committee on procedures at the Federation Council, went even further.

“All our sports officials, including the Russian Olympic Committee, ought to be personally accountable for the ban on Russia and ought to step down,” Poletayev said, according to RIA Novosti.

Also Wednesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said it registered appeals by 22 Russian athletes against their disqualifications from the Sochi Olympics for doping.

CAS said the athletes have requested verdicts before the Pyeongchang Games open Feb. 9. The appeals relate to earlier bans against individual athletes, not the ruling on the Russian team.

The IOC is now working on “operational guidelines” that will oversee enforcing restrictions on Russian participation in Pyeongchang.

These include approving a manufacturer and a design of team uniforms, and what Russian symbols, such as national flags, fans will be allowed to use in Olympic venues.

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Kaetlyn Osmond wins world title after Zagitova, Kostner crumble

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Kaetlyn Osmond moved from fourth after the short program to win Canada’s first women’s world title in 45 years after Olympic champion Alina Zagitova fell three times and short-program leader Carolina Kostner also struggled jumping.

Osmond, the Olympic bronze medalist, overcame a 7.54-point deficit to Kostner and won by 12.33 points over Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi, who was eighth after the short program. Another Japanese, Satoko Miyahara, took bronze.

“To be able to make the podium was my ultimate goal,” said Osmond, who landed seven triple jumps and scored 1.65 points shy of her personal-best free skate from PyeongChang. “I never thought being champion was possible.”

Osmond was a national champion at age 17 in 2013. She missed the 2014-15 season with a broken leg, then went from being ranked 24th in the world in 2015-16 to winning world silver in 2017.

Kostner, at 31 looking to become the oldest female world champion in history, ended up fourth, 1.2 points out of bronze in what may have been her final competition. She fell once, had a single Axel and no triple-triple combination. Kostner won a world title in 2012 and Olympic bronze in 2014.

Zagitova, a 15-year-old looking to cap an undefeated season as the youngest Olympic and world champion since Tara Lipinski, finished fifth. She was second after the short program, looking for her fifth come-from-behind win in eight international events this season.

WORLDS: Full Scores | Recaps | TV Schedule

Americans finished sixth (Bradie Tennell), 10th (Mirai Nagasu) and 12th (Mariah Bell) after the U.S. women at the Olympics were ninth (Tennell), 10th (Nagasu) and 11th (Karen Chen). No U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history.

Friday’s results mean the U.S. drops from three women to two for the 2019 Worlds because the top two finishes didn’t add up to 13 or fewer (sixth and seventh, for example). The last time the U.S. had fewer than the maximum three spots at an Olympics or worlds was 2013.

This is the first time since 2010 that the U.S. didn’t put a woman in the top five at the annual worlds.

That said, Tennell capped her rise the last two seasons — from ninth at the 2017 U.S. Championships and seventh at the 2017 World Championships to ninth in her Olympic debut and sixth in her senior world debut. And that U.S. title from January.

“I feel really good about that performance,” Tennell said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I went out there and I just wanted to enjoy myself and skate a clean program and I feel like I did that.”

None of the U.S. women fell, but judges docked them for under rotations (Nagasu had three; Tennell two) and negative grades of execution.

“I think we could all say that [the season] was a very difficult but rewarding journey, and I’m glad to have finished it the way that I did,” said Nagasu, a 24-year-old who said before worlds she hasn’t decided if she will continue competing.

Worlds lacked the 2016 and 2017 champion, Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who withdrew before the event with an ankle injury that plagued her this season before she took silver in PyeongChang.

Earlier Friday, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron broke the world record short dance score, one month after Papadakis’ wardrobe malfunction in the Olympic short dance. A full recap is here.

Worlds conclude Saturday with the free dance and men’s free skate.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

French break world record, month after Olympic wardrobe malfunction

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Gabriella Papadakis‘ dress was secure. Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron‘s performance was extraordinary.

The French broke the world record short dance score at the world championships in Milan on Friday. Papadakis wore the same style costume that came slightly undone in the Olympic short dance and exposed her breast in South Korea.

“Back in Montreal [training after the Olympics], I just fixed a couple things in my dress, and I made sure it wouldn’t be able to break or to open in any way,” Papadakis said, before adding with a laugh, “and it didn’t.”

Papadakis and Cizeron tallied 83.73 points Friday, beating Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir‘s record from the Olympics by .06. The two-time world champs and Olympic silver medalists lead Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue by 3.31 going into Saturday’s free dance.

Two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates are fifth, 2.75 points out of medal position.

WORLDS: Full Scores | RecapsTV Schedule

The field lacks Olympic gold and bronze medalists Virtue and Moir and American siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani. Medalists often skip the post-Olympic world championships due to off-ice opportunities, exhaustion or retirement.

Papadakis and Cizeron entered the Olympics as, at worst, co-favorites with Virtue and Moir. Though Virtue and Moir won their three head-to-heads in 2016-17, Papadakis and Cizeron this season posted the four highest total scores under the eight-year-old system in their four international events leading into PyeongChang.

Disaster struck in the Olympic short dance, where Papadakis had that wardrobe malfunction. The couple still tallied 81.93 points, just .14 off their personal best. They outscored Virtue and Moir in the free dance, but the Canadians won overall by .79.

This week, Papadakis and Cizeron eye their third world title after back-to-back crowns in 2015 and 2016 as the youngest ice dance world champs in 40 years. A triple would match Virtue and Moir and give them one more world title than 2014 Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

“The season has been so demanding,” Cizeron said. “It feels really good to end a season on a note like this.”

The third U.S. couple, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, is in 15th place after Hawayek fell in their short dance. The 2014 World junior champions made the field due to the Shibutanis withdrawing.

Key Free Dance Start Times (Saturday ET)
Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 11:27 a.m.
Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 12:56 p.m.
Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 1:04 p.m.
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 1:12 p.m.
Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 1:20 p.m.
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 1:28 p.m.

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