Vladimir Putin allows Russians to compete at Pyeongchang Olympics

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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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Olympic super-G champion Anna Veith wins first World Cup race in two years

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VAL D’ISERE, France (AP) — Olympic champion Anna Veith won a World Cup super-G race on Sunday, more than two years after her last win.

The 28-year-old Austrian has been battling back from injury. She went to hospital in March to have the patellar tendon in her left knee surgically repaired. She had returned in December 2016, after more than one year out after heavily damaging her right knee in a training crash.

“It was a pretty emotional day for me. When I stopped in the finish I didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “It’s important for me to know I can do it in a race, trust myself. I didn’t race so much the last two years.”

She profited from an early bib number to clock 1 minute, 5.77 seconds on the Oreiller-Killy course.

It was her 15th World Cup win and first podium since third place in super-G at the Italian resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo in January. Her previous win came in giant slalom at the French resort of Meribel in March 2015.

Victory came as a huge psychological relief to Veith who, before injury, was one of the world’s best. She won the overall World Cup title in 2014 and 2015 and also took silver in giant slalom at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“After my surgery I knew that the most important thing was to be in good shape and get my strength back,” Veith said. “My injury was a very tough injury. All the girls know it’s pretty hard to get over it.”

Tina Weirather of Lichtenstein was second in 1:06.25 — her 35th World Cup podium — with Italian Sofia Goggia third in 1:06.28.

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Remarkably, Weirather raced despite fearing she has broken her left hand.

“Yesterday, when i crashed I went with my hand in the snow and it hurt my hand and my shoulder,” she said. “I haven’t been to the doctor yet. I’m not sure what it is right now, but for sure not very good because it’s black and blue.”

She also knows a thing or two about courage.

“I could have just have thought “I can’t do it and given up” but I really wanted to do well today,” Weirather said. “In the warmup it hurt really badly. I thought that with the adrenalin I’d forget about it.”

One race is enough, though, and she won’t be taking part in Tuesday’s giant slalom in nearby Courchevel.

“I can’t, because I can’t hold my pole and I have to get an X-ray on my hand,” she said. “I’m not sure if it’s broken or not.”

Goggia, second in Saturday’s super-G behind Lindsey Vonn, has 15 World Cup podiums.

But only two wins.

Goggia knows what she must do to improve her conversion rate.

“Do most of the turning in the correct way. Sometimes I make mistakes in my performance,” she said. “I have to put that off and just ski right and I think it will come.”

Vonn pulled out of Sunday’s race because of soreness in her knee. Having done the morning’s inspection, the 33-year-old American decided against racing as a precautionary measure. The four-time World Cup winner is flying home.

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Lindsey Vonn pulls out of World Cup super-G race because of sore knee

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VAL D’ISERE, France (AP) — Lindsey Vonn pulled out of a World Cup super-G race on Sunday because of a sore knee.

The 33-year-old American did not say which knee hurts, but has injured both before.

She took part in Sunday’s early-morning inspection at the French Alpine resort, but then decided against racing as a precautionary measure and flew home.

Vonn secured her first win of the season and record-extending 78th in Saturday’s super-G on the same Oreiller-Killy course.

“Knee is a bit sore from yesterday so to be on the safe side I’m going to give my body some rest,” Vonn tweeted. “My focus is on the Olympics so no need to risk anything now.”

Vonn did not say when she plans to return. There are only slalom and giant slalom races to follow — not her specialty — until the next speed events in January. They begin with a downhill and super-G at the Austrian resort of Bad Kleinkirchheim from Jan. 13-14.

Last weekend, Vonn jarred her back in another super-G race at St. Moritz in Switzerland.

Her mind is fully on the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea from Feb. 9-25. She won gold in downhill and bronze in super-G at the 2010 Games.

Vonn has battled with injury during her illustrious career.

She sustained a hairline fracture to her left knee in a super-G race in February 2016.

At the 2013 world championships, Vonn crashed in the super-G and tore ligaments in her right knee. She was unable to defend her Olympic title at the 2014 Games.

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