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Olympic figure skating team event qualifiers announced

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The Olympic figure skating team event qualifiers via the International Skating Union (ISU):

1. Canada
2. Russia*
3. United States
4. Japan
5. China
6. Italy
7. France
8. Germany
9. Israel
10. South Korea
Alternate: Australia

Spain would have made it in ninth place had it enough skaters qualified in individual Olympic events to participate in the team event. But it did not qualify any women or pairs teams for Pyeongchang.

Russia’s status is unknown given the IOC’s sanctions against its National Olympic Committee.

“The IOC is currently preparing all operational details relating to the participation of the Olympic Athletes of Russia (OAR) which will be communicated as soon as available,” the ISU said earlier Saturday.

An IOC panel will at some point invite selected Russian athletes to compete at the Olympics. At least one man, one woman, one pair and one ice dance couple must be invited for the Olympic Athletes from Russia team to be eligible for the team event.

Russia easily won the first Olympic team event in Sochi, with Canada taking silver and the U.S. bronze, both comfortably as well.

Russia and Canada could have a tight battle for gold in Pyeongchang given Canada has improved in the women’s event with the reigning world silver and bronze medalists.

Canada’s key could be the performance of Sochi silver medalist Patrick Chan.

The three-time world champ has been the only reliable Canadian man for several years but struggled in his opening Grand Prix event this season in October, then withdrew from his only other scheduled competition before next month’s nationals.

Meanwhile, Russia’s men’s program improved greatly this year, putting two men in the exclusive six-man Grand Prix Final.

If Russia outscores Canada in the men’s portion of the team program, that might be enough for a second straight Olympic title.

The U.S. is in a similar position to four years ago — clear bronze-medal favorite — thanks to Nathan Chen and ice dance depth.

The U.S. will have to use the same pairs team in both team event programs because it only qualified one entry for the Olympic pairs event. It can sub out skaters in two of the other three team event disciplines between the short and long programs.

The top eight nations from the 2014 Olympic team event all qualified for Pyeongchang, where the team event will again begin the day before the Opening Ceremony.

The top five out of 10 nations after the short programs advance to the free skates.

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Lindsey Vonn wins 79th World Cup race as oldest downhill victor (video)

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Lindsey Vonn became the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill with three weeks until the Olympics, notching her 79th career victory in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Saturday.

In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest female Alpine medalist in Olympic history.

Vonn prevailed by .92 of a second over Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather on Saturday, moving seven shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s record of 86 World Cup victories.

“My focus right now is just so much on Olympics that I haven’t really thought about [the record] that much this season,” Vonn said. “After the Olympics, that will be my No. 1 priority again, and I’ll try to just rack up as many wins before I retire as possible.”

American Jackie Wiles was third to become the fifth U.S. female Alpine skier to qualify for PyeongChang, joining Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, among others. (full U.S. Olympic roster here)

Shiffrin was seventh in Saturday’s race in her least comfortable discipline.

Full results are here.

Vonn, 33, broke Austrian Elisabeth Goergl‘s record as the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill. Goergl is still the oldest winner for any World Cup race, taking a super-G in 2014 at nearly 34 years old.

Vonn, already an Olympic medal favorite in downhill and super-G, won her first downhill since Jan. 21, 2017.

She had raced eight downhills in between with four podium finishes, including taking second to Italian Sofia Goggia on Friday in Cortina. Goggia failed to finish Saturday.

The World Cup continues with a super-G in Cortina on Sunday (5:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

“Mentally, I feel like it’s the first podium I ever got,” Vonn said. “Back in 2004, I feel the same. I have the same motivation, the same drive, the same excitement. I love going fast. That’s never changed. The only thing that’s changed is my body is not as good as it once was, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still win.

“I’ll keep going until my poor little knee gives out.”

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IOC approves unified Korea Olympic team, 22 North Korean athletes

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North and South Korean athletes will compete on the same team at the Olympics for the first time, while the IOC approved 22 North Koreans to compete overall in PyeongChang.

The IOC on Saturday approved the Koreas’ agreement to field a unified women’s hockey team and to march together in the Opening Ceremony behind the Korean Unification flag.

Twelve North Koreans have been added to the South Korean women’s hockey team. The other North Korean athletes will compete in figure skating, Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and short track speed skating.

Full details are here.

“Today marks a milestone on a long journey,” IOC president Thomas Bach said. “Since 2014, the IOC has addressed the special situation of having the Olympic Winter Games 2018 on the Korean Peninsula. Until today, we met separately with the parties on a bilateral basis to address an often fast-changing political situation in a comprehensive way. Today is therefore a great day because the Olympic Spirit has brought all sides together. This was not an easy journey.”

At the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9, one North Korean and one South Korean will carry the flag in the Parade of Nations. The Koreas previously marched together at the Opening Ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

The hockey team will compete as “Korea,” under the unification flag and using the song “Arirang” as its anthem. North Koreans will compete under their own flag in all other sports.

North Korea did not qualify any spots for the Olympics, but the IOC had power to offer special invitations.

“Such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago,” Bach said. “The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean peninsula.”

The 22 North Korean athletes mark more North Koreans at a Winter Olympics than the last six Winter Games combined.

North Korea had zero athletes in 2014 and two in 2010.

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