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Russia Olympic boss: 200 Russians may compete in Pyeongchang

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MOSCOW (AP) — Despite Russia’s Olympic ban, officials in the country still expect more than 200 of their athletes to compete in Pyeongchang.

Under International Olympic Committee sanctions announced last week, all Russians must compete under the Olympic flag as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”

“Potentially more than 200 athletes are in a position to qualify,” Russia Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said after the organization held a closed congress on Tuesday.

The decision to ban Russia came after the country was found to have run a sophisticated doping program at the Sochi Olympics.

On Tuesday, the IOC disqualified the Russian women’s hockey team because six players were implicated in doping offenses. That brings the total of Russians banned from Sochi to 31.

Zhukov said the Russia Olympic Committee unanimously voted for the athletes to compete despite the restrictions placed on the national team.

“The opinion of all taking part was united, and that was that our athletes need to go to South Korea, compete and win,” Zhukov said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his backing last week.

The ROC will submit rosters of its preferred athletes to the IOC, which will then issue invitations to Russian competitors.

“I think the IOC will make sure that the strongest Russian athletes get the invitations, so that, for example, our hockey team consists of the best players,” Zhukov said.

Russian athletes going to Pyeongchang still need to pass a screening from an IOC committee which will examine their history of drug testing.

Zhukov said Russia still denies operating a Sochi doping program and rejected any suggestion he had made a deal with the IOC to avoid harsher sanctions.

“It’s unacceptable to take away an athlete’s right to represent his country. In my view, it breaks not only the Olympic charter, but human rights,” Zhukov said. “So you really can’t talk about a deal here.

“Obviously we consider this ruling unfair, but at the same time we’re in the situation where we had to make a decision even though we consider this ruling unfair.”

Individual athletes could still decide to skip the Olympics in protest, but the ROC said it has carried out a survey which didn’t find any who intend to boycott.

The ROC’s approval, however, doesn’t mean Russia is abandoning legal challenges against the IOC sanctions, Zhukov said.

Twenty-five of the athletes banned from Sochi filed appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. IOC rules bar Russians from Pyeongchang if they previously served doping bans.

Russia will send a delegation to Switzerland on Friday to discuss details such as neutral uniforms and whether athletes can wear national colors.

Last week, the IOC ruled that Russia’s suspension could be “partially or fully” lifted in time for the Closing Ceremony on Feb. 25 if Russia complies with its rulings.

Russia national hockey team captain Ilya Kovalchuk said he didn’t mind being known as an Olympic Athlete from Russia, competing without his country’s flag.

“Well, we are athletes from Russia. Sure, they’ve taken the flag and the anthem away, but they haven’t taken our honor, conscience, patriotism, love for the country,” Kovalchuk said. “That’s in your heart and no one can take it, so we should get out there and fight twice as hard.”

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IOC: ‘More exciting initiatives’ for Korean unity in PyeongChang

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Olympic organizers on Friday welcomed an agreement between North and South Korea to unite athletes at the PyeongChang Winter Games and promised that “much more exciting initiatives” promoting Korean unity will emerge this weekend.

“Watch this space,” International Olympic Committee presidential spokesman Mark Adams told The Associated Press in an interview, a day before a crucial meeting of Korean delegations at Olympics headquarters in Lausanne.

He declined to elaborate, saying the decisions would come Saturday.

Referring to a detailed peace-making agreement between the rival countries announced Thursday by South Korea’s Unification Ministry, including a joint team in the women’s hockey tournament, Adams said it was “great … but these are discussions” — meaning the IOC had not yet given the deal the final green light.

“I can tell you that there will also be some much more exciting initiatives coming through as well tomorrow,” he added.

Provided that the IOC finalizes the deal, it would mark the first time the two National Olympic Committees would be competing together in a single team.

Some have questioned the fine print of the agreement announced by the two Koreas, saying it gives the combined hockey squad a far larger roster than any other national team.

Asked how the IOC planned to maintain the integrity of the sport, Adams said: “People would say that these are exceptional circumstances, and we need exceptional measures.”

“This is about the Olympic spirit,” Adams added. “And the Olympic spirit is about nations competing, athletes competing, and we will do our best make sure that it sends a signal that sport can improve the world.”

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Julia Mancuso skis final race dressed as Wonder Woman (video)

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Julia Mancuso bid farewell like only she could — with a tiara, cape and Wonder Woman suit.

The most decorated female U.S. Olympic skier with four medals announced Friday morning that today’s World Cup downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo would be the last race of her career.

More on Mancuso’s retirement, career and immediate future here.

She raced Friday as her nickname — “Super Jules” — and coasted to the bottom 18 seconds slower than winner Sofia Goggia.

Afterward, U.S. Ski Team members sprayed her with champagne and lifted her up in the finish corral.

Mancuso chose an appropriate venue for her last race.

She notched her first World Cup podium in Cortina in January 2006, then won the Olympic giant slalom in Sestriere, Italy, four weeks later.

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