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IOC creates pool of Russians eligible for PyeongChang Olympics

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The International Olympic Committee said Friday it has created a pool of 389 Russians who are eligible to compete under a neutral flag at next month’s Winter Olympics amid the country’s doping scandal.

An IOC panel whittled down an initial list of 500 to create what the IOC calls “a pool of clean athletes.”

That could potentially make it possible for Russia to meet its target of fielding around 200 athletes in PyeongChang — slightly fewer than in Sochi in 2014, but more than in Vancouver in 2010.

It wasn’t immediately clear why 111 other Russians were rejected by the IOC.

The IOC didn’t list the athletes who were accepted or rejected but said it hadn’t included any of the 46 the IOC previously banned for doping at the Sochi Olympics.

Valerie Fourneyron, the former French Sports Minister leading the invitation process, said the pool also left out any Russians who had been suspended in the past for doping offenses.

“This means that a number of Russian athletes will not be on the list,” she said. “Our work was not about numbers, but to ensure that only clean athletes would be on the list.”

That would appear to rule out potential Russian medal contenders like former NHL hockey player Anton Belov and world champion speed skater Pavel Kulizhnikov, both of whom served bans in the past but have since resumed competing.

“More than 80 percent of the athletes in this pool did not compete at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014,” the IOC said in a statement. “This shows that this is a new generation of Russian athletes.”

The IOC will use the pool list to issue invitations to Russian athletes to compete in PyeongChang, after checking their record of drug testing and retesting some samples they gave previously.

The IOC also said it recommended barring 51 coaches and 10 medical staff “associated with athletes who have been sanctioned” for Sochi doping.

The IOC has allowed the Russian Olympic Committee to select its preferred athletes despite being suspended by the IOC last month over drug use and an elaborate cover-up at the Sochi Olympics, including swapping dirty samples for clean urine.

Russian sports officials say they simply want to give the IOC recommendations to ensure that top athletes aren’t accidentally left out in favor of reserves.

The Russians will officially be known as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” and they will wear gray and red uniforms that don’t feature any Russian logos.

If they win gold medals, the Olympic flag will be flown and the Olympic anthem played.

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MORE: NBC Olympics PyeongChang preview series on Netflix

OAR win hockey gold with 4-3 OT win over Germany

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The Olympic Athletes from Russia triumphed in the no-NHL tournament where they were favored, winning the men’s hockey gold medal at a Winter Olympics where they couldn’t even be called Team Russia, use their colors or celebrate while listening to their anthem.

Kirill Kaprizov scored the game-winner as “Team Olympic Athlete From Russia” came back to beat underdog Germany 4-3 in overtime Sunday in an instant classic that saved a men’s tournament lacking buzz not only in South Korea but back in North America, where the NHL season went on during the games for the first time since 1994.

It’s the first Russian gold medal in hockey since 1992 in Albertville when the team also played under a neutral flag as the Community of Independent States. Russian flags — the team barred from using them by IOC sanctions for state-sponsored doping — hung behind the bench as the team awaited their gold medals.

NBCOlympics.com: Canada defeat Czech Republic to win bronze in men’s hockey

Constantly saying it doesn’t matter that they had to wear nondescript red and white uniforms that lacked the Russian Coat of Arms, players gave the Russians their second gold and 17th total medal of the Olympics.

Russian goal song “Those Were The Days” blared over the Gangneung Hockey Centre speakers as fans clad in red, white and blue and holding flags celebrated. They later sang the national anthem as the medal ceremony got under way.

Exhibition gala closes out figure skating program in PyeongChang

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Without the pressure of racking up points to land on the medal podium, the figure skating exhibition gala is a chance for the athletes to express themselves. There aren’t rules about jumping sequences, and instead, skaters can use props and silly concepts, if they want.

Figure skaters who win medals at the Olympics are typically among the invite list, plus up-and-coming skaters from the host country and other fan favorites.

Here are some of the best performances of the evening:

Ice dance bronze medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani reprised last season’s “That’s Life” short dance by Frank Sinatra featuring Jay-Z for this year’s exhibition.

Ladies’ gold medalist Alina Zagitova performed her “Priestess of Fire” exhibition, which included a fake candle prop glowing on the ice.

Watch performances from the figure skating gala by clicking here