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Russian athletes to compete as neutrals at Paralympics

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BONN, Germany (AP) — Russia was banned Monday from the PyeongChang Paralympics because of its doping past.

However, the International Paralympic Committee said about 30-35 Russians will be allowed to compete in five sports as neutral athletes at the Winter Games, which run from March 8-18.

That mirrors the situation for next month’s Olympics. The Russian team has been barred, but 169 Russians have been invited to compete.

“We are not rewarding Russia, but we are allowing athletes that we believe are clean to compete under a neutral flag,” IPC president Andrew Parsons said.

It will be the second Paralympics without a Russian team.

The country was also excluded from the Rio Paralympics. Since then, there has been enough improvement to justify allowing Russians to compete as neutral athletes after extra drug testing, Parsons said.

“Although the (Russian Paralympic Committee) remains suspended, they have made significant progress, and we have to recognize this,” Parsons said. “We now have greater confidence that the anti-doping system in Russia is no longer compromised and corrupted. We have also witnessed behavioral and cultural changes.”

The Russians who will be allowed to compete must have undergone extra testing and a course of anti-drug education.

No one implicated “knowingly or unknowingly by the numerous anti-doping investigations in Russia” can take part, Parsons said.

The team of “Neutral Paralympic Athletes” will be about half the size of the Russian team that competed in Sochi in 2014.

The neutral Paralympic athletes will be allowed to compete in Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, snowboard and curling. They will wear uniforms without any national insignia, and fans will also be barred from waving Russian flags.

Russians had been allowed to compete as neutral athletes in some qualifying events ahead of the Games before a final decision, but that came too late for Russia to qualify in hockey.

The IPC suspended Russia’s membership in August 2016 over what then-IPC president Philip Craven called a “medals over morals” culture with endemic cheating.

To be reinstated, Russian officials must either accept or disprove World Anti-Doping Agency investigations which found it ran a doping program.

The IPC also requires the Russian anti-doping agency to be fully reinstated by WADA, which is also demanding Russia accepts the investigations’ findings.

The Russian government denies ever supporting any doping programs.

The Russian Paralympic Committee was praised for fulfilling other criteria which also required it to tighten up enforcement of drug-testing rules and distance itself from what the IPC called government “propaganda.”

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Teddy Riner, dominant judoka, to skip 2018, 2019 Worlds

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French judoka Teddy Riner, arguably the world’s most dominant athlete, will reportedly skip the next two world championships before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

French coach Franck Chambily said Riner will compete a light international schedule the next two years ahead of what would be his fourth Olympics, according to Agence France-Presse.

Riner, a 29-year-old, 6-foot-8-inch native of Guadeloupe, is undefeated since 2010 with a reported 144-match winning streak. That includes Olympic titles in 2012 and 2016 and world titles in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Before the streak, Riner also earned world titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010, plus an Olympic bronze at age 19 in 2008.

He could compete through the 2024 Paris Games.

“When I am invincible, I will stop,” Riner said in 2013, according to The Associated Press.

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Maggie Nichols wins NCAA all-around title with perfect 10

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Even after a perfect 10 in the last rotation, Maggie Nichols didn’t know that she had won the NCAA all-around title. Her coach at Oklahoma, K.J. Kindler, had to tell her.

The reaction?

“Excitement,” Nichols said Friday night on ESPNU. “I just wanted to go out there and feel out the equipment, staying calm and doing my routines that I have been doing in training.”

Nichols, a 2015 World team champion who retired from elite gymnastics after missing the 2016 Olympic team (set back by a torn meniscus that year), became the first Sooner to win the NCAA all-around in 30 years.

The sophomore tallied 39.8125 points and topped Olympic alternate MyKayla Skinner of Utah by .0875 for the title in St. Louis. It came one year after Nichols was 29th in the all-around with a balance beam fall.

Oklahoma and Utah will be joined in Saturday night’s Super Six team finals by UCLA, LSU, Florida and Nebraska. The Sooners eye their third straight national title.

Nichols capped her night with one of two perfect scores between the two semifinal sessions, matching 2012 Olympic alternate Elizabeth Price‘s 10 on uneven bars. It gave Nichols a second career gym slam, a perfect score on every apparatus for the season.

On Jan. 9, Nichols came forward as “Athlete A,” who first reported to USA Gymnastics that she was sexually abused by Larry Nassar in summer 2015.

“She has had a really unique year probably like no one else, and her strength showed through,” Kindler said Friday, according to the University of Oklahoma. “It was tough, and to come out on this side this year is really special.”

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