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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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MORE: 10 U.S. athletes to watch at Paralympics

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 

Double gold: Germany’s Friedrich wins 4-man bobsled

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Two-man? Check. Four-man? Double check. Francesco Friedrich piloted his German sled to gold in the four-man bobsled, becoming the sixth pilot to win gold in both the two- and four-man bobsled in the same Olympics on the final day of competition in PyeongChang.

After tying with Canada’s Justin Kripps in two-man, Friedrich made no doubt in four-man, sliding to a dominant win. The German sled was clear of second by 0.53 seconds. And in second? Another tie on the bobsled course — just like the tie for gold in two-man. South Korea and Germany shared the silver medal.

NBCOlympics.com: Remembering team USA bobsled star Steve Holcomb

South Korea’s medal was historic. Won Yun-Jong delivered for the home nation, bringing the country its first medal in the bobsled. Yun Sung-Bin won the country’s first medal in a sliding event by taking gold in skeleton earlier in the games. Germany’s Nico Walther piloted the sled that tied.

Codie Bascue piloted the top American sled to a ninth-place finish. Nick Cunningham and Justin Olsen improved in Runs 3 and 4 to finish 19th and 20th, respectively.

Results: 

Gold: Germany (Friedrich sled)
Silver: South Korea (Won sled)
Silver: Germany (Walther sled)

Read the full recap and watch bobsled highlights by clicking here