Pyeongchang 2018

AP

Vladimir Putin: U.S. pushing for Russia’s Olympic exclusion

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MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin accused the U.S. government on Friday of pushing for Russia’s exclusion from the Olympics.

A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said the IOC was coming under pressure from the U.S., his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin meant “state (structures), including through social and non-government organizations.”

Putin said the effort aimed to ensure Russia was either barred from next year’s Winter Olympics entirely or forced to compete under a neutral flag.

In televised comments on Thursday, Putin said the IOC depended on sponsorship income “and in turn clear signals are being given to these sponsors by certain American bodies. We aren’t simply guessing about this, we know about it.”

Missing the Olympics or competing as neutrals would be “degrading” for Russia, Putin added, and suggested it might be meant to interfere in the Russian presidential election in March. Putin is widely expected to run for re-election but has yet to confirm that.

“If someone thinks that in this way they can influence the election campaign in Russia in the spring of next year, then they are deeply confused,” Putin said.

Russia is already under IOC investigation over allegations it operated a state-backed doping program including swapping out dirty samples at the drug-testing laboratory for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

Neither Putin nor Peskov specified which specific U.S. government bodies might be involved in the alleged pressuring of the IOC.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a non-government body which receives part of its funding from the U.S. government, is among a group of 37 national drug-testing agencies which have called for Russia to be barred from the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games.

The IOC has said its investigators expect to have “a number” of doping cases involving Russians at the Sochi Olympics resolved by the end of November, but they have no plans to dictate the eligibility of these athletes for Pyeongchang.

Putin’s suggestion of U.S. meddling in the Russian election comes amid investigations in the U.S. into alleged interference in last year’s presidential vote.

The U.S. Senate’s special panel is conducting a probe into Russian influence in the 2016 election and whether there were any links to Donald Trump’s campaign.

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PyeongChang Olympic cauldron unveiled

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The PyeongChang Olympic cauldron is a white tower visible atop one of the corners of the pentagonal Olympic Stadium that will host the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9.

It is the most traditional cauldron setup since the 2008 Beijing Games.

In 2010, the Vancouver Winter Games had two cauldrons — one inside in the ceremonies venue and one outside in the city for the public to view.

The London 2012 flame could not be seen outside the Olympic Stadium. It was lit in the center of the stadium and then moved to a side area.

The PyeongChang cauldron will not be moved, organizers said.

The Sochi 2014 cauldron was in the middle of the Olympic Park but visible through an opening at the north end of the ceremonies stadium (and also tall enough to be seen from the stadium).

Rio had two cauldrons — one lit at the Opening Ceremony inside the Maracanã — and another in the city for the public to view.

So, who will light the PyeongChang cauldron on Feb. 9?

“If I tell you, I have to kill you,” a PyeongChang 2018 press operations official joked two weeks ago. “I really can’t tell you about this. I don’t want to spoil the show.”

Most believe it will be Yuna Kim, the wildly popular 2010 Olympic figure skating champion and ambassador for PyeongChang 2018.

“She has been very, very instrumental promoting the Games,” the PyeongChang 2018 official said. “She has done a tremendous job. She’s been with us at every important event promoting the Games. We really appreciate all her hard work.”

At the previous Olympics in South Korea, the 1988 Seoul Games, three South Koreans lit the cauldron simultaneously — a teacher, a high school student and a marathoner at those Games.

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AP

South Korea Olympic officials relieved North Korea qualified

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean Olympic officials said they were pleased after a North Korean figure skating pair became the nation’s first athletes to qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics, hoping it might help improve strained relations between the countries.

Tension has been rising recently due to North Korea’s nuclear test and multiple missile launches that also triggered an escalating war of words between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

South Korea has been hoping North Korea takes part in the Winter Games.

Sung Baikyou of PyeongChang’s organizing committee said Saturday the achievement by North Korean skaters could make it easier to persuade the North to participate.

“It widens the room for more talks regarding North Korea’s potential Olympic participation, including inviting its organized cheering groups,” which Pyongyang frequently sends to international events to support its athletes, Sung said.

It’s still uncertain whether North Korea would allow the skaters to compete in PyeongChang, a ski resort town 50 miles south of the heavily-armed inter-Korean border.

North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in South Korea’s capital Seoul and has ignored the South’s proposals for dialogue in recent months as it accelerated its nuclear and missile development.

The IOC is trying to calm concern about the PyeongChang Games, but France has said its Olympic team will not travel to South Korea if its safety cannot be guaranteed.

IOC President Thomas Bach has expressed hope North Korea will take part.

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