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‘Worst situation ever in Paralympic movement,’ IPC president says before Rio Games

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Paralympics leadership hoped Rio de Janeiro would build on the success of London. Instead, it’s about limiting any damage.

When the curtain comes up for 4,300 athletes at Wednesday’s opening ceremony, almost everything will be scaled back: venues, seating, and staffing. Paralympic officials say that no sports or nations have been cut out, but the “athlete experience” could suffer.

Only a last-minute Brazilian government bailout has helped save the event from a shortfall in the local, privately funded operating budget.

“This is the worst situation that we’ve ever found ourselves in at Paralympic movement,” Philip Craven, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, told The Associated Press. “We were aware of difficulties, but we weren’t aware it was as critical as this.”

Rio organizers limped through the troubled Olympics, buffeted by empty seats, green water in swimming pools, and the absence of an Olympic “feel.” Behind the scenes there were no-show volunteers, street crime and traffic chaos.

Craven said he’s been assured there are “sufficient resources to put on a very good games.”

Here’s a look at the Sept. 7-18 Paralympics featuring athletes from 161 nations, and an added refugee team:

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FINANCING

The Rio Olympic organizing committee promised to use only private money in its 7.4 billion real ($2.3 billion) operating budget. But Craven said local organizers didn’t tell him until about 5 1/2 weeks ago that there was no money left to run the Paralympics.

They blamed it on slow ticket and sponsorship sales, and the rising cost to run the Olympics.

“That’s been a problem with the organizing committee — not knowing information,” Craven said.

To salvage the event, the Rio city government came up with 150 million reals ($46.3 million) in financing, and the federal government has guaranteed another 100 million reals ($30.7 million). This comes in the form of “sponsorships” from three state-run entities including the scandal-plagued oil company Petrobras.

A local prosecutor argued unsuccessfully that the privately-run organizing committee needed to open its books to justify the government bailout.

The influx of public money is still less than half of the $170 million that Rio organizers promised for Paralympic funding in their 2009 bid to the International Olympic Committee.

The bailout comes as Rio hospitals are understaffed, and some school classes have been suspended because teachers are staying away to protest delayed payments.

The Brazilian newspaper Estadao reported last month that the top eight executives of the Rio organizing committee were each paid an average of $25,000 per month in 2015.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach flatly denied public money was being used to patch up the local budget.

“There is no public money in the organization of these Olympic Games,” Bach said the day before the Olympics closed — and a day after the city hall financing was announced. “The budget of the organizing committee is privately financed. There is no public funding for this.”

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NO SPORTS CUT

Paralympic organizers say there have been no cuts to the sports, all will be contested as planned, and no delegations were forced to drop out.

“All the teams will be here,” Craven said.

All of Russia’s disabled athletes have been banned from the Paralympics for alleged involvement in Russia’s doping scandal. The ruling was upheld by the Swiss-basedCourt of Arbitration for Sport.

Paralympic organizers originally planned for 4,350 athletes. Paralympic spokesman Craig Spence said all of the 267 slots allotted to Russian athletes could not be filled, dropping the athlete total to 4,300.

He said athletes were “ring-fenced” from the cuts, but acknowledged they’ll still feel them.

“The service levels will be the same, but probably the athlete experience compared to previous games will suffer a little bit,” Spence said.

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TICKETS

Organizers hope to sell just over 2 million of the 2.5 million tickets available. Tickets are priced at 10 reals ($3), with some fans buying tickets as a cheap way to see the Olympic Park with no guarantee they will actually attend a sports events.

Organizers say sales have soared in the last two weeks with sales best for track and field, swimming, wheelchair basketball, five-a-side football, and seated volleyball.

Most of the events will be held in the Olympic Park in suburban Barra da Tijuca. The second Olympic cluster in Deodoro has been scaled back and will host only three sports — shooting, seven-player football and equestrian events. Wheelchair fencing has been moved from Deodoro to the Olympic Park.

Paralympic officials say if 1.8 million are sold it would be the second-best selling Paralympics after London four years ago. Beijing eight years ago drew 3.3 million, but only 1.7 million tickets were sold.

“There are not going to be empty stadiums,” Craven said. “Don’t worry about it.”

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SOME STARS

Here are some to watch .

Two visually impaired athletes — Jason Smyth of Ireland and Omara Durand of Cuba — are likely to be the fastest man and woman over 100 meters. American Tatyana McFadden is hoping to become the first track and field athlete to win seven golds at one Paralympic Games. 74-year-old Libby Kosmala of Australia is competing in her 12th Paralympics; Jonas Jacobsson, 51, of Sweden in his 10th — both in shooting. Siamand Rahman of Iran will try to become the first Paralympian to lift 300 kilos in powerlifting. Zahra Nemati, who was the flagbearer for Iran in the Rio Olympics, is the first Iranian woman to win gold in either the Olympics or Paralympics — she won gold in archery in London’s Paralympics. Brazilian swimmer Daniel Dias, who is seen as the Michael Phelps of the Paralympics, won four gold medals in Beijing and six in London, where he also set four world records. American Matt Stutzman is an armless archer who holds a world record for long-distance accuracy.

Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 season in ski and snowboard sports

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Most ski sports don’t hold world championships in even-numbered years, but the coronavirus pandemic brought World Cup campaigns to an early conclusion two years ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

With the seasons over, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team is collecting goggles to provide to health-care workers.

Here’s what we learned in various sports:

ALPINE: Mikaela Shiffrin has company 

The U.S. ski star was on pace to win her fourth straight World Cup season trophy before her father’s sudden passing in early February. She planned to return in March with an outside chance at keeping her title, but the remaining races of the season were canceled. Italy’s Federica Brignone took the trophy, with Shiffrin second.

While Shiffrin held a substantial lead in the World Cup before her hiatus, she wasn’t as unbeatable as she was in the 2018-19 season, when she won a staggering 17 times. That’s an impossible bar to clear, but Shiffrin’s rivals made up enough ground to make future World Cup season titles and the career win record seem less certain than they seemed a year ago.

In Shiffrin’s final slalom race, a discipline in which she has rarely lost in recent years, she placed third behind Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson. Ten days before that, she was second to Vlhova, whose progress impressed Shiffrin. That marked that first time since 2014 that she lost two straight slaloms in the same season. (She was second in the 2016-17 season finale and second again in the 2017-18 season opener, then won 12 of the next 13 slaloms.)

Shiffrin’s ability to get on the podium in any race, no matter the discipline, will make her the World Cup favorite for years to come. But the big prize won’t be as easy as she has made it seem in recent years, and at 66 career victories, she’ll need time to catch Lindsey Vonn‘s women’s record of 82 wins and Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record of 86.

CROSS-COUNTRY: Diggins, Bjornsen stay in world’s elite 

Jessie Diggins will forever be remembered for winning the 2018 Olympic team sprint with Kikkan Randall as NBC’s Chad Salmela screamed “HERE COMES DIGGINS,” but she also has a strong World Cup resume that she continues to build.

Diggins finished sixth in the season standings for the second straight year, a drop from her second-place finish in 2018 but still comfortably in the top 10. She was joined there by Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, who eighth-place season put her in the top 10 for the second time.

Bjornsen led the three-stage season opener in Ruka, Finland, after taking third in the sprint and finished fourth overall, one place ahead of Diggins, who took third in the pursuit. Diggins added four more podium finishes before the end of the season.

NORDIC COMBINED: Norway takes control 

Jarl Magnus Riiber won his second straight World Cup title at age 22, with fellow Norwegian Joergen Graabak taking a career-high second. Two more Norwegians were in the top six Jens Luraas Oftebro (fourth) and Espen Bjoernstad (sixth). 

In women’s Nordic combined, which is on track to become an Olympic event, U.S. athlete Tara Geraghty-Moats was a close second to Russia’s Stefaniya Nadymova.

READ: Geraghty-Moats has eyes on 2026

SKI JUMPING: U.S. women shut out 

A decade after leading the charge to get women’s ski jumping in the Olympics and eight years after teenager Sarah Hendrickson won the World Cup, the U.S. women went a whole season without an athlete picking up World Cup points. Hendrickson postponed her retirement but competed only on the Continental Cup this season.

U.S. women also won two of the first three ski jumping world championships Lindsey Van in 2009 and Hendrickson in 2013.

In men’s jumping, Austria’s Stefan Kraft edged out Germany’s Karl Geiger to reclaim the World Cup title he last held in 2017. Geiger’s previous career best was 10th in 2019. Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi, last year’s champion, took third.

FREESTYLE SKIING: Blunck keeps flying

U.S. halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck followed up his second straight world championship in 2019 with his first World Cup season title. Blunck won both events in the U.S. — December’s competition at Copper Mountain and February’s event at Mammoth Mountain. 

Colby Stevenson (slopestyle) and Alexander Hall (big air) were second in their events. Hall won twice, landing a switch left double 1800 to win in the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park. Stevenson also won at the X Games in Aspen.

In women’s competition, 18-year-old Marin Hamill was second in slopestyle, and Jaelin Kauf finished in the top three for the third straight year.

French skier Perrine Laffont had a dominant season in women’s moguls, winning all six regular moguls events and two of four dual moguls, to take her second straight World Cup title.

SNOWBOARDING: Corning wins in Atlanta and in World Cup

Atlanta’s SunTrust Park hosted a World Cup big air competition, with Chris Corning and Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi winning. Corning also won in Cardrona, New Zealand, and took his second big air season title to go along with slopestyle titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Dusty Henricksen was third in World Cup slopestyle on the strength of a win at Mammoth Mountain, followed by fellow U.S. teen Justus Henkes.

U.S. women’s snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Julia Marino won the only World Cup slopestyle events each one entered. Anderson also won the X Games slopestyle.

Olympic and world halfpipe champion Chloe Kim sat out the season after breaking an ankle in March 2019 and enrolling at Princeton.

BIATHLON: Never count out Dunklee 

Susan Dunklee hasn’t had great success on the World Cup circuit since taking a world championship silver medal in 2017, when she finished a career-best 10th in the World Cup, but she once again took world championship silver in the sprint at Antholz.

Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe won the men’s World Cup title despite missing two weeks after the birth of his first child, edging Frenchman Martin Fourcade by two points to spoil the seven-time World Cup champion’s final season.

Boe won his second straight World Cup title, as did Italy’s Dorothea Weirer in the women’s competition.

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Simon Ammann ramps up for one more run at Olympic ski jumping

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Simon Ammann, the Swiss ski jumper who gained fame for his resemblance to Harry Potter in 2002 and went to win all four Olympic ski jumps on North American soil this century, has walked back talk of retirement and now says he wants to continue through the 2022 Olympics.

Ammann won the normal hill and large hill in Salt Lake City in 2002. European ski jumpers don’t necessarily get attention from U.S. talk shows, but the 20-year-old Ammann had two things that set him apart. First, his wins were tremendous upsets. Second, he looked like Harry Potter.

He wound up appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” which makes him a wild-card connection in the Kevin Bacon game the peripatetic actor was the other guest on the show that night, and Ammann happily posed with Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick after the show.

Eight years later, Ammann duplicated the feat in Vancouver. This time, he left behind the Harry Potter glasses behind, though he made an enthusiastic walk through the mixed zone wearing comically oversized sunglasses that made him look like the Buggles’ Trevor Horn in the “Video Killed the Radio Star” video, the first music video on MTV.

In 2010, his victories weren’t quite as unexpected. He won the World Cup season title that year, sandwiched between two second-place finishes.

In 2002, on the other hand, he took off from the Olympic hill at Park City having never won a World Cup event. His two wins in the Olympics were his first two in any international competition in the FIS database.

Ammann has also had success in major competition in Asia. He took gold and silver in the 2007 world championships in Sapporo, Japan, the first two of his four career world championship medals. He also won a World Cup event in Sapporo in 2010.

In recent years, though, Ammann hasn’t been competitive on the World Cup circuit. He has been on the podium only once since 2015. Since taking his last major-event medal in 2011, his best result in the world championships was seventh place in 2013.

But he’s already shown he can, like Harry Potter, conjure a surprising performance.

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