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IOC satisfied with preparations for 2018 Winter Olympics

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Pyeongchang’s preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics are on course but South Korean organizers must step up efforts to promote the games worldwide, the head of the IOC’s inspection team said Friday.

Gunilla Lindberg, head of the International Olympic Committee’s coordination commission for the games, said her team was satisfied with the progress they saw in their latest three-day inspection visit.

According to Pyeongchang organizers, construction is on schedule for a series of 26 test events scheduled from November to April. They said six new competition venues for the games are now 90 percent complete.

“We saw firsthand the progress of the construction projects,” Lindberg said at a news conference. “There is no doubt that the venues will be ready for the upcoming test events.”

“My colleagues and I leave here more confident than ever that Pyeongchang 2018 will deliver great games,” she added.

The first test event will be a World Cup snowboard big air competition from Nov. 23-26. Snowboard big air will make its Olympic debut at the Pyeongchang Games.

A new high-speed rail line – designed to link the country’s main gateway of Incheon airport with Pyeongchang in less than two hours – will be completed in June and start operations in January 2018.

Lindberg said that the biggest challenge left for Pyeongchang is promoting the Olympics across the world.

Pyeongchang, a sleepy ski resort town in South Korea’s mountainous east, is a much smaller destination than Tokyo, which will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, and Beijing, which will host the 2022 Winter Games.

“The biggest challenge at the moment is … how to promote the games over the world, because this is a small place. It’s not Rio de Janeiro and it’s not London,” said Lindberg, who added that the upcoming test events, which will be televised internationally, will be an important opportunity to promote the games and showcase the level of preparation.

Another critical issue for Pyeongchang is securing the participation of National Hockey League players. IOC negotiations with the NHL have stalled over the IOC’s decision not to pay for NHL players’ travel and insurance as it has in the past.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly recently told The Associated Press he felt “negative” about the chances the league’s players will appear for a sixth straight Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games, said NHL representatives have agreed to pay an inspection visit to Pyeongchang later this month, which he described as a “very positive step.”

Dubi didn’t offer a firm answer on whether the IOC would consider allowing the NHL to skip the Pyeongchang Games before returning for Beijing in 2022.

“We definitely always try to have the participation of the best athletes. It is reassuring that NHL is coming to Pyeongchang and especially look at the operations in Gangneung,” he said.

“When it comes to the final participation … there is a date set at Jan. 15 to find an agreement,” Dubi said. “Until then it will be work between all parties involved to make sure that we get the participation of the very best, and that’s for both Pyeongchang and Beijing.”

The ice hockey tournament during the Pyeongchang Olympics will take place at a stadium in the nearby city of Gangneung.

Lee Hee-beom, head of the local organizing committee, said ticket sales will be launched in conjunction with the 1-year-to-go countdown in February.

MORE: Five athletes to watch at 2018 Winter Olympics

U.S. beats Japan in Olympic baseball qualifier, may still need help

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The U.S. handed Japan its first loss in the Premier12 global Olympic baseball qualifier, at the Tokyo Dome no less, but now the Americans must root for the host nation.

The Americans, with a roster mostly of Double-A and Triple-A players, won 4-3 over a Japanese team that includes some of its domestic league’s biggest stars like two-time Central League MVP Yoshihiro Maru and veteran shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.

Outfielder Jo Adell, MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect on the U.S. team, starred by reaching base four times with a home run.

Japan is already qualified for baseball’s Olympic return as the host nation.

The U.S., meanwhile, has a sense of urgency at Premier12, the first of a possible three tournaments in which it could clinch an Olympic spot.

At Premier12, the top-ranked nation from North and South America qualifies for the Olympics. The tournament is at the super-round stage of the final six teams, and two are from the Americas: the U.S. and Mexico.

The top four nations after each has played five games advance to gold- and bronze-medal games.

Mexico already beat the U.S. and ran its super-round record to 3-0 on Tuesday, clinching a spot in the medal round.

The U.S. moved to 1-2 in the super round on Tuesday and must at least get into the same medal-round game as Mexico to keep its hope of finishing as the top team from the Americas.

Japan could help, since it plays Mexico on Wednesday. If Mexico beats Japan, the Mexicans clinch a spot in the gold-medal game, which would put more pressure on the U.S. to win its last two games (vs. Australia on Wednesday and Chinese Taipei on Friday). Even then, South Korea would get into the gold-medal game if it wins out.

If the U.S. is not the top team from the Americas at Premier12, it can still earn an Olympic berth in March. But then it faces trying to come up with a roster at the end of MLB’s spring training rather than during the offseason. MLB teams may be less inclined to release minor leaguers.

“That’ll be a delicate dance,” U.S. general manager Eric Campbell said before Premier12.

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MORE: AL MVP nixes unretirement for Olympic baseball qualifying

College gymnast dies after practice accident

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — An accomplished gymnast at Southern Connecticut State University has died following a serious spinal cord injury suffered in a training accident.

Melanie Coleman, 20, of Milford, Connecticut, was training Friday at New Era Gymnastics in Hamden when she was injured, said her mother, Susan Coleman.

She was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital and died Sunday.

Coleman was a former All State gymnast at Jonathan Law High School in Milford and was captain of the school’s gymnastics team. She was named a Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association Scholastic All-American this year.

Her former club coach, Tom Alberti, said she attained a level 10, the highest level in the USA Junior Olympics Program.

She was a junior studying nursing, following in the footsteps of her two older sisters, her mother said.

“She’s from a very large, loving family; there’s seven of us, we were the Coleman seven,” Susan Coleman said. “We spent every day together for the past 20 years.”

She volunteered at the gym where her accident occurred.

Her coaches and professors described her as a special young woman who excelled in both the classroom and gym, college President Joe Berolino said in a written statement.

“Our deepest sympathies are extended to her family and friends on this tragic loss,” he said.

People the family has met by traveling to gymnastics events around the country are giving support that is “holding us up,” Coleman’s mother said.

She described her children, which also include two sons older than Melanie, as “inseparable.”

“We’re going to leave an empty space in our photos for her” from now on, Susan Coleman said.