Russia athletes can qualify for PyeongChang Paralympics as neutrals

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Russia’s ban from Paralympic competition was extended until November, putting the nation at further risk of being excluded from the PyeongChang Winter Games in March, but there are reasons for optimism.

The International Paralympic Committee is “impressed and encouraged” at significant progress made by Russia to meet anti-doping criteria for reinstatement, president Philip Craven said in a press release Wednesday.

The IPC is confident enough that it is allowing Russian athletes to attempt to qualify for the Winter Games. Athletes can apply to be cleared as neutral athletes apart from the Russian flag and federations, similar to the current setup for Olympic track and field athletes.

“This limited interim measure is intended to preserve the ability of the RPC [Russia Paralympic Committee] to enter its qualified athletes into the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games should it have its suspension lifted in time,” the IPC said. “The IPC also hopes this decision will further encourage the RPC and importantly the Russian authorities to meet the remaining reinstatement criteria as soon as possible.”

Russia has been banned from IPC-sanctioned competition since August 2016 due to its poor anti-doping record. That included a suspension from the Rio Games last September.

Russia topped the Winter Paralympic medal standings in 2006, 2010 and 2014. It won a record 80 medals and 30 golds in Sochi, more than three times as many as the second-place nations.

Craven is confident that Russia can meet five of seven remaining reinstatement conditions “in the near future.” The other two — the reinstatement of Russia’s anti-doping agency (RUSADA) and the acknowledgment and acceptance of the McLaren Report into Russian doping — have to wait until a World Anti-Doping Agency meeting in November.

Russians will be able to compete as neutrals in four of the six Winter Paralympic sports this fall — Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing and snowboarding.

Russia already missed the chance to qualify for PyeongChang in hockey. That’s key, as Russia took silver behind the U.S. men at the Sochi Paralympics and bronze at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds before its suspension.

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