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Winter Olympics forecast: Germany, Norway top medal table

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Simon Gleave is piecing together results from his statistical model to predict the top medal-winning countries for next year’s PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

He has one large problem: will Russia be in, or out, or somewhere in between?

Gleave, the head of analysis for Gracenote Sports, has created a virtual medal table on the assumption that Russia’s full team will participate and not be subject to a doping ban.

“At the moment we assume with everything we’re doing that Russia is in,” Gleave said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The International Olympic Committee said it hopes to decide on Russian eligibility in December with the Olympics opening on Feb. 9. But it may drag right up to the eve of the Games, as it did for Rio.

On Wednesday, Olympic officials in PyeongChang marked 100 days to go until the Opening Ceremony.

With Russia in, Gleave predicts that Germany will win the most gold medals, and the most overall. Germany is predicted to win 14 golds and 35 overall, followed by Norway with 12 gold and 32 overall.

The United States is next with 10 gold and 29 overall. Canada is predicted to win 31 overall, more than the Americans but with fewer gold.

After Germany, Norway and the United States, the top 10 in the gold medals are: France (9), Austria (7), South Korea (7), Netherlands (6), Russia (6), China (6) and Canada (5).

If Russia is out, Gracenote figures the 21 overall medals would be distributed among 11 different countries. The big winners would be Germany and the Netherlands.

Its six gold medals would go to the Netherlands (2) with one each for Canad6a, Germany, Japan, and Norway.

Accustomed to dealing with the unpredictable, Gleave said there is another dark spot.

Men’s hockey will be tougher to predict, since NHL players will not participate. That leaves him relying on results from recent world championships.

“The strong countries in ice hockey are the strong countries in ice hockey – whether it’s their first teams playing or their second teams,” he said. But he acknowledged his picks for men’s hockey will not be “as strong” as in other events.

To get his predictions for all sports, Gleave weighs results in recent world championships and other world-class events, giving more weight to the most recent.

In the case of winter sports, most seasons are just beginning. Gleave said he expects “minor changes” when he calculates the standings again in January with a month to go.

“It won’t change enormously,” Gleave said. “But there will be changes.”

At last year’s Rio Olympics, Gleave said 80 percent of the eventual medalists came from a top-eight list he compiled for every discipline. He said he expected the same for Pyeongchang.

This is Gleave’s fourth analysis, which he began for the 2012 London Olympics as a project for The Times of London.

He’s now doing it for Gracenote, which bills itself as a “sports and entertainment provider” that supplies statistical analysis for sports leagues around the world.

“We develop it as we go along to try to make some improvements,” he said. “But improvements in this are only very tiny. It’s very difficult to predict the unpredictable, which is obviously what makes sport most interesting.”

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MORE: PyeongChang Olympic schedule daily highlights

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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