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The ripple effects of banning Russia from 2018 Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — When the International Olympic Committee board prepares to vote Tuesday on whether to ban Russia from February’s Winter Olympics, its members will decide the fate of numerous medals yet to be won.

If there’s a blanket ban on Russia for its doping offenses at the 2014 Olympics — or restrictions that prompt Russia to boycott the 2018 Games — it could mean the end of compelling storylines and a slide into irrelevance for the men’s hockey tournament.

Gracenote Sports, which forecasts a “virtual medal table” based on recent results, predicts Russia will win 21 medals, six of them gold, if it competes in Pyeongchang.

That puts Russia eighth on predicted gold medals, or joint fifth on total medals. If Russia is banned, opportunities open up for many other countries.

Here is a look at more possible consequences.

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HOCKEY IN JEOPARDY

The men’s hockey tournament at the next Winter Olympics is already the first without the NHL’s participation since 1994, but banning Russia could diminish it even further.

The Moscow-based Kontinental Hockey League is widely considered the world’s second-strongest league, and it’s threatening to withdraw all its players from the Olympics if Russia is banned.

Russia would otherwise be the gold medal favorite thanks to ex-NHL players like Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, who now play in the KHL.

The U.S., Canada and other countries also plan to use KHL players, so losing them could deal a heavy blow to the audience figures of a tournament that’s already struggling to attract attention.

The International Ice Hockey Federation called Tuesday for “full participation of all clean Russian athletes,” saying that punishing Russia too harshly would put “the health of ice hockey at risk.”

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BACKLASH

A Russia ban could also cause a backlash against athletes perceived to benefit.

Gabriela Koukalova of the Czech Republic, one of the biggest names in biathlon, called for a ban on Russia on her Facebook page last week, only to be deluged with hundreds of insults in English and Russian.

Alongside sexist putdowns, some suggested Koukalova — who is in line to pick up a relay bronze from 2014 due to a Russian disqualification — wouldn’t be safe if she competes in Russia again.

The issue of Russian doping has caused rifts between athletes, too.

During February’s world biathlon championships, French athlete Martin Fourcade walked off the podium when the Russian mixed relay team — which included an athlete newly returned from a doping ban — was awarded its medals.

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AHN’S RETURN

One of Pyeongchang’s most compelling storylines depends on Russia taking part.

Viktor Ahn was a star speedskater for South Korea under the name Ahn Hyun-soo, winning three Olympic gold medals, but his career seemed finished when he failed to make the team for Vancouver in 2010.

Ahn then stunned skating fans by switching to Russia and winning three more gold medals in Sochi.

His return home to South Korea in a Russian uniform for the Pyeongchang Olympics is hotly anticipated.

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NORDIC OPPORTUNITIES

With no Russians, the Nordic events would be shaken up.

Cross-country skier Sergei Ustyugov won two gold and three silver medals at February’s world championships in a compelling rivalry with Norwegian Martin Johnsrud Sundby.

If he’s absent from Pyeongchang, that opens up opportunities for the Norwegians, plus countries like Finland, Italy and Canada.

The United States is hunting its first ever women’s cross-country medal, an easier task if Russia isn’t there.

The absence of Russia’s top biathlete, Anton Shipulin, would help Germany and France’s medal chances.

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YOUNG STARS BARRED

A blanket ban for offenses from 2014 inevitably hits athletes who weren’t part of any doping system.

There’s been no suggestion of any wrongdoing by reigning two-time world figure skating champion Evgenia Medvedeva — not least because she was just 14 years old in February 2014.

Medvedeva’s teammate Alina Zagitova, also a medal contender for Pyeongchang, was just 11 during Sochi.

Sports like figure skating and curling have seen some accusations of wrongdoing by athletes around the time of the Sochi Olympics, but no cases have resulted in bans.

The only figure skater so far to have faced an IOC disciplinary panel, 2014 gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova, was cleared.

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OTHER OPTIONS

The IOC has never before imposed a blanket ban for doping and refused to do so for last year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Instead, the IOC passed the decision to the various sports federations, resulting in Russia being kicked out of track and field — except for one athlete — and weightlifting, but allowing Russia to field full teams in many sports.

The Winter Olympics are different, not least because the most serious allegations against Russian officials relate to its hosting of the last Winter Games in Sochi in 2014.

The IOC has already banned 25 individual Russians for doping in Sochi. Even if the Russian team competes, those 25 won’t be there unless they can overturn those bans on appeal.

Besides a blanket ban, the IOC could also force Russians to compete as neutrals, without their flag or anthem.

Neutral status has been used before when a country is under United Nations sanctions — like Yugoslavia in 1992 during the conflict there — or last year when Kuwait was suspended by the IOC due to government interference in sports. The Kuwaitis were officially known as “Independent Olympic Athletes.”

A similar approach was used for Russia at this year’s world track championships, but it often seemed to draw extra attention to the Russians who competed. As “neutral” high jumper Ilya Ivanyuk said, “everyone knows where we’re from.”

Russian authorities fiercely oppose neutral status as a symbolic humiliation but have stopped short of saying they would boycott the Olympics if it came to pass. For many of Russia’s critics, taking away the flag does nothing to remove questionable Russian competitors.

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MORE: Yevgenia Medvedeva to speak at IOC meeting on Russia, reports say

Beatrice Chepkoech crushes steeplechase world record (video)

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Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech crushed the 3000m steeplechase world record by eight seconds at a Diamond League meet in Monaco on Friday.

Chepkoech clocked 8:44.32, easily beating Olympic champion Ruth Jebet‘s mark of 8:52.78. Coincidentally, the IAAF confirmed Friday that Bahrain’s Jebet, who was born in Kenya, has been suspended the last five months after testing positive for EPO.

Between Jebet and Chepkoech, the steeple world record has come down 14 seconds since the Rio Games. Chepkoech began competition running in 2011 and didn’t concentrate on the steeplechase until 2016.

“I was thinking maybe I can break 8:50, but not at all was I dreaming about 8:44,” Chepkoech said, according to meet organizers.

Chepkoech, 27, was best-known for missing the first water jump in the 2017 World Championships final, retracing her steps and recovering to finish fourth. That helped lead the way to the stunning U.S. one-two finish with Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs.

In Friday’s race, Frerichs broke Coburn’s American record by clocking 9:00.85 for second place.

Full Monaco results are here. The Diamond League moves to London for a two-day meet Saturday and Sunday (broadcast/stream info here).

In other Monaco events, Caster Semenya clocked her second-fastest 800m of all time to extend her near-three-year win streak. The Olympic and world champion clocked 1:54.60. Semenya’s personal best is still .97 shy of the world record.

“Today wanted to break 1:54 but maybe next time,” Semenya said. “I was not thinking about the world record today and actually it is not on my mind.”

A pursuit of the 35-year-old mark will be impacted severely if an IAAF rule limiting testosterone in female middle-distance runners goes into effect next season as scheduled. Semenya is challenging it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Noah Lyles won the 200m in 19.65 seconds, the world’s fastest time since Usain Bolt‘s last world title in 2015. Lyles, the U.S. 100m champion, remained undefeated in outdoor 200m races since finishing fourth at the Olympic Trials as an 18-year-old.

Lyles did a somersault when introduced before the race and a standing back flip celebrating afterward.

Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo won the 400m in the world’s fastest time in nine years — 49.97 seconds — edging world silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain. Naser, 20, ran 49.08, destroying her Asian record of 49.55, but lost for the first time in nearly one year.

Botswana’s Nijel Amos ran the world’s fastest 800m since the epic 2012 Olympic final, clocking 1:42.14 against a field that did not include injured world-record holder David Rudisha.

Marie-Josée Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast won a deep 100m in 10.89 seconds, confirming she is currently the world’s fastest woman. Ta Lou also has the fastest time in the world this year of 10.85 and hasn’t lost over 100m in 2018. The race lacked world champion Tori Bowie, while Olympic champion Elaine Thompson was third in 11.02.

Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot took the 1500m in the fastest time in the world since the 2015 Monaco meet — 3:28.41. Cheruiyot, who came to Monaco with the world’s top three times this year, edged world champion Elijah Manangoi (3:29.64).

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, 17, was fourth in 3:31.18, taking 2.54 seconds off the U18 world record and nearly six seconds off his personal best, according to the IAAF. U.S. Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz was seventh in 3:31.77, his fastest time since Monaco 2015.

World silver medalist Soufiane El Bakkali became the first steeplechaser to break eight minutes in three years. The Moroccan won in 7:58.15, while U.S. Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager was second in 8:01.02.

Two-time Olympic champion Christian Taylor beat Cuban-born Portuguese rival Pedro Pablo Pichardo in the triple jump, leaping 17.86 meters.

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MORE: Olympic stars demand IAAF rescind testosterone rule

Suspect confesses to Denis Ten killing

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MOSCOW (AP) — One of two men detained in Kazakhstan on suspicion of killing Olympic figure skating medalist Denis Ten has confessed, authorities said Friday.

Prosecutor Berik Zhuyrektayev said in a televised statement that Nuraly Kiyasov “confessed his guilt in the presence of an attorney” while being questioned over the 25-year-old skater’s death Thursday in the Kazakh city of Almaty.

The prosecutor didn’t give further details of what exactly Kiyasov had said.

Police have also detained 23-year-old Arman Kudaibergenov in connection with Ten’s death, which has prompted national mourning. Authorities released a picture of the disheveled-looking man being held by masked men wearing body armor and camouflage uniforms.

Ten was stabbed after a dispute with people who allegedly tried to steal a mirror from his car in his home city of Almaty. He died in hospital of massive blood loss from multiple wounds, the Kazinform news agency said.

Prosecutors are treating his death as murder.

Kazinform reported that Kiyasov was taken to the scene of the crime under heavy security Friday as part of the investigation.

Ten’s bronze in Sochi in 2014 made him Kazakhstan’s first Olympic medalist in figure skating. He also won the Four Continents Championships in 2015 and was a world silver medalist in 2013.

He struggled with injuries in recent years and could only finish 27th at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Ten had been working on a script in recent months which the Kazakh-Russian director Timur Bekmambetov said Friday would now be turned into a movie.

“We’re definitely going to try to realize his idea and shoot a film dedicated to this multi-talented person,” Bekmambetov said in comments released by Kazakhstan’s embassy to Russia. “In his 25 years, Ten managed to do very much and had grand plans which he would surely have put into practice because he was a real hard worker.”

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