Vladimir Putin allows Russians to compete at Pyeongchang Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t boycott the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Putin said Wednesday his government will allow Russians to compete as neutral athletes at the upcoming Winter Games in South Korea.

The International Olympic Committee banned the Russian team as punishment for doping violations at the Sochi Olympics. The IOC, however, plans to invite individual Russians to compete under the Olympic Flag.

“Without any doubt we will not declare any kind of blockade,” Putin said in televised remarks after launching his re-election campaign at an automobile factory. “We will not block our Olympians from taking part, if any of them wish to take part as individuals.

“They have been preparing for these competitions for their whole careers, and for them it’s very important.”

Putin said Russia still did not accept accusations that it ran a state-backed doping system around the Sochi Olympics, and called the IOC ruling unfair “collective punishment.”

Russian athletes, coaches and politicians have lined up to condemn the IOC ruling, but most say it’s better to accept it and compete.

Russian IOC member Yelena Isinbayeva, a two-time Olympic pole vault champion, came out against a boycott.

“I’d like to tell all Russian athletes preparing for the Olympics in Pyeongchang not to get disappointed in any case and definitely not to do anything stupid like a boycott,” Isinbayeva told state TV. “It’s clearly not worth it.”

She said the IOC choice of “Olympic Athletes from Russia” as the official designation, instead of a more neutral tag, decided the issue for her.

Some Russian sports officials have been criticized for not doing enough to prevent the ban, with senior lawmakers and sports figures calling for them to be fired.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said blaming officials was not a priority and that “protecting the interests of our athletes” was more important.

Under particular pressure is Vitaly Mutko.

He was Russia’s sports minister during the Sochi Olympics, when the IOC ruled drug-test samples were tampered with as part of a doping scheme. Mutko is now a deputy prime minister and in charge of the country’s preparations for next year’s soccer World Cup.

He was barred from the Olympics for life by the IOC on Tuesday.

“(Mutko) took the country into such a nightmare,” figure skating coach Tatyana Tarasova said, according to R-Sport, accusing him of not doing enough to protect Russian athletes from accusations of doping. “I’m sorry for the people who have suffered because of his incompetence.”

The Kremlin vehemently denied running a state-sponsored doping program. State media on Wednesday dismissed the ban as part of a plot to hurt Russia.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the Russian parliament’s upper house, said the ruling is “clearly part of the West’s policy to restrain Russia.”

But he also insisted that local sports officials are to blame and “ought to bear personal responsibility” for letting it happen.

Vladimir Poletayev, deputy chairman of the committee on procedures at the Federation Council, went even further.

“All our sports officials, including the Russian Olympic Committee, ought to be personally accountable for the ban on Russia and ought to step down,” Poletayev said, according to RIA Novosti.

Also Wednesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said it registered appeals by 22 Russian athletes against their disqualifications from the Sochi Olympics for doping.

CAS said the athletes have requested verdicts before the Pyeongchang Games open Feb. 9. The appeals relate to earlier bans against individual athletes, not the ruling on the Russian team.

The IOC is now working on “operational guidelines” that will oversee enforcing restrictions on Russian participation in Pyeongchang.

These include approving a manufacturer and a design of team uniforms, and what Russian symbols, such as national flags, fans will be allowed to use in Olympic venues.

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Former ski jumper closer to Tour de France podium

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Slovenian Primoz Roglic, a former ski jumper, finished ahead of Tour de France leader Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome in Saturday’s Stage 14, moving eight seconds closer to a possible podium in Paris in eight days.

Nearly 20 minutes after Spain’s Omar Fraile won the stage, Roglic finished eight seconds ahead of Thomas, Froome and Tom Dumoulin, the top three in the Tour standings.

Roglic went from 2:46 behind Thomas to 2:38 behind and moved to 48 seconds behind Dumoulin for third. The 28-year-old Roglic won a junior world title in ski jumping in the team event in 2007 before switching to cycling.

Roglic won a stage in his Tour debut in 2017 and finished 38th overall, then took time trial silver at the world championships.

This season, Roglic won the Tour de Romandie and the Tour of the Basque Country. Now, he’s eyeing Slovenia’s best overall finish in Tour history. Right now, that distinction is shared by Tadej Valjavec and Jani Brajkovic, who were ninth in 2008 and 2012.

The Tour continues Sunday with stage 15, featuring a category-one climb but a descent to the finish, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).

While the Welshman Thomas is attempting to win the Tour for the first time, the Kenyan-born Froome is aiming for a record-tying fifth victory in cycling’s biggest race.

Stage 15 from Millau to Carcassonne is another hilly leg before the race’s second rest day on Monday. Then come the Pyrenees and a possibly decisive individual time trial in the penultimate stage before the traditional finish in Paris next weekend.

“We have a plan for the first mountain stage,” Thomas said. “If we go against each other and Dumoulin wins then we would look really stupid. It is the first time I have raced for three weeks as a GC (general classification) leader, so it is an unknown for me.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Paul Chelimo grab defining wins at London Diamond League

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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce had not raced in the Diamond League in two years. Paul Chelimo had never won at an international meet.

Both grabbed wins at the first day of a Diamond League stop at the London Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

Fraser-Pryce, the two-time Olympic 100m champion who missed 2017 due to pregnancy, broke 11 seconds for the first time as a mother. She won in 10.98 seconds, edging American Dezerea Bryant by .06.

“I cannot complain because I haven’t raced for ages and I’m happy that the run today was under 11 seconds,” said Fraser-Pryce, who has raced in smaller meets this spring and summer. “It’s hard work racing after having a child, but it’s not as though it’s anything I’m not used to. I’m used to sacrificing and making sure that my path is right. Being a mother is my first priority and to come back and be flexible with my training is wonderful and I’m so excited about next year now.”

The field lacked the world’s top sprinters — like Rio gold medalist Elaine Thompson and world champ Tori Bowie — but the Jamaican Fraser-Pryce impressed with the fastest time in the heats an hour before the final.

In the men’s 100m, meet headliner Christian Coleman withdrew before the heats with a hamstring injury. Coleman, the 2017 World silver medalist, missed all June meets with a hamstring injury. Countryman Ronnie Baker won in 9.90 in his absence, .02 off the fastest time in the world this season that he shares with Noah Lyles.

Full London results are here. The two-day meet concludes Sunday, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA at 9 a.m. ET and NBC Sports Gold at 8:45.

In other events, Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo became the second U.S. man to win a Diamond League 5000m. Chelimo surged past Ethiopian Yomif Kejelecha in the last straightaway for his first international win, according to Tilastopaja.org. He clocked 13:14.01 with world champion Muktar Edris of Ethiopia grabbing second in 13:14.35 ahead of Kejelcha.

The only other American man to win a Diamond League 5000m was Ben True in 2014.

The 2012 Olympic 400m champion Kirani James finished third in his first Diamond League race since his Rio Olympic silver medal. James, of Grenada, missed time after being diagnosed with Graves’ Disease.

James led up until about 300 meters and faded in the last straightaway as Qatar’s Abdalleleh Haroun won in 44.07. James crossed in 44.50, just off his 2018 best time of 44.35 that ranks him 10th in the world this season.

In the pole vault, Sam Kendricks outdueled Renaud Lavillenie, clearing 5.92 meters to better the Frenchman for a 12th time in their last 15 head-to-heads, according to Tilastopaja.

U.S. champion Shamier Little outleaned Jamaican Janieve Russell to win the 400m hurdles by .01 in 53.95. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad was third in 54.86.

“I put my soul into that lean,” Little said, according to meet organizers.

Little, the 2015 World silver medalist, has been best in the event in the second half of the season, following her June national title with two straight Diamond League wins. The fastest woman this year is American Sydney McLaughlin (52.75), who appears to have ended her season at the NCAA Championships in early June.

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