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Olympic figure skating team event qualifiers announced

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The Olympic figure skating team event qualifiers via the International Skating Union (ISU):

1. Canada
2. Russia*
3. United States
4. Japan
5. China
6. Italy
7. France
8. Germany
9. Israel
10. South Korea
Alternate: Australia

Spain would have made it in ninth place had it enough skaters qualified in individual Olympic events to participate in the team event. But it did not qualify any women or pairs teams for Pyeongchang.

Russia’s status is unknown given the IOC’s sanctions against its National Olympic Committee.

“The IOC is currently preparing all operational details relating to the participation of the Olympic Athletes of Russia (OAR) which will be communicated as soon as available,” the ISU said earlier Saturday.

An IOC panel will at some point invite selected Russian athletes to compete at the Olympics. At least one man, one woman, one pair and one ice dance couple must be invited for the Olympic Athletes from Russia team to be eligible for the team event.

Russia easily won the first Olympic team event in Sochi, with Canada taking silver and the U.S. bronze, both comfortably as well.

Russia and Canada could have a tight battle for gold in Pyeongchang given Canada has improved in the women’s event with the reigning world silver and bronze medalists.

Canada’s key could be the performance of Sochi silver medalist Patrick Chan.

The three-time world champ has been the only reliable Canadian man for several years but struggled in his opening Grand Prix event this season in October, then withdrew from his only other scheduled competition before next month’s nationals.

Meanwhile, Russia’s men’s program improved greatly this year, putting two men in the exclusive six-man Grand Prix Final.

If Russia outscores Canada in the men’s portion of the team program, that might be enough for a second straight Olympic title.

The U.S. is in a similar position to four years ago — clear bronze-medal favorite — thanks to Nathan Chen and ice dance depth.

The U.S. will have to use the same pairs team in both team event programs because it only qualified one entry for the Olympic pairs event. It can sub out skaters in two of the other three team event disciplines between the short and long programs.

The top eight nations from the 2014 Olympic team event all qualified for Pyeongchang, where the team event will again begin the day before the Opening Ceremony.

The top five out of 10 nations after the short programs advance to the free skates.

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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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