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U.S. Olympic luge team finalized with nail-biting result

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Tucker West left no doubt, clinching his second U.S. Olympic luge berth with a World Cup podium Friday. Two of his countrymen, meanwhile, are going to PyeongChang by a fraction of a second.

The doubles team of Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk made the Olympics by six hundredths of a second in Lake Placid, N.Y. That meant Jake Hyrns and Anthony Espinoza missed the Olympic team by six hundredths of a second.

The race for the last doubles spot was the most exciting as the U.S. luge team was finalized at the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic site in the last 24 hours.

Krewson and Sherk, first-time Olympians, are part of this full U.S. luge team for PyeongChang:

Erin Hamlin (qualified last month)
Summer Britcher
Emily Sweeney
Tucker West
Chris Mazdzer
Taylor Morris
Matt Mortensen/Jayson Terdiman
Justin Krewson
/Andrew Sherk

The full list of U.S. athletes qualified for PyeongChang across all sports is here.

All of those 10 lugers competed in Sochi save Sweeney, Morris and Krewson and Sherk.

Krewson, 21, and Sherk, 25, were essentially in a race-off Friday with Hyrns and Espinoza, both 24, for the second and final doubles berth behind Mortensen and Terdiman.

Hyrns and Espinoza had the edge by .012 after the first of two runs but slowed negligibly in the second run.

Krewson and Sherk sped up in the second run to steal the Olympic berth with a sixth-place finish overall, matching their best result since teaming in 2015 (Sherk previously slid with Hyrns).

Mortensen and Terdiman were fifth in Friday’s race won by Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, the Germans who captured the last seven World Cup doubles races dating to last season (non-sprint). Full results are here.

Mortensen and Terdiman, who raced in Sochi with different partners, made three World Cup podiums last season and finished third in the season standings.

A U.S. doubles team hasn’t won a World Cup race in 12 years or an Olympic medal since 2002.

Later Friday, West went into the last Olympic qualifying race knowing his PyeongChang berth was nearly sewn up. It would have taken an incredible finish from two other Americans to bump him off the Olympic team.

No matter, West set the track record in his first run and ended up third overall (losing his track record to Russian winner Roman Repilov in the second run).

But no U.S. man has made a World Cup podium on a non-North American track since February 2016.

The World Cup stopped at the PyeongChang Olympic venue last February, where the top American was Mazdzer in 12th. That did not boost hopes for the first U.S. Olympic men’s singles luge medal this February.

Morris, who missed the 2014 Olympic team by one spot, made the Olympics with a fifth-place finish Friday. Mazdzer was eighth.

The women’s team has been the U.S.’ strongest in recent seasons and heads to PyeongChang with multiple medal hopes.

It is led by Hamlin, the Sochi bronze medalist who was the first luger to make the Olympic team last month. Britcher and Sweeney each clinched berths before the final qualifying race Saturday.

Britcher went to Sochi as a surprise U.S. Olympian — youngest on the women’s luge team at age 19 — on her first season on the World Cup circuit.

Britcher finished 15th in Sochi, third out of three U.S. women, after upsetting 2010 Olympian Julia Clukey for the last spot on the team.

Since, she has won three World Cups and made the podium in four others. Britcher at one point led the World Cup standings early in the 2015-16 season.

Britcher’s consistency this season helped her qualify for the Olympics without having to sweat it out in Lake Placid like the doubles teams and some of the men.

Ditto for Sweeney, who won a World Cup sprint race (a non-Olympic event) in Winterberg last month.

The Olympic favorites are Germans Natalie Geisenberger and Tatjana Huefner, the last two gold medalists.

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Blake Leeper, Olympic hopeful double amputee, has prosthetics ruled ineligible

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Blake Leeper, a double amputee who finished fifth in the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships 400m, had his prosthetic legs ruled ineligible for major international able-bodied competition such as the Olympics.

World Athletics made the ruling as part of a months-long case that will go on. Leeper confirmed Thursday morning a Washington Post report that he is appealing.

A World Athletics review group “concluded that Mr. Leeper had not established that his prostheses do not provide him with an overall competitive advantage,” according to a World Athletics statement. “Under the current rule [introduced in 2015], the burden of proof lies with the athlete to show that prostheses do not provide them with an overall competitive advantage.”

Leeper, a 2012 Paralympic medalist, sprints fast enough to be a contender for the U.S. Olympic team, should he be deemed eligible. A fifth-place finisher in the 400m at nationals usually makes an Olympic or world team for the 4x400m relay.

But when Leeper recorded that finish in Des Moines last summer, he was running under conditional allowance while his World Athletics case was ongoing. He was not ultimately selected to race at worlds last fall.

World Athletics said then that his nationals results would not be ratified because he had not proven that his legs did not provide “an overall competitive advantage over an athlete not using such aid.”

Leeper’s case is reminiscent of South African Oscar Pistorius.

Pistorius won a legal battle to race on his prosthetics at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics in the 400m with a personal best of 45.07. He was eliminated in the semifinals at both meets.

Leeper lowered his personal best to 44.38 seconds at nationals, a time that would have easily made the 2016 Olympic team.

“They keep changing the rules,” Leeper, who has been coached by, among others, Super Bowl champion wide receiver Willie Gault, said last summer. “For somebody to try to dictate and tell me how tall I should be or whatever I should be running on I think is just really unfair.”

In 2018, the International Paralympic Committee said Leeper was running on invalid blades for its record purposes because he had yet to be classified under a new maximum allowable standing height (MASH) formula.

Michael Norman, the world’s fastest 400m sprinter last year, said he had no issue racing with Leeper. But others in the past, when Pistorius became the first double amputee to race at worlds and the Olympics, said they wouldn’t have been so sure had Pistorius been running the kind of times that Leeper posted in recent years.

“Walk a mile in my legs,” Leeper said of those who believe he has a competitive advantage. “Understand the things that I go through as a double-leg amputee. There’s some days my legs are swollen, they’re sore, they’re bleeding, they’re bruised. I can’t even have the strength to put ’em on to walk to the bathroom.

“Anybody that faces a disability, to actually look them in the face and say they have an advantage is just crazy to me. I guarantee if that’s the case, you’ll see a lot more people amputating their legs and coming and trying to qualify for the U.S. trials.”

Leeper was born without lower legs and has used prosthetics since he was a toddler. He earned 200m bronze and 400m silver (behind Pistorius) in his class at the 2012 London Paralympics, then served a cocaine ban.

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Chad le Clos seeks Sun Yang’s Olympic gold medal for doping case

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NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Chad le Clos believes he has a claim on Sun Yang’s gold medal from the Rio Olympics, with a verdict imminent on the Chinese swimmer’s latest doping case.

“He should be banned. It’s as simple as that,” Le Clos said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “Anyone who tests positive should be banned. I should get my gold medal back from Rio.

“Not for the moment. I lost that. I don’t really care about that,” Le Clos added on Wednesday. “It’s just for my record. If I break my leg and I can’t swim again I want my record to say, ‘Two individual golds, two individual silvers.’ Because that’s what it should be.”

Le Clos’ Olympic record currently contains one gold medal and three silvers — including a second-place finish to Sun in the Rio Olympic 200m free

Odds are, though, that Sun won’t lose any Olympic titles when the Court of Arbitration for Sport issues its ruling over his alleged refusal to provide blood and urine in September 2018 in a visit by sample collectors to his home in China. During the late-night confrontation, a security guard used a hammer to smash a container holding Sun’s blood as the swimmer lit the scene with his mobile phone.

The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed after swimming federation FINA merely warned Sun and cited doubts about credentials shown by three sample collection officials.

A three-time Olympic champion, Sun could be banished from the sport for up to eight years but any ban likely won’t be backdated before September 2018 — meaning all of his Olympic medals seem safe.

But there’s also the fact that international swimming authorities worked to protect Sun from being banned, according to a Swiss supreme court document.

FINA has faced criticisms in the past for favoring Sun during his career. It did not announce Sun’s three-month ban for doping imposed by Chinese authorities until after it ended in 2014.

“I just hope the system and whatever we have is really accurate,” said Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú, who won three golds in Rio. “I just hope the decisions they are making is fair and is for the sport and not for other reasons.”

The medals that Sun risks losing most are the two golds that he won at last year’s world championships in the 200m and 400m frees. At the event in Gwangju, South Korea, fellow medalists Mack Horton of Australia and Duncan Scott of Britain refused to stand with him on the podium.

Sun has denied any wrongdoing. Any ban imposed in the coming days would likely prevent him from competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“I have nothing against anybody. It’s not personal,” Le Clos said. “It’s just how the world should be. If you cheat or if you do something wrong, like if you false start, you get disqualified. It’s simple as that.”

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