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Russian athletes to compete as neutrals at Paralympics

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BONN, Germany (AP) — Russia was banned Monday from the PyeongChang Paralympics because of its doping past.

However, the International Paralympic Committee said about 30-35 Russians will be allowed to compete in five sports as neutral athletes at the Winter Games, which run from March 8-18.

That mirrors the situation for next month’s Olympics. The Russian team has been barred, but 169 Russians have been invited to compete.

“We are not rewarding Russia, but we are allowing athletes that we believe are clean to compete under a neutral flag,” IPC president Andrew Parsons said.

It will be the second Paralympics without a Russian team.

The country was also excluded from the Rio Paralympics. Since then, there has been enough improvement to justify allowing Russians to compete as neutral athletes after extra drug testing, Parsons said.

“Although the (Russian Paralympic Committee) remains suspended, they have made significant progress, and we have to recognize this,” Parsons said. “We now have greater confidence that the anti-doping system in Russia is no longer compromised and corrupted. We have also witnessed behavioral and cultural changes.”

The Russians who will be allowed to compete must have undergone extra testing and a course of anti-drug education.

No one implicated “knowingly or unknowingly by the numerous anti-doping investigations in Russia” can take part, Parsons said.

The team of “Neutral Paralympic Athletes” will be about half the size of the Russian team that competed in Sochi in 2014.

The neutral Paralympic athletes will be allowed to compete in Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, snowboard and curling. They will wear uniforms without any national insignia, and fans will also be barred from waving Russian flags.

Russians had been allowed to compete as neutral athletes in some qualifying events ahead of the Games before a final decision, but that came too late for Russia to qualify in hockey.

The IPC suspended Russia’s membership in August 2016 over what then-IPC president Philip Craven called a “medals over morals” culture with endemic cheating.

To be reinstated, Russian officials must either accept or disprove World Anti-Doping Agency investigations which found it ran a doping program.

The IPC also requires the Russian anti-doping agency to be fully reinstated by WADA, which is also demanding Russia accepts the investigations’ findings.

The Russian government denies ever supporting any doping programs.

The Russian Paralympic Committee was praised for fulfilling other criteria which also required it to tighten up enforcement of drug-testing rules and distance itself from what the IPC called government “propaganda.”

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MORE: 10 U.S. athletes to watch at Paralympics

Federica Brignone passes Mikaela Shiffrin for World Cup overall lead

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Italian Federica Brignone passed an absent Mikaela Shiffrin for the World Cup overall standings lead by winning a combined in Switzerland on Sunday.

Brignone prevailed by .92 of a second adding times from super-G and slalom runs in Crans-Montana. Full results are here.

Brignone moved 73 points ahead of Shiffrin in the overall through 29 of 40 scheduled races. A race winner receives 100 points on a descending scale through the 30th-place finisher. The season runs through March 22.

Shiffrin, the three-time reigning World Cup overall champion, has not competed since the unexpected death of her father on Feb. 2. She has not announced if or when she will return this season.

Brignone, 29, is having a career season with five wins and 10 podiums across four disciplines.

Brignone’s best previous World Cup overall standings finish was fifth. She earned giant slalom medals at the 2018 Olympics (bronze) and 2011 World Championships (silver).

She could become Italy’s first female World Cup overall champion. The last Italian male winner was Alberto Tomba in 1995.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves to La Thuile, Italy, for a super-G and a combined next Saturday and Sunday.

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Jade Carey on brink of becoming first gymnast to qualify for U.S. Olympic team

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The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials aren’t until late June, but Jade Carey is in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games in March.

Carey, seeking an individual Olympic gymnastics spot outside of the team competition, earned the maximum points in a World Cup series that is one path to Olympic qualification.

Carey has three wins each on floor exercise and vault with two World Cups left in March. Carey will mathematically clinch an Olympic spot if no other gymnasts earn maximum points on one of the apparatuses to force a tiebreaker.

A gymnast’s top three finishes across the eight-stop series count in Olympic qualifying. If Carey finishes atop the floor or vault standings, she goes to the Olympics.

Carey picked up those third wins on floor and vault at the sixth World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend.

So far, no other gymnast has two wins on floor. One other gymnast can get to the maximum points on vault with one win between the last two stops (and others with two).

The one downside to qualifying this route: Carey would not be able to compete in the team competition at the Olympics. Those four spots will be determined at and after June’s trials in St. Louis, with Simone Biles likely grabbing one of them.

“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said in October of going the World Cup route, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”

Carey is a world medalist on vault and floor, but she doesn’t have the all-around credentials of Biles and some other U.S. gymnasts.

Olympic team event roster sizes were cut from five to four for Tokyo, putting a greater onus on all-around prowess given a team must put three gymnasts on each apparatus in the Olympic final.

The U.S. is the deepest country in women’s gymnastics, so the only truly safe pick to make the four-woman Olympic team event roster is Biles.

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