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Vladimir Putin to Russian athletes: Ignore doping scandals at Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin told the country’s athletes to forget about doping scandals when they compete at the PyeongChang Olympics.

As punishment for what it deemed a doping scheme during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the International Olympic Committee invited 169 Russians to compete under a neutral flag using the name “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”

“I wish you not to think about anything which has recently accompanied your preparation for these Olympics,” Putin told a gathering of athletes at his presidential residence outside Moscow on Wednesday.

He added that he hopes they “focus on sporting competition, and that you know that following you, as usual, are hundreds of thousands, millions, of fans who love you and hope you win.”

While the athletes wore their IOC-approved “neutral” uniforms without the Russian flag — gray for men, red for women — the event was full of patriotic gestures.

Hockey players Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk stepped up to present Putin with a Russian jersey bearing his name and players’ signatures along with the slogan “Russia in my heart.”

Several athletes wore their “neutral” jackets open to show a Russian-flag shirt underneath.

Russian athletes won’t be allowed to display the flag in PyeongChang, or to celebrate with Russian flags given by fans.

If they win, the Olympic anthem will be played.

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MORE: Russian Olympic doping verdicts to be announced

Geraint Thomas attacks, takes Tour de France lead ahead of Chris Froome

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British Olympic track cycling champion Geraint Thomas grabbed the Tour de France lead, attacking with three and a half miles to win a summit finish on Stage 11 on Wednesday.

Thomas now leads a Team Sky one-two in the overall standings, 85 seconds ahead of four-time Tour winner Chris Froome, as the three-week Grand Tour passed the halfway mark.

Thomas continues to say he’s riding in support of Froome — who could tie the record of five Tour titles — rather than to win cycling’s biggest event himself.

“Froome is the [Team Sky] leader here, so there’s no pressure on me,” Thomas said Tuesday, according to Cyclingnews.com. “It’s a bonus for me to be up there, and hopefully I can be there for as long as possible.”

The Tour continues Thursday with stage 12 to Alpe d’Huez, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).

The 109-mile stage features three beyond-category climbs — Col de la Madeleine, Croix-de-Fer and the iconic Alpe d’Huez finish after 21 switchbacks to close out the Tour’s three days in the Alps. The overall standings are sure to change.

Greg Van Avermaet, the Rio Olympic road race champion, went into Wednesday with the yellow jersey and a 2:22 lead, which he had tripled on the first mountain day Tuesday.

But Van Avermaet, who predicted he would lose the yellow jersey before stages Tuesday and Wednesday, cracked on the second of three major climbs Wednesday. He finished in a group 22 minutes after Thomas.

Van Avermaet is a super one-day racer but not a strong climber.

Thomas showed his climbing prowess, finishing 20 seconds ahead of 2017 Giro d’Italia champion Tom Dumoulin and Froome.

“It’s unreal,” Thomas said. “I didn’t expect it at all.”

Thomas dons the yellow jersey for a second straight Tour. The 2008 and 2012 Olympic track cycling gold medalist won the opening time trial in 2017 and wore the maillot jaune four days before Froome took over en route to his fourth title in Paris.

There was talk before and during this year’s Tour that Thomas could challenge Froome as Sky’s team leader, even though Froome has won the last three Grand Tours.

But Thomas and Sky have played that down.

“Whatever happens now is bonus,” Thomas said. “Froomey’s won six Grand Tours. He knows how to race over three weeks. For me, it’s an unknown. … As long as one of us wins, that’s the main thing.”

Dumoulin moved into third overall, 1:44 behind Thomas and 19 seconds back of Froome.

The other top contenders — 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Romain Bardet — finished 59 seconds behind Thomas on Wednesday.

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Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics add 7 new events

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Seven new events were added to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic program:

Women’s monobobsled
Short track mixed team relay
Ski jumping mixed team event
Freestyle skiing big air (men and women)
Aerials mixed team event
Snowboard cross mixed team event

The additions bring the Winter Olympic total number of events to 109, an all-time high and nearly double the amount of events at the 1992 Winter Games.

The number of women’s hockey teams will increase from eight to 10 in 2022, but the overall number of athletes is expected to be fewer than the 2,933 in PyeongChang. The International Olympic Committee said athlete quotas will decrease in some sports, but no events have been contracted. Alpine skiing’s super combined events are still under review as to whether they will remain in the Olympic program.

The IOC said the Winter Olympics will have its highest-ever gender balance in 2022, rising from 41 percent female athletes to more than 45 percent.

The IOC had a “long discussion” about adding a women’s event in Nordic combined, the only sport without a women’s event in the Winter Games, IOC sports director Kit McConnell said.

“Nordic combined, and women’s in particular, still need to be developed further in terms of universality [the number of countries with Olympic-level athletes], in terms of the level of the athletes,” McConnell said.

The IOC also weighed whether to add a four-woman bobsled event rather than women’s monobobsled. The Games have two-man and two-woman events and a four-man event.

McConnell said the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation was “very supportive” of monobob, in part because it is already on the Youth Olympic program.

“Woman’s four-man bob costs three or four times of monobob,” McConnell said. “We felt there would be more universality in the women’s monobob. We really didn’t see more than a handful of countries really developing women’s four-man programs because of the costs involved.”

Beijing will mark the third straight Winter Olympics to add mixed-gender events. In 2014, mixed relays in biathlon and luge debuted, as well as the figure skating team event. In PyeongChang, a mixed Alpine skiing team event and mixed doubles curling debuted.

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