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Russia’s Olympic ban lifted

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Russia’s ban from the Olympic Movement was lifted on Wednesday despite two failed doping tests by its athletes at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

The decision by the International Olympic Committee appears to be an attempt to draw a line under the state-concocted doping scandal that tarnished the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

The IOC allowed more than 160 athletes it determined were clean to compete in Sochi as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” in PyeongChang with a prohibition on the national anthem or flag in venues.

Russia’s hopes of marching under its flag at Sunday’s Closing Ceremony were stymied by the two positive tests for banned substances, including a curler who had to forfeit his bronze medal.

But the IOC said Wednesday that all remaining test results were negative, clearing the path for Russia’s return to the Olympic fold.

“Therefore, as stated in the executive board decision of 25th February, the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee is automatically lifted with immediate effect,” the IOC said in a statement.

Russian athletes won two gold medals in PyeongChang, in figure skating and ice hockey, along with six silver medals and nine bronze.

“I would like to thank our athletes who were able to perform well even despite the provocations,” Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov said, according to TASS. “I thank the fans who did not cross the line and what could result in sanctions. Today’s IOC’s decision is very important for us. The ROC is an absolutely full-fledged member of the Olympic family.”

Russia also complied with its financial sanctions last week by paying $15 million to pay for the IOC’s two investigations into the scheme and toward future anti-doping work.

Vitaly Smirnov, the head of an anti-doping commission set up by Russian President Vladimir Putin, did acknowledge on Wednesday that “we have a long way to go to get rid of the mistakes, which we made in the past.”

But Russia continues to deny there was state involvement in the plot, which included urine samples in supposedly tamper-proof bottles at the 2014 Olympics being swapped out for clean samples through a “mouse hole” in the wall at a laboratory in Sochi.

The IOC decision to reinstate Russia has no bearing on the International Paralympic Committee’s earlier ruling to maintain the country’s ban.

The only Russians at the March 8-18 PyeongChang Games will be known as “Neutral Paralympic Athletes,” mirroring the IOC’s compromise.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang Olympics

Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir retire from ice dance competition

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Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the most decorated Olympic figure skaters in history, announced their retirement late Tuesday. They’re done competing in ice dance, and their upcoming Canadian tour will be their last together.

“After 22 years, it feels like the right time to step away from the sport,” Virtue said in a video. “This is so personal and emotional for both of us.”

“It just feels for us like it’s the right time to say goodbye while we’re still loving and enjoying the sport as much as we always have been,” Moir said. “This is my first selfie video, and I’m not going to cry. What a beautiful ride it’s been.”

The news was expected.

Virtue and Moir last competed in PyeongChang, earning golds in ice dance and the team event to bring their total to five medals (three golds) and break the record for most Olympic medals in the sport (buoyed by the addition of the team event in 2014).

“It definitely feels like [this is our last Olympics],” Moir said on TODAY in PyeongChang, hours after their ice dance gold. “If it is, this is a great way for us to go out. … It feels right. It feels like a good end.”

Virtue, 30, and Moir 32, teamed in elementary school. Moir, a hockey player, followed brother Danny into dance, pairing with his first partner at 8 and then with Virtue and 9.

Virtue hit the ice at age 6 because she didn’t want to be the only one in her class who couldn’t skate during a field trip. When she was 7, she was paired with Moir through Moir’s aunt Carol, who coached both as singles skaters. Two years in, Virtue attended Canada’s National Ballet School for a summer before choosing to stick with skating.

That decision ultimately led to one of the greatest careers in Canadian sports history.

They earned a junior world title in 2006, the first of eight Canadian titles in 2008 and, in 2010, the biggest of all — home gold at the Vancouver Winter Games despite Moir messing up the steps at the end of their free dance. They faced the wrong way in their final pose.

“Scott just said thank you to me and just said look around us, take this in,” Virtue said on NBC as the final couples skated.

“I had to be positive because I messed up,” Moir later joked.

Virtue and Moir developed a rivalry with American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White, with whom they traded world titles in the Sochi Olympic cycle. In Russia, the Americans edged the Canadians for the title by 4.53 points.

Moir waited until the arena emptied, returned to the rink and kissed the ice. Many thought it was a goodbye to the Olympics.

Two years later, they announced a comeback, saying they still had the fire and wanted to take advantage of one more chance to go to the Games. They won all but one of their competitions in those last two seasons, including the Olympics by a slim .79 of a point over French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

Now they join the other Canadian champions of their generation — Patrick ChanKaetlyn Osmond and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford — in leaving the competitive arena for good.

“We spent 22 years coasting around the outside of the rink, hanging out together, making programs, trying to just soak up our sporting experiences,” Virtue said. “We still can’t believe people care.”

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MORE: Keegan Messing explains decision to hold up Japanese flag

Keegan Messing ‘glad’ to have held Japanese flag for Yuzuru Hanyu

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Yuzuru Hanyu heard Japan’s national anthem at the medal ceremony for his season-debut event on Saturday. But didn’t see a flag.

That’s when the bronze medalist, Keegan Messing of Canada, “took initiative” and unfurled the Japanese flag so Hanyu could honor it at the Autumn Classic in Ontario.

While there were plenty of fans of the Japanese skater in the crowd holding their own flags, none were hoisted above the ice like in some competitions.

Messing took it upon himself to hold up the Japanese flag that was hanging from a flagpole behind the medal podium.

Messing explained his decision following the interaction:

That was just actually instinct, honestly. When they said that we’re gonna play the anthem for the winner, I looked out and I realized there was no flag ready. A couple of the spectators had a flag but so I decided to hold up a flag because if I were in that place, I would’ve liked to have a flag presented at that time. That’s why I did it. I felt like that’s what I would’ve wanted so I went ahead and took initiative and I did it. I’m very happy I did. It felt good to do. I’m glad.

Hanyu is next expected to compete on the Grand Prix circuit, again in Canada in October and at NHK Trophy in Japan in November.

Messing’s assignments are Skate America in October and Cup of China in November.

The next time Hanyu’s and Messing’s paths could cross is at December’s Grand Prix Final, should they both qualify.

MORE: Yuzuru Hanyu wins Autumn Classic

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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