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China’s first World Cup races canceled amid coronavirus concern

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Alpine skiing joined a long list of sports juggling schedules in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak as the International Ski Federation (FIS) announced Wednesday that the first World Cup Alpine races set for China would be canceled.

The course in Yanqing, China, will be the Olympic course in the 2022 Winter Games. A men’s downhill and super-G had been scheduled for Feb. 15-16.

The situation in China, where the coronavirus death toll is now well over 100 and the number of confirmed cases is more than 6,000, has changed rapidly. Last weekend, FIS general secretary Sarah Lewis described the possibility of canceling the event as “low risk.”

Yanqing hosted its first competition, the Chinese National Winter Games, Jan. 16-20.

“Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV, we have been paying close attention to its impact on the 2019/2020 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup in Yanqing and have taken active precautionary measures under the guidelines of local health and disease control authorities,” Yanging organizers said. “At present, the outbreak has not ended and Beijing municipal government is taking proactive measures to contain the spread of the virus. We take the health of athletes, coaches, journalists, fans, and staff seriously. FIS, the Chinese Ski Association, and the Yanqing Organising Committee have therefore come to the decision to cancel the event.”

Women’s races are scheduled for Yanqing next season, and the FIS said it would work to schedule men’s races on the Olympic slope as well.

The FIS said it would announce at a later date a possible “rescheduling” of the Feb. 15-16 races, but with no free weekends on the World Cup schedule, those races would almost certainly be set for another venue on the same weekend rather than a later date in China.

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Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

Mathias Berntsen
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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

MORE: Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is canceled

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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