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Suspensions end for 4 skiers, including two Americans

The International Ski Federation cleared four Nordic skiers, including two Americans, to resume Olympic competition Monday after issuing five-day suspensions for blood irregularities.

The federation continued the suspensions of eight other skiers pending additional blood screening for excessive amounts of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying agent in red blood cells.

Among the cleared athletes are Americans Kikkan Randall of Anchorage, Alaska, and Leif Zimmerman of Bozeman, Mont. Randall is scheduled to compete today in the women's team-sprint semifinal.

Federation spokeswoman Rikka Rakic said the suspensions were to protect the skiers' health, and the time off would help the skiers' blood adjust to high-altitude venues above Turin.

The International Olympic Committee conducted separate urine tests of all 12 athletes last week to determine whether the elevated hemoglobin levels were caused by performance-enhancing drugs or blood transfusions to improve stamina at high altitudes.

Giselle Davies , spokeswoman of the IOC, said 161 anti-doping tests have been carried out on Olympic athletes: "If no violation is reported at the end of the day, this means the procedure was satisfactory and no violations were detected."

AAMODT TO TEST KNEE: Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who has won the most Alpine medals in Winter Games history, will try to defend his Olympic title in the combined event despite a tender left knee that threatened to keep him from competition.

The Norwegian's name was put on the start list for today, which includes three runs per skier - a downhill leg during the day and two slalom runs in the evening. He was expected to ski the morning warmup and see how he feels before the noon downhill start.

Aamodt has seven Alpine medals and won the combined in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

"I don't know if he will be able to race but he will try," said Marius Arnesen, the Norwegian men's coach. "He really wants to race."

Aamodt hurt a ligament while landing awkwardly on a jump in Sunday's downhill, Arnesen said, causing his knee to swell.

NBC PREDICTS PROFIT: NBC Universal, owner of the third- ranked U.S. television network, sold about $900-million in advertising for its broadcast of the Olympics, and chairman Bob Wright said the two-week event will make money.

"This is the biggest thing that we do," Wright said. "It's the showpiece of all of NBCU's television programming."

The network, a unit of General Electric Co., paid $613-million for the right to broadcast the two-week event. NBC had a $70-million profit from the Games in Salt Lake City in 2002 and a similar take from the 2004 Games in Athens.

GIULIANI LEADS U.S. TEAM: President Bush tapped Rudolph Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, to lead the U.S. delegation at the Closing Ceremony. Also named to the delegation were Italian-born race car driver Mario Andretti, Ronald P. Spogli, U.S. ambassador to Italy, and Dr. A. Kenneth Ciongoli, chairman and CEO of the National Italian-American Foundation. The Closing Ceremony is Feb. 26.