Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Does anyone care about Olympic tennis?

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The pristine lawns of Wimbledon. A dominating Serena Williams. Britain’s first home-grown champion in more than 70 years. In 2012, it seemed tennis was truly embraced at the Olympics.

Or, was it?

In the months since the closing of the 2012 Games, some of the game’s top players have committed themselves to Rio in 2016: Serena has set her eyes on trying to repeat in South America, as do the men’s doubles gold medalists, Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, and Rafael Nadal, who was forced to pull out London because of injury, wants badly to reclaim the singles gold he won in Beijing.

But there’s part of the sporting world that thinks tennis should keep to their own “Olympic” events – the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open – and stay away from the actual Games.

“Tennis shouldn’t be a part of the Olympics,” says two-time U.S. Open champ Patrick Rafter. “We have our four gold medal events every year in the Slams. For us, winning a Grand Slam is like winning a gold medal for a swimmer. But they only get to do it once every four years. We get to do it four times a year.”

Rafter’s response is perhaps a generational one. Tennis players use to view the Olympics as just another tournament. Olympic draws have a smaller field (64 players) compared to the four majors (128 players).

But Andre Agassi, who won gold at Atlanta in 1996, thinks tennis will only become more a part of the Olympic experience in 2016.

“I think Wimbledon helped a great deal and we have a great platform now to catapult into Rio,” Agassi says. “The guys are taking it much more seriously… it seems like everyone tries to peak for it, which I think is great for the sport.”

Indeed, the Olympics has become a focal point for many tennis schedule makers – and as a career marker for those like Serena and Nadal.

For Pete Sampras, a 14-time Grand Slam champion, tennis only found a place in the Games this year because of Wimbledon playing host.

“The reason tennis was unique at the Olympics this year was because it was at Wimbledon,” Sampras insists. “In Rio, I’m telling you, it won’t be like it was this year. It’s not at the [All England] Club, so it won’t have the same feel.”

Sampras played in the Olympics just once, losing in the third round at the Barcelona Games in 1992.

“Tennis at the Olympics—when I was growing up—was an exhibition sport. For me, it wasn’t that big of a deal to play the Olympics as a tennis player. It’s just another tournament. That’s my humble opinion.”

But Sampras doesn’t agree with Rafter’s point that tennis shouldn’t be a part of the games whatsoever.

“I wouldn’t go that far, but I understand what [Rafter’s] saying. I just think it is what it is. When it comes to Rio, I just don’t think it will measure up to 2012.”

Karen Chen breaks U.S. Champs scoring record; Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold trail

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KANSAS CITY — A skater broke the U.S. Championships women’s short program scoring record Thursday night, but it wasn’t Ashley Wagner or Gracie Gold.

Karen Chen, a 17-year-old former junior star who struggled the last two years, tallied 72.82 points at the Sprint Center to lead going into Saturday’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Mirai Nagasu, a 2010 Olympian, is second, .87 of a point behind.

That leaves Wagner and Gold, who combined to win the last five U.S. titles, in third and fifth, respectively.

This is concerning for Wagner (1.88 behind Chen) and Gold (7.97 behind) given U.S. Figure Skating can send three women to worlds in two months. That selection will be made this weekend, primarily — but not totally — based off U.S. Championships results.

Tessa Hong is in fourth place, but at 14 years old is too young for senior worlds.

Full results are here.

Though Wagner and Gold are usually higher placed, the biggest surprise was Chen.

“My body’s still trembling right now,” she said, two hours after her performance.

Chen skated a clean program Thursday, rare for her in the last couple of seasons. Chen burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old two years ago, finishing third at nationals behind Wagner and Gold.

She was too young to be selected for the 2015 Worlds team. Little has been heard from Chen since.

She dropped to eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships and came into Kansas City as the seventh-ranked U.S. woman this season. Struggling to find comfortable boots — a common skater problem — has plagued her. She went through 14 pairs in a four-month stretch.

“Everyone has doubts, and I certainly do as well,” said Chen, who choreographed her short program. “But I just kept pushing and telling myself that I’m gaining more experience, I’m learning about everything in the process and I’m just going to keep getting better.”

Wagner bounced back from her last outing — her worst Grand Prix finish in 25 career starts — with a decent program. She needed to save a double Axel near the end of her short. The 2016 World silver medalist was the pre-event favorite.

“People do not understand how difficult of a position I am in,” said Wagner, a 25-year-old bidding to become the oldest U.S. women’s champion in 90 years. “It might seem like I’m on top of the world, or second from being top of the world, but this is a very tough position to be in. It’s mentally been weighing on my shoulders all season. To be able to come out and show people I am a fighter, I’m really proud of that.”

Gold needed to show a fighting spirit given her well-publicized disaster of a fall season. And she did. Her only miss in the short program was doubling a planned triple flip.

“I can feel a huge improvement as a skater. I think everyone can see it,” Gold said. “I have made comebacks before. This doesn’t feel like a major comeback in some ways, because I felt pretty solid. … A long program is worth a lot of points, and I can certainly deliver some good long programs. I kind of feel like I’m due for a good one.”

If Gold doesn’t improve in the free skate, she could be left off the worlds team for the first time in her senior career. However, Gold believes her strong credentials in recent seasons merit consideration.

“We’ve seen different controversies where people aren’t on the [nationals] podium, and they’re still selected for events,” Gold said. “Michelle Kwan has not gone to nationals and been selected for an Olympic team [in 2006]. I believe that I deserve to be on the world team, but I’m not on the selection committee. Of course, every athlete feels like they should be on the world team.”

Earlier Thursday, the pairs short program produced surprise leaders.

The U.S. Championships continue Friday with the short dance and men’s short program. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss wants Russia out of PyeongChang

Women’s Short Program
1. Karen Chen — 72.82
2. Mirai Nagasu — 71.95
3. Ashley Wagner — 70.94
4. Tessa Hong — 65.02
5. Gracie Gold — 64.85

 

Gwen Jorgensen pregnant, to sit out 2017 triathlon season

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20: USA's Gwen Jorgensen followed by Switzerland's Nicola Spirig Hug (L) compete in the running portion of the women's triathlon at Fort Copacabana during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 20, 2016.(Photo by Jeff Pachoud-Pool/Getty Images)
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Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen is pregnant and will not compete this year.

“Just kind of take this year a little bit easier,” Jorgensen said in a video posted on Facebook on Thursday.

The baby is due Aug. 3, according to Jorgensen’s social media.

Jorgensen, 30, became the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion in Rio after going in as the heavy favorite. She has said for months that she planned to take time off to have a baby before returning to defend her Olympic title at Tokyo 2020.

Swiss Nicola Spirig, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2016 silver medalist, is reportedly expecting a child in May.

In Jorgensen and Spirig’s absences, the top triathletes going into the season are defending world champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda, U.S. Olympians Katie Zaferes and Sarah True and Britons Vicky Holland and Helen Jenkins.

Jorgensen’s last competition was the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, when she finished 14th in her first running race longer than 10 miles.

The World Triathlon Series kicks off in Abu Dhabi the first weekend of March.

MORE: Triathlon federation boss wants Olympic races shortened