Road to Rio begins at the American Cup

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It begins.

The American Cup, the most high profile international gymnastics competition held annually in the United States, is set to take place March 2 in Worcester, Mass. Sure, it’s technically the beginning on the 2013 season, but it’s really the beginning of the four-year run up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Excited yet? There’s more: Team USA will feature three 2012 Olympians and a high profile Olympic alternate, in what is one of the best American Cup field in years.

Kyla Ross, the youngest member of London’s “Fierce Five” started her career with Olympic gold (not bad), is back and will headline the competition. Joining Ross will be Elizabeth “Ebee” Price, alternate for the women’s 2012 team, and back-to-back World Cup winner last year. Also in the line up are a group of Olympic fan favorites including, 2006 World all-around champion Vanessa Ferrari, Larissa Iordache of Romania, and Elizabeth Seitz of Germany. Two more women will be named at the end of the month.

On the men’s side, things look just as bright. Olympic teammates Danell Leyva and Jake Dalton make up Team USA. Joining them are Olympic all-around silver medalist (and favorite of the lady fans) Marcel Nguyen of Germany, Olympic team bronze medalist Kristian Thomas of Great Britain, and Brazilian Sergio Sasaki, who qualified for the all-around in London.

The lineup represents one of the more competitive fields in recent memory and, for athletes like Price and Dalton, the American Cup can serve as a coming out party…if they can get past their famous teammates.

The official USA Gymnastics announcement outlines the full group of participants and event details.

So prepare yourselves, Rio is 1,302 days away, but the storylines you’ll hear about all throughout the games, start developing now. Start taking notes.

Helen Maroulis dominates for world title after making history in Rio

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Helen Maroulis, after becoming the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic wrestling title, had quite a year.

She grappled in a cage with Conor McGregor. She lifted Teddy Roosevelt. The Maryland native cracked steamed crabs with Cal Ripken Jr. And spent three months in Norway.

Then, she came back to competition. And dominated once again.

Maroulis won the world title at 58kg on Wednesday, mercy ruling all five of her opponents by a combined 53-0 margin and finishing the day with a torn thumb ligament.

“This was really special to me because I didn’t just go to Rio, do things right there and then come back and everything crashed and burned,” said Maroulis, who has won three straight global titles (the Olympics sandwiched by two worlds). “I heard people say everything in the book [after Rio]. Maybe I just had a good day or this or that. Three years in a row, I achieved the goal I set.”

The 25-year-old took seven months off after Rio — her coach told her that she might lose worlds because of it — but looked and felt reinvigorated on Wednesday.

“I was, like, counting down the days before Rio, like don’t focus on vacation after. I was so overwhelmed and tired,” Maroulis said. “But this, I’m like, man, I love this. I could do this all over again.”

She improved to a 78-1 record since taking bronze at the 2014 Worlds. Remember, Maroulis went 1-30 in her first year as a wrestler at age 7.

She’s the only American man or woman to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in at least 30 years, doing so in 2015 and again Wednesday.

Maroulis, after a hard struggle to cut weight to 53kg for Rio, moved up two divisions (11 pounds) this year. By the numbers, she faced an easier road to gold.

Saori Yoshida, the three-time Olympic champion whom Maroulis dethroned at 53kg in Rio, and 58kg superstar Kaori Icho, the only woman to win four Olympic golds in an individual event, both sat out this year for Japan.

The top 58kg seed at worlds, Olympic silver medalist Valeria Koblova of Russia, bowed out of her opening match with a left knee injury.

Maroulis plowed the remaining field, winning her first four matches Wednesday by mercy rule to reach the final by a 42-0 point margin.

Also Wednesday, 20-year-old Becka Leathers took bronze at 55kg in her senior worlds debut.

Worlds continue through the rest of this week. Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox goes Friday, and Olympic champions Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder close out the competition Saturday.

A full broadcast schedule is here.

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Dream Team, Shaq lead FIBA Hall of Fame inductees

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The Dream Team, Shaquille O’Neal and Toni Kukoč headline the FIBA international basketball Hall of Fame inductees for 2017.

A ceremony will be held Sept. 30 at FIBA headquarters in Switzerland.

The Dream Team enters the hall on the 25th anniversary of its unforgettable run at the 1992 Barcelona Games, where it went 8-0 and won by an average of 43.8 points per game.

The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air every Dream Team game from the Olympics next week. A full schedule is here.

That team included two players who are already FIBA Hall of Famers — Michael Jordan and David Robinson, who both won multiple Olympic gold medals.

O’Neal was left off the Dream Team in favor of Christian Laettner as the single college player to round out the 12-man roster otherwise made up of NBA All-Stars.

But O’Neal went on to lead Dream Team II as MVP of the 1994 World Championship. He paced the U.S. in points (18 per game), rebounds (8.5 per game) and field-goal percentage (71.3).

O’Neal then played on the 1996 Olympic team that won gold in Atlanta, starting three of eight games. The U.S. was loaded at center with Hakeem Olajuwon, who led the Houston Rockets to 1994 and 1995 NBA titles, and Robinson, the 1995 NBA MVP.

Kukoč, best known as a member of Jordan’s supporting cast on the late 1990s Chicago Bulls teams, won a world title with Yugoslavia and two Olympic silver medals for Croatia.

He was MVP of the 1990 World Championship, where Yugoslavia beat the U.S. in the semifinals and the Soviet Union in the final.

Kukoč made his Olympic debut at age 19 at Seoul 1988, then was part of a star core of Croatian teams with the likes of Dražen Petrović and Dino Radja in the 1990s.

FIBA Hall of Fame Class of 2017:

TEAM
Dream Team (USA)

PLAYERS
Mickey Berkowitz (Israel)
Pero Cameron (New Zealand)
Toni Kukoč (Croatia)
Razija Mujanovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Shaquille O’Neal (USA)
Valdis Valters (Latvia)

COACH
Dusan Ivkovic (Serbia)

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