Matt Kryger-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Russian Olympic medalists gifts include racehorse

Abdulrashid Sadulaev
AP
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MOSCOW (AP) — Luxury cars, apartments, even a racehorse — being an Olympic medalist in Russia can come with great material rewards but also controversy.

Under President Vladimir Putin, it’s become a tradition for Russia’s Olympic heroes to be showered with large cash sums and sometimes unwanted gifts.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after dozens of medalists were presented with BMW cars at the Kremlin by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, an advertisement appeared online offering one of them for sale, with photographs showing the car still covered in stickers celebrating Russia’s medal haul in Rio.

The advertisement offering the BMW X6 for 4.67 million rubles ($72,000) was anonymous and quickly withdrawn. It couldn’t be independently verified by The Associated Press, though Russian agency R-Sport claimed the seller was a Russian medalist who thought the car was too big and unwieldy.

Figure skater Maxim Trankov, who received a Mercedes-Benz SUV for his gold medal in 2014, said few Olympians could afford to own such cars.

“Has no one thought that these gift cars are not only liable for the tax on luxury items, but also aren’t cheap to run and earnings can’t cover it?” he wrote on Twitter. “I’d sell mine too if it came to it … Or does everyone think all sports pay as well as soccer, hockey or tennis?”

Gymnast Seda Tutkhalyan said she wouldn’t be able to drive her new BMW because at 17 years of age she was too young to have a license.

While online commenters mostly supported an athlete’s right to sell expensive Olympic gifts, many were critical of the government for a display of conspicuous consumption at the Kremlin at a time when Russia’s pension and healthcare systems are under financial strain.

It’s not fully clear how much the prizes have cost the Russian government.

State TV channel Rossiya 24 reported that the fleet of BMWs was provided by the Olympians’ Support Fund, which is backed by a group of Russia’s richest men, but that the accompanying cash prizes of tens of thousands of dollars per medalist came in part from the federal budget.

More awards are on offer from regional governments, many of which made public displays of generosity despite financial troubles of their own.

The Caucasus region of North Ossetia last month promised a free apartment for any medalists from the area, though it isn’t clear if this has happened yet.

In another grand gesture, the head of the restive Dagestan region gave Olympic wrestling champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev 6 million rubles ($93,000) in cash and a racehorse at a lavish welcoming ceremony featured on local TV.

Still, all may not be well for Sadulaev, who’s nicknamed the “Russian Tank” for his habit of crushing opponents on the wrestling mat. He’s already facing an allegation from a Moscow radio presenter of reckless driving in his eye-catching BMW.

MORE: Putin slams Russia’s Paralympic ban

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic venue progress video

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The next Olympics, the Pyeongchang Winter Games, are in 530 days.

Organizers of the first Winter Olympics in South Korea published a time-lapse video of venue construction on Thursday.

The video shows updates for the main coastal Olympic Park, including short- and long-track speed skating, figure skating and hockey arenas, the sliding center in the mountains and the Olympic Plaza, which will house the Olympic Stadium for Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

As NBC News reported, one concern is a potential lack of natural snow, which 2010 and 2014 Winter Games organizers had to deal with as well. Man-made snow is always a safety-net option.

MORE: Pyeongchang 2018 mascots unveiled