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.

Laurie Hernandez eyes return to competition in 2018

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NEW YORK – Laurie Hernandez hardly considers her 14 months away from competitive gymnastics a break.

Since earning Olympic team gold and balance beam silver in Rio, the 17-year-old won “Dancing with the Stars,” authored a book and even enrolled in ballet lessons.

But her most rewarding experience has been speaking at schools. Students have asked her seemingly every question, from when she started taking gymnastics classes (age 5) to whether she climbed trees when she was younger (yes, all the time).

Seeing how many children were inspired by her Rio performance motivated Hernandez as she prepares to return to the sport.

“I didn’t realize at the Olympics how many people were truly watching,” Hernandez said Wednesday night at the annual Women’s Sports Foundation Salute to Women in Sports. “Now I’m excited to get back into the gym.”

Hernandez recently added handstand holds, back tucks and front flips to her conditioning program, in addition to continuing to run and lift weights.

“It’s a little difficult, but it’s fine,” she said. “I’ll push it a little more after the holidays.”

She has her eye on returning to competition in 2018.

“That’s definitely the hope,” Hernandez said. “I’m not going to rush anything, but I would love to compete in 2018.”

Hernandez, who said her next goal in gymnastics is to compete at the world championships for the first time and hopefully the 2020 Olympics, has not yet identified her comeback meet.

She noted that Aly Raisman took more than two years off after the London Olympics.

“I know every athlete is different,” Hernandez said. “But I wouldn’t mind following in her footsteps.”

Simone Biles, who has not competed since winning four gold medals in Rio, recently announced that she plans on returning to full-time training Nov. 1 and competition next summer.

“I look up to her, even though we are teammates,” Hernandez said. “I can’t wait to see her out there, but hopefully I’ll be out there with her soon.”

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Olympic cycling champion running for Congress

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Olympic cycling gold medalist Marty Nothstein is the latest to announce he’s running for the eastern Pennsylvania congressional seat being vacated by fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Dent.

Dent, a former state senator, is a centrist Republican who has held the seat since 2005. He’s retiring after his term expires next year.

Nothstein, who won sprint silver in 1996 and gold in 2000, is the only American track cyclist to win an Olympic title at a fully attended Games.

Two Republican state representatives, Ryan Mackenzie and Justin Simmons, previously announced they’re running for Dent’s 15th District seat.

Democrat Bill Leiner, a former Lehigh County commissioner, is also running.

Dent’s district includes Allentown and all of Lehigh County, and parts of four surrounding counties.

Republicans in 2011 stretched the district almost 90 miles to the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania to make it more Republican.

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