McKayla Maroney

What to watch at USA Gymnastics National Championships women’s competition

1 Comment

HARTFORD, Conn. — The larger commentary surrounding this week’s U.S. Gymnastics National Championships may center on the lead up to Rio 2016, but in the year directly following an Olympic Games, the World Gymnastics Championships are comprised of individual events only, no team final, and the uniqueness of an individual world championships makes the gymnastics season following the London Games largely stand alone.

Take this bit of history: not a single woman on the 2009 World Championship squad made the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. That included all-around champion Bridget Sloan and silver medalist Rebecca Bross.

This year is all about table setting for Team USA and identifying the potential (but surely not certain) foundation of the next Olympic team. Four women will be sent to Antwerp, Belgium, for worlds Sept. 30-Oct. 6. That makes room for two all-around gymnasts and two event specialists.

Podium training at the XL Center on Wednesday gave a peak into which gymnasts that team may be made up of. The women’s competition begins Thursday (8 p.m. Eastern time, NBC Sports Network and online here) and concludes Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC and online here).

The old guard came on strong with Olympian Kyla Ross, 16, assuming her new role as seasoned veteran. She looked even across all four events, showcasing her steady skills and her impeccable execution. Ross won last month’s U.S. Classic, a qualifier for this meet, and barring injury she should punch her ticket to Antwerp as an all-arounder by the end of the weekend.

Olympic teammate McKayla Maroney should join her. There wasn’t an “unimpressed face” to be found in her first competition since the Olympics at the U.S. Classic last month. There weren’t any Wednesday, either. Maroney doesn’t look like an athlete coming back from two leg surgeries in the last year. She is stronger than ever, showing improved power on floor exercise, in particular her double Arabian tumbling pass, which has caused her trouble in the past.

“It’s just been a lot of hard work, after coming back from the surgeries I had to do so much conditioning, more than I’ve ever done in my life to get where I need to be really fast,” said Maroney, the reigning world champion on vault.

Maroney trained all four events Wednesday but is competing only vault and floor to make the worlds team as a specialist with the goal of defending that vault title from Tokyo in 2011.

There were some surprises Wednesday. Lexie Priessman, the 2012 U.S. junior all-around champion, pulled out at the last minute due to an Achilles strain after looking great in early training sessions. This will effectively end Priessman’s debut senior year and open up the door for others to challenge Ross.

Like Peyton Ernst, 16, who won balance beam gold and all-around and floor silver at the U.S. Classic. The Kim Zmeskal protege showed up with even more difficult routines this week and plans to compete in the all-around.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Elizabeth Price. The 2012 Olympic team alternate was white-hot after the Games, winning back-to-back World Cup titles to round out her year. She fell off the radar after pulling out of the American Cup with a hip injury. Wednesday, however, she effectively “won” podium training, looking phenomenal on all four events.

Nonetheless, Price, who trains with legendary coaches Bill and Donna Strauss at Parkettes in Allentown, Pa., said she’s only been back training 2 1/2 weeks and will compete on only two events, vault and uneven bars (where the U.S. is weak). She plans on being able to do the all-around before the final selection camp for the World Championship team in three weeks.

One of the most anticipated performances Thursday will come from tiny dynamo Simone Biles. Biles, 16, burst onto the scene this year with her big, energetic smile and even bigger gymnastics.

A fan favorite, Biles boasts the difficulty to contend for a world all-around title and then some, however, she has yet to put it all together in high-pressure situations, falling at the American Cup and counting three falls before scratching the last event at the U.S. Classic.

Biles was clear in her goals for Hartford and Antwerp.

“To hopefully be top three here, to make the world team and be top three at worlds,” she said.

To get to Belgium, Biles must prove that she can hit her routines consistently over two sessions in Hartford.

Dark-horse contenders this weekend will be steady all-arounder Brenna Dowell of Odessa, Mo., and mega trickster Mykayla Skinner of Gilbert, Ariz., who is one of two women in the world currently performing a double twisting double layout on floor.

Even with all the new faces, the 2012 Olympians are poised to take the spotlight in Hartford, which they’ve grown accustomed to after walking red carpets, attending award shows, appearing on TV and penning books.

The Fierce Five will reunite Friday to be inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

All but Ross have turned professional, picking up agents and endorsements. Her focus remains on competition and retaining her NCAA eligibility — at least for now. The rising California high school junior may be the center of attention come Saturday, should she take the all-around title.

Jackie Chan endorses finalist sport for 2020 vote

U.S. bobsled, skeleton athletes ready to skip world championships

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 15:  Kyle Tress of the United States makes a run during the Men's Skeleton on Day 8 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Sliding Center Sanki on February 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Olympians voted to recommend boycotting February’s world championships in Sochi if the event is not relocated out of the doping-tainted nation, according to The New York Times.

U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton’s athlete advisory committee voted unanimously in recent days, according to the report. Listed members of the committee include Olympic skeleton sliders Matthew Antoine and Kyle Tress.

“There’s tremendous support to skip this event, and I think it’s the right decision,” Tress said, according to the report.

At least 15 Russian medalists from the Sochi Olympics, including bobsledders and skeleton sliders, were on a state-run doping program leading into those Winter Games, according to the newspaper’s report in May. Russian doping samples were also tampered with at the Sochi Olympics, according to the report.

Those are primary reasons why bobsled and skeleton athletes in the U.S. and Europe have voiced concern about competing in Sochi in February.

Olympic champions Lizzy Yarnold (skeleton) and Steven Holcomb (bobsled) said earlier this fall that they may skip worlds, and men’s skeleton stars Martins and Tomass Dukurs might, too, according to Latvian media.

“We discussed this as a team, we’re up in the air,” Holcomb said last month. “We don’t know what we’re going to do yet. Safety is a concern. What are the chances I go there, and all of a sudden Russian anti-doping tests me, and I [falsely] test positive? That wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Being outspoken, yeah I’m a little nervous about going there.”

On July 19, following rampant Russian anti-doping issues, the IOC asked all winter sports federations to “freeze their preparations for major events in Russia, such as world championships … and to actively look for alternative organizers.”

The IOC later clarified that statement, telling federations it did not apply to events whose host cities were already chosen, according to Inside the Games. The 2017 World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships were awarded to Sochi in June 2013.

The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) said it will not comment until after the second part of McLaren report into Russian doping is published Friday.

The World Cup bobsled and skeleton season started last weekend in Whistler, B.C. Both Russians who won 2014 Olympic skeleton medals competed in Whistler, seven months after the New York Times reported their names were on the Sochi doping list.

Alexander Tretiakov, a 2014 Olympic champion, finished second in Whistler, one spot ahead of Antoine. Elena Nikitina, a 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, finished 17th out of 25 racers in Whistler.

Nikitina won bronze in Sochi by .04 over American Katie Uhlaender. Uhlaender did not race in Whistler but is on the U.S. team for World Cups this season.

“Sochi is in Russia, and it’s the place where the cheating happened,” Uhlaender said, according to The New York Times. “I’m confused at how the IOC said what it said, and we’re still holding our world championships there.”

MORE: Bobsled, luge, skeleton broadcast schedule

*Correction: Olympic medalist bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor is listed on U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton’s athlete advisory council webpage, but she said Monday she resigned her position on the athletes advisory council in July.

World Short Course Swimming Championships broadcast schedule

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08:  Chad Le Clos of South Africa looks on before the second Semifinal of the Men's 200m Butterfly on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC Sports will live stream every session of the world short-course swimming championships in Windsor, Ontatio, from Tuesday through Sunday.

NBCSN will air live finals coverage Thursday, Friday and Sunday, plus highlights on Saturday. Universal HD will have finals coverage Tuesday and Wednesday.

The world short course championships are held in 25-meter pools, versus 50-meter pools for the Olympics.

This year’s meet includes 10 U.S. Olympians and Rio medalists Katinka Hosszu of Hungary, Mitch Larkin and Emily Seebohm of Australia, Chad le Clos of South Africa and Penny Oleksiak of Canada.

The daily event schedule is here. Full results will be here.

MORE: Hosszu takes Swimmer of the Year over Ledecky

Day Time (ET) Network
Tuesday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Tuesday 6:30 p.m. NBCSports.com/live
Tuesday 9 p.m.* Universal HD
Wednesday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Wednesday 6:30 p.m. NBCSports.com/live
Wednesday 9 p.m.* Universal HD
Thursday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Thursday 6:30 p.m. NBCSN/NBCSports.com/live
Friday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Friday 6:30 p.m. NBCSN/NBCSports.com/live
Saturday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Saturday 6:30 p.m. NBCSports.com/live
Saturday 9:30 p.m.* NBCSN/NBCSports.com/live
Sunday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Sunday 6:30 p.m. NBCSN/NBCSports.com/live

*Same-day delay coverage