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

Mark McMorris, after horrible injury, ups risk for 2 gold medals in PyeongChang

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 08: Mark McMorris of Canada waits for his score after his second run during the Snowboard Men's Slopestyle Final during day 1 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 8, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mark McMorris remembers the day in July 2011 when he found out he could one day be an Olympian.

The Saskatchewan native was at a Canadian steakhouse watching TSN. A report said slopestyle snowboarding had been added to the Olympics for the next Winter Games in Sochi in three years.

Holy s***,” McMorris, in a phone interview last week, remembered thinking to himself. “I have a really good chance at going because I won this event so many times.”

McMorris was only 17 years old then, but he had already won a World Cup slopestyle contest in January 2010, a month after turning 16. Plus, he took silver at his Aspen Winter X Games debut in January 2011.

McMorris won the X Games in 2012 and 2013, then broke a rib at the 2014 X Games, 12 days before his Olympic debut. He still made it to Sochi, but the overwhelming favorite tag was gone. McMorris took bronze behind surprise American Sage Kotsenburg.

Since then, two days greatly impacted McMorris’ snowboarding. He will never forget one of them. He doesn’t remember the other.

On June 8, 2015, the International Olympic Committee added snowboard big air for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. McMorris, who had won big air at X Games five months earlier, instantly became a favorite for two medals in South Korea. Perhaps two gold medals.

Unlike slopestyle, McMorris doesn’t remember how he heard about big air’s Olympic inclusion. He believes his medal chances in PyeongChang are equal in both events.

“Some people might say slope, because I win more slope contests,” said McMorris, who starred in a reality TV show with big brother Craig, “McMorris & McMorris,” and has his own video game. “But I also win the big air contests when I land. Usually, I go all in rather than get second or third. I try my harder stuff.”

McMorris swept big air and slopestyle at the 2015 X Games and nearly did it again in 2016, edged by countryman Max Parrot in big air by two points. Parrot also beat McMorris in slopestyle at the Laax Open in Switzerland last week. He is clearly the biggest rival heading to PyeongChang.

McMorris plans to compete in both big air and slopestyle at Aspen this week, and could win both. This is remarkable given what happened Feb. 21, 2016.

McMorris broke his right femur in an Air and Style big air run in Los Angeles (video here). His rehab has been extensively documented by Canadian media.

McMorris returned to competition in November and quickly returned to winning. He captured a big air test event at the PyeongChang Olympic venue.

“For sure, I was nervous and stressed, but I put so much time into my rehabilitation and made sure I was super strong,” McMorris said of trying high-risk tricks again, like the frontside triple cork 1440 he attempted at Air and Style. “You can work as hard as you can to feel like you were at one point. I did that, and it ended up working out super well.”

McMorris said he falls every day in training, testing his surgically repaired right leg with a titanium rod the length of his femur.

“Not concern, but for sure I feel my leg somedays,” he said. “Big impact [fall], I’ll feel it in my groin. I’ll get some metallic feeling in the back of my knee, sort of where the femur meets the knee. I deal with my leg most days when I wake up. It just takes me a little bit longer to warm up. It still works pretty good.”

McMorris is credited as the first rider to land a backside triple cork 1440 in 2011. He’s working on more difficult tricks.

“Trying to perfect the switch backside triple cork 1620, which is kind of a new one in our industry,” he said. “I’ve never been able to do it in a slopestyle run. I’ve done it one time in a big air event at X Games last year. I’d love to do that in slopestyle, trying to link three triple corks together, which would set me up to be in a pretty good place.”

At this time four years ago, a McMorris-Shaun White rivalry was being hyped for the first Olympic slopestyle event. White had won his last X Games slopestyle start in 2009 and started training the event again for a Sochi slopestyle-halfpipe double.

McMorris dominated the 2013 Winter X Games with the two highest scores, while White was fifth. White ended up dropping out of slopestyle on the eve of the Winter Olympics, drawing criticism from Canadian riders, but notably not McMorris.

The McMorris-White relationship took a twist last February when McMorris suffered his broken femur at White’s Air and Style event. McMorris said he got hurt because of an uneven landing area, according to CBC.

In July, a video of White and McMorris skateboarding together in New York City was published on White’s social media accounts. McMorris said last week he might compete in Air and Style next month, though he didn’t want to answer White-related questions.

White said earlier this month he has dropped slopestyle altogether. It’s unknown if or when Kotsenburg will return to competition. He wasn’t invited to X Games.

McMorris can’t speak to the Americans, but he can say he’s feeling more confident going into the Olympic year than four years ago.

“Because I’ve been through the ringer once of the Olympics,” he said. “I know what’s coming. I know what I need to do, and I understand what it takes to perform under pressure. Hopefully, this time, I don’t have a broken rib. I’m pretty aware what the level’s going to be like in a year’s time. But you never know, it’s a judged sport as well.”

VIDEO: NBC’s lookahead to PyeongChang

European Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule

AP
AP
Leave a comment

NBC Sports will air live coverage of the European Figure Skating Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, this week.

The competition includes reigning world champions Javier Fernandez of Spain, Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia and ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France.

NBCSN will provide live coverage that will also be streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Andrea Joyce and 2011 U.S. champion Ryan Bradley will call the action on NBCSN, while 2006 Olympic ice dance silver medalist Ben Agosto will join the team for ice dance coverage.

Skaters are preparing for the world championships in Helsinki in two months.

MORE: U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Wednesday Noon Women’s Short NBCSN
Wednesday 2 p.m. Pairs Short (LIVE) NBCSN
Thursday Noon Short Dance NBCSN
Thursday 2 p.m. Pairs Free (LIVE) NBCSN
Friday Noon Men’s Short NBCSN
Friday 2 p.m. Women’s Free (LIVE) NBCSN
Saturday 9 a.m. Free Dance (LIVE) NBCSN
Saturday 6 p.m. Men’s Free NBCSN
Saturday, Feb. 4 3 p.m. Women’s/Men’s Free NBC