McKayla Maroney

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

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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.

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U.S. women’s gymnastics World Championships team analysis

Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles
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The U.S. women’s gymnastics team that will try to win a fourth straight global title at the World Championships in three weeks in Glasgow, Scotland, is arguably the most accomplished in American history.

It’s the first time a U.S. men’s or women’s team for Worlds has included two past Olympic or World all-around champions — Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas.

It’s the first time a U.S. men’s or women’s team for Worlds has included any past individual Olympic champions — Douglas and Aly Raisman.

Biles, Douglas and Raisman were three of the seven women named to the team by USA Gymnastics following selection camp competition in Texas on Thursday night.

The others are 2014 World Championships team members MyKayla Skinner and Madison Kocian; Brenna Dowell, who traveled to the 2013 Worlds but didn’t compete, and Worlds rookie Maggie Nichols.

One of the seven women must be designated an alternate before Worlds, as nations can use a maximum of six in competition in Glasgow.

The team includes zero women under the age of 18, a first in U.S. gymnastics World Championships history. That hasn’t happened at the Olympics since 1952, according to

The U.S. roster is without Olympic team champions McKayla Maroney, who hasn’t competed since the 2013 Worlds, and Kyla Ross, who announced her withdrawal from Worlds team selection on Oct. 1 without citing a reason. The other member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, Jordyn Wieber, is retired.

At Worlds, the U.S.’ biggest competition will likely come from the other three women’s gymnastics powers — China, Romania and Russia. Russia’s early roster includes three members of its five-woman 2012 Olympic silver medal-winning team, including Viktoria Komova, the Olympic all-around silver medalist.

An interesting competition within the U.S. team could be which two women advance from Oct. 24 qualifying into the Worlds individual all-around final Oct. 29. If more than two U.S. women compete on all four events in qualifying, then the two with the highest overall scores advance to the all-around final.

MORE GYMNASTICS: A look at recent Olympians’ comebacks

Here’s a look at the U.S. team and each gymnast’s credentials:

Simone Biles: The two-time reigning World all-around champion and three-time reigning U.S. champion. The 18-year-old Texan could become the first woman to win three straight World all-around titles. She could also break Alicia Sacramone‘s U.S. record for career Worlds medals. Sacramone earned 10 medals over five Worlds. Biles has nine in her first two, after bagging a U.S. women’s record five medals at a single Worlds in 2014. Biles has won nine straight all-around competitions, with her last defeat coming March 30, 2013.

Gabby Douglas: The Olympic all-around champion will compete at Worlds for the first time since her 2011 debut. She took 31 months off from competition after London 2012, returning in March. She’s finished fourth, second and fifth in three all-around competitions this year, with Biles winning all of those titles.

Aly Raisman: The Olympic floor exercise champion is also at Worlds for the first time since 2011 after taking a 31-month break following London 2012. She’s finished third, fifth and third in three all-arounds this year, all won by Biles. Raisman earned the P&G Championships floor exercise title in August over Biles, the two-time reigning World champion in the event.

Maggie Nichols: The Little Canada, Minn., native whose Twitter handle is @MagsGotSwag12, finished second in the P&G Championships all-around, behind Biles and ahead of Raisman and Douglas. She was third at the 2014 P&G Championships and looked destined for her first Worlds team then until dislocating her left kneecap the following week.

Madison Kocian: She’s the P&G champion on uneven bars, the only apparatus for which she was used in the 2014 World Championships team final. The last American to win an Olympic or Worlds uneven bars title was Nastia Liukin in 2005.

Brenna Dowell: She made the 2013 Worlds team and traveled to Antwerp, Belgium, but was designated the alternate with Biles, Ross and Maroney competing in the all-around in qualifying. At that Worlds (but not this one), a maximum of three women per country could compete per apparatus. She was also an alternate for the 2014 Worlds team and is strongest on uneven bars and floor exercise. Dowell, who is taking a year off from competing for Oklahoma University, is the first U.S. women’s gymnast with NCAA experience to make an Olympic or Worlds team since Sacramone in 2011.

MyKayla Skinner: Skinner finished third on vault and fourth on floor exercise at the 2014 Worlds and then second to Biles in the all-around at the American Cup on March 7. She was second on vault and third on floor at the P&G Championships in August.

MORE GYMNASTICS: Analyzing U.S. men’s World Championships team

Rio Olympic equestrian may be moved outside Brazil

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The head of the Brazilian Equestrian Confederation has warned that equestrian events at next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics might have to take place outside Brazil.

Luiz Roberto Giugni blasted the country’s Agriculture Ministry for delays in issuing documentation needed to allow horses brought into Brazil from Europe, the United States and Canada to leave the country.

He warned that if the ministry doesn’t act before the end of the month, “we run the risk of not having the event in Brazil.”

Regulations for bringing horses to and from Brazil are strict. The country is still subject to diseases affecting horses, including glanders, a lethal bacterial infection recently diagnosed in several horses here.

Guigni was speaking on Wednesday at an event in Sao Paulo.