Simone Biles

Five things we learned from U.S. gymnastics National Championships

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Overarching storylines now that the U.S. gymnastics championships are over …

1. The women’s team doesn’t have legitimate replacements for the Fierce Five yet.

Good news for any 2012 Olympians looking to get back into the mix … Team USA still needs you. McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross put on a show at nationals, claiming all of the event gold medals (Ross: balance beam, uneven bars; Maroney: vault, floor exercise).

The only newcomer who set herself apart was all-around champion Simone Biles. With only a handful of juniors from this year’s competition moving to the senior ranks in 2014, there’s plenty of room, and plenty of need for the Fierce Five to return. Judging by this weekend’s performances — the USA could really use a Gabby Douglas uneven bars routine right about now.

2. The American men have some serious depth.

The U.S. men are finally getting a break after cycles of rebuilding after Olympics. The combination of a young Olympic team in 2012 and a great mix of specialists provides a luxury of depth for the first time in many years. In the past the men’s team has leaned heavily on one or two stars (Paul and Morgan Hamm, Blaine Wilson), but the World Championships team this year could be entirely made of men with Olympic and/or worlds experience.

It’s so deep that the 2012 U.S. all-around champion, John Orozco, didn’t make the World Championships team outright; he’s an alternate who could replace the injured Danell Leyva. Things are looking up for a program that has much to prove after their poor showing in London.

3. USA Gymnastics delivered big time for their audience.

USA Gymnastics gets a round of applause for their digital and social media efforts, especially by former University of Michigan gymnast Scott Bregman, who has changed the game for the 50-year-old institution. Up until last year there were few options to see junior portions of competitions, or even day one preliminary competitions for the sport’s most die-hard fans.

USA Gymnastics live streamed all major events this season. They also live streamed podium training, previously only open to the media, and added athlete interviews and vintage full broadcasts of domestic competitions dating to 1980. USA Gymnastics uploaded a staggering 1,200 videos from the weekend’s National Championships, totaling more than 72 hours of coverage. Their YouTube views totaled nearly 1.4 million during the five-day competition. The most watched video? Maroney’s night two vault.

4. Reputation still counts.

Gymnastics remains, in part, a subjective sport. In past decades and even under today’s revised scoring system, gymnasts have relied on reputation to get the benefit of the doubt, whether it’s from the team selection committee or from the judges.

Maroney has set the precedent of near perfect scores on vault. While she was great at nationals, the judges awarded a 9.7 execution score for a vault that was clearly inferior to her Olympic team final stunner that earned a similar 9.733. The good news? If she sticks the Amanar at the World Championships, we could see the first perfect 10.0 at a worlds under the new scoring system.

5. Mykayla Skinner to Worlds?

Three of four women’s spots on the World Championships team are already locked up: Biles, Maroney and Ross. There’s only one spot left and no standout specialists to fill it. Martha Karolyi has thrown surprises in the past, so don’t count out Mykayla Skinner.

Skinner, 16, lacks the polish of her teammates, but she boasts some of the most mind-blowing gymnastics out there, including a double twisting double layout on floor that if performed at the World Championships would bare her name in the Code of Points. She didn’t hit in night one, but she stuck the double twisting double cold Saturday, finishing third on the event behind Maroney and Biles. She can further her cause at the selection camp next month.

Bonus: Bats love gymnastics, too

During the first night of men’s competition a large bat frantically flew around the heads of the audience and commentators in the XL Center (video here). Nastia Liukin muted her mic a few times during the broadcast out of fear of the shrieking as the winged mammal flew by. The bat even got it’s own Twitter account (@PGChampsBat). The arena said it died of “natural causes” before the next day.

Leyva pulls out of worlds; Orozco could replace him

North Korean member of IOC expects team at PyeongChang Olympics

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 12:  Song Chol Ri of North Korea carries the national flag during the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at BC Place on February 12, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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The North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee believes a North Korean delegation will be at the PyeongChang Olympics, according to Kyodo News.

“There is no reason why we won’t come and no reason why we can’t,” IOC member Chang Ung said last week at the Asian Winter Games in Japan, according to the news agency. “We will proceed according to the Olympic Charter.”

An IOC spokesman previously said that the first step toward possible North Korean participation in the PyeongChang Olympics would be the North Korean Olympic Committee’s response to its invitation to the Winter Games sent out two weeks ago.

The IOC sends invitations to National Olympic Committees around the world coinciding with one year out to an Olympics.

However, it’s not a certainty that North Korea will qualify any athletes for the Winter Games. Despite winning at least four medals at every Summer Games since boycotting Seoul 1988, it didn’t have any athletes at the Sochi Olympics and just two at Vancouver 2010.

North Korea has zero top performing international winter sports athletes and few who even appear at major competitions.

North Korean short track speed skater Choe Un Song ranks No. 123 in the world after appearing in one World Cup this season in Beijing. A pairs figure skating team is ranked No. 54. A different North Korean pairs team missed a Sochi berth by 1.5 points at the last qualifying competition.

Nations without qualified athletes are still able to enter one man and one woman in the Summer Olympics in swimming and track and field. But no such exception applies in the Winter Games.

The IOC has given no indication that an exception could be made to invite a non-qualified North Korean athlete to PyeongChang.

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Chad le Clos still has nightmares of losing to Michael Phelps in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09:  Michael Phelps (L) of the United States leads Chad le Clos of South Africa in the Men's 200m Butterfly Final on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
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Chad le Clos reportedly said he still has nightmares about losing to Michael Phelps in their much-anticipated rematch in the Rio Olympic 200m butterfly.

“I wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat over that race,” le Clos said, according to Independent Online in South Africa.

In Rio, le Clos finished fourth in the 200m butterfly final (video here), seven tenths of a second behind Phelps after famously turning his head to look at Phelps in the final 50 meters of the race.

In 2012, le Clos beat Phelps for Olympic gold by .05.

When Phelps unretired in 2014, he said he would never race the 200m butterfly again. But he picked it up a year later, in part because times around the world were not that fast and in part because of his desire to exact revenge on le Clos in Rio.

Now, it’s le Clos who wants a rematch.

“I want it that bad,” le Clos said, according to the report. “I just want Phelps to come back.”

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