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

Medals or mosquitoes? Zika still talk of Olympic golf

Rory McIlroy
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Olympic qualifying for golf ends in seven weeks, at which time players will have to determine if medals outweigh mosquitoes.

For now, there is only concern.

Rory McIlroy was the latest player to say Zika was in the back of his mind. In an interview with the BBC after his Irish Open victory, he said he has been reading up on the mosquito-borne virus, which has been linked to serious birth defects. McIlroy is engaged, and he said they might be starting a family in the next few years.

“I have to monitor that situation,” he said.

Masters champion Danny Willett was the next to weigh in. Asked about it Tuesday at the BMW PGA Championship, the 28-year-old from England said he was keeping on top of it. Willett’s wife, Nicole, had their first child just 11 days before he slipped on the green jacket.

“It’s not great, is it? There’s going to be 500,000 people watching the Olympics, and you have 11,000 athletes right in the heart of where it’s at,” Willett said. “If it turns out that it would be a massive threat to myself or to Nic or to the little man, then I probably wouldn’t go. Family comes first.

“But as it stands at the minute, I think everything should be OK.”

The Zika virus is in the news everywhere, which goes beyond the standard media outlets.

The International Golf Federation posted a two-page update on its website last month, and it is passing along Zika-related material from the International Olympic Committee and the World Health Organization to tours and player liaisons.

Andy Levinson, executive director of USA Golf, said Tuesday that updates from WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are posted in the weekly bulletins left in lockers and on the “Players Links” website, where PGA Tour players get other pertinent information they don’t want to miss – like tee times, and FedEx Cup points, and where to leave their courtesy cars.

Two weeks ago at The Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s doctor was in player dining for one-on-ones on Zika.

Vijay Singh made a passing reference to Zika last month when the 53-year-old Fijian decided not to play. Marc Leishman of Australia also mentioned Zika, and for good reason. His wife nearly died last year of toxic shock syndrome and her immune system remains weakened.

The other players to pull out — Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel — cited a busy schedule or family priorities.

Ask a player a question, and there’s bound to be an answer, even if it’s not entirely informed. McIlroy said he was planning to get “injections” on Wednesday so that “I will be immunized for whatever — if I do get bitten by a mosquito down there.”

There is no vaccine for the Zika virus.

IGF executive director Antony Scanlon said he was in Rio de Janeiro a few weeks ago for meetings and saw workers spraying “an unbelievable amount of anti-mosquito” repellant around the various venues. He also repeated the timing — August is the tail end of winter in Brazil, and mosquitoes are not expected to be as prevalent.

Scanlon said he was most curious by the silence from the other side — the women.

“If anyone is at risk, it’s the ladies,” Scanlon said Tuesday from London. “We’ve heard nothing from them. I’m sure they’ve got concerns. And we’re distributing as much information as we can to the players.”

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said as much two weeks ago during an Olympic news conference. He said five or six players have asked him about Zika, though none has said it would keep her from Rio. In an email Tuesday, he said not much has changed.

“They have been receiving regular updates on the topic,” Whan said. “No player has suggested she is not coming (at least not to me). But it is certainly a concern.”

It could be another example that the Olympics mean more to the women, who rarely get a stage as large as this and have a stronger tradition of competing for country in what was the first truly global tour.

Various headlines made it sound as though McIlroy and Willett might skip the Olympics because of Zika, and while their answers allowed some wiggle room, the context of their statements suggested nothing has changed.

At least not yet.

“We’re down to go and hopefully they can give us some proper guidelines as to how to keep it at bay and keep it under control so that it doesn’t ruin what could be potentially a fantastic Olympics,” Willett said.

“Not as apprehensive as I once was,” McIlroy said about the Olympics. “As it gets closer, I am relishing the thought of going down there and competing for gold.”

This much is clear — golfers currently eligible for the Olympics are having to study more than hole locations and wind direction.

MORE: WHO: Olympics OK to go on

Russian Olympic champion positive in Beijing doping retest

Anna Chicherova
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London Olympic high jump champion Anna Chicherova is one of many Russians among 31 athletes overall who tested positive in recent retests of Beijing Olympic samples, according to Russian news agency TASS.

TASS named nine 2008 Olympic medalists among 14 Russian athletes, citing a Russian TV report, including eight medalists in track and field, with Chicherova being the superstar of the group.

“Perhaps it’s just a mistake,” Chicherova said, according to an Associated Press translation of a Russian TV report. “I can’t explain how my doping test gave a positive result. I’ve competed a lot since then and given hundreds of samples.”

Last week, the International Olympic Committee said 31 unnamed athletes from 12 nations across six sports failed drug tests in retesting of 454 samples from 2008 using the latest drug-testing methods.

Chicherova, 33, took high jump gold at the London Games and bronze in Beijing. She is one of two track and field athletes to earn an individual-event medal at the last five World Championships and last two Olympics. The other is Usain Bolt.

Chicherova, who has had no previously widespread reported doping history, would be one of Russia’s top Olympic track and field medal hopes in Rio, should the ban on Russian track and field athletes competing be lifted before the Games.

Russia is expected to learn if it will be allowed to send a track and field team to Rio on June 17.

“The Ministry of Sport is extremely disappointed to hear the speculation that Russian athletes are among those found to have violated anti-doping rules at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after re-testing their samples,” the Russian Ministry of Sport said in a statement through Burson-Marsteller public relations firm. “Any athletes found cheating should face corresponding sanctions.

“We have taken numerous steps to eradicate the issue of doping, and understand that the roots of the problem, particularly in athletics, go back to the past.”

MORE: Russia track and field boss: ’50-60 percent’ chance of Olympics