Simone Biles

USA Gymnastics’ future bright with Rio 2016 on horizon

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Martha Karolyi certainly wasn’t lacking confidence after the U.S. women won more than half of the medals at the World Gymnastics Championships.

“We are ready to go for Rio,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “We have some more reserves.”

Start with the stars. There’s Simone Biles, in her first year as a senior gymnast, who won the all-around title in Antwerp, Belgium, last week.

“You can see that fire in her eyes,” 2008 Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin said at the Diana Nyad Swim for Relief event in New York on Wednesday. “Her skills are just through the roof. It’s not just her skills, but it’s the way that she executes them. It’s the Amanar on vault. She got a skill named after her on floor (exercise).”

There’s also Kyla Ross, the youngest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic champion team, who won three silvers, including in the all-around. Both Biles and Ross are 16.

McKayla Maroney, 17, again showed she’s the best vaulter in the world by defending her title on the high-flying event.

The reserves that Karolyi referred to? Well, there are two sets.

Olympians Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman all took time off after the London Games but expressed interest in returning to training at some point. Raisman is already back in her Massachusetts gym.

Nobody has made back-to-back U.S. Olympic teams since 2000, so perhaps the more noteworthy reserves are juniors.

Karolyi “insisted she has several 13-year-olds already gearing up for Rio,” according to the AP.

The top two finishers at the U.S. Junior Championships are too young to compete at the senior level next year. Bailie Key is 14, and Laurie Hernandez is 13.

If history is any indication, they could very well pass Biles and everyone else as the top U.S. all-around hopes by the 2016 Olympics. In the last 10 years, 10 different women have been the top U.S. finisher at the year’s biggest competition.

Look at the last Olympic cycle. In 2009, Bridget Sloan won the World Championship. In 2010, Rebecca Bross was the world bronze medalist. In 2011, Wieber won the World Championship. In 2012, Douglas won the Olympic title.

Neither Sloan nor Bross made the 2012 Olympic team. Neither Wieber nor Douglas was old enough for senior events in 2009 or 2010.

“The turnover is so high,” Liukin said. “I think it is important to take it one year at a time. It’s so hard now to do so when the Olympics has gotten so much more attention, I feel like, in the past few Olympics.”

Liukin would know. She was too young for the 2004 Olympics, entering senior competition in 2005. She took the silver medal behind U.S. teammate Chellsie Memmel by .001 of a point at the 2005 World Championships.

Liukin had to keep her form for three more years before the Beijing Games, while her biggest competition come 2008, Shawn Johnson, was 10th in the junior all-around at the 2005 U.S. Championships. Liukin, then 16, had no idea that a 13-year-old would eventually rival her.

“In ’05, I would say I wasn’t aware,” Liukin said. “It was my first year on the senior rankings, and I was so excited to be there (at worlds). I remember it was in Rod Laver Arena in Australia, in Melbourne. I remember walking into that arena, and it was like 20,000 people, and I just looked at my dad with huge eyes.”

Liukin, now a freshman at New York University, knew better in 2009. She pulled out of the 2009 World Championships before the team was named because she didn’t feel she could compete at her best. She was also well-versed in the U.S. gymnastics landscape, with rising stars such as Bross, who also trained under Liukin’s dad, inspired by Liukin’s performance in Beijing.

“I knew there was a whole new generation of girls wanting to push me out,” Liukin said. “That’s the way I feel like these young girls are. They’re so ambitious.”

Italian gymnast apologizes for comment about Biles

John Shuster, 30 pounds lighter, rallies for 4th Olympic curling berth

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John Shuster is going to a fourth Olympics. It’s one more chance to prove Urban Dictionary wrong.

Shuster, 30 pounds lighter since his second straight Olympic failure in Sochi, led a team that beat Heath McCormick‘s squad at the U.S. Olympic Trials finals in Omaha on Saturday night.

Shuster, Tyler GeorgeMatt Hamilton and John Landsteiner lost the opener of a best-of-three finals series on Thursday.

They came back to deliver in a pair of must-win games, 9-4 on Friday night and 7-5 on Saturday, after spending each day at the Omaha Zoo.

The new-look Shuster — leaner and, at least this weekend, clutch — would astonish those who know him by scenes at the last two Olympics.

After taking bronze in 2006 as a role player, he led the last two U.S. Olympic teams to 2-7 records in 2010 and in 2014. Last place in Vancouver, where he was benched after an 0-4 start. Next to last place in Sochi.

After the last Olympics, the former bartender from Chisholm, Minn., was left off USA Curling’s 10-man high performance team.

He took it as motivation to get in shape.

Shuster, a father of a 2- and a 4-year-old who once said, “If I don’t have pizza three or four times a week, I’m not happy,” now totes meal replacement shakes. He’s starting to enjoy Olympic lifting.

Shuster, George, Hamilton and Landsteiner, all absent from that USA Curling high performance list, formed their own team. They became Team USA in their first season together and represented the Stars and Stripes at worlds in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Their results — fourth, third and fifth —  marked the best string of U.S. men’s or women’s finishes at that level in a decade.

Shuster is set to join Debbie McCormick as the only Americans to curl at four Olympics. The sport was part of the first Winter Games in 1924, then absent as a medal sport until 1998.

“I don’t think it’s about the four Olympics for me,” Shuster said on NBCSN. “What this is about — and what I’m about — is getting my teammates to now. I have two new Olympians on this team, and I know how special that is.”

George, the 35-year-old vice skip for Shuster, led a team that lost to Shuster in the 2010 Olympic Trials final. The liquor store manager from Duluth, Minn., is going to his first Winter Games.

As is the 28-year-old Hamilton, whose younger sister qualified for PyeongChang earlier Saturday.

Landsteiner, a 27-year-old corrosion engineer, played with Shuster since 2011, including in Sochi.

Alternate Joe Polo can go 12 years between Olympic appearances after taking bronze on that Torino team.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 54 seconds, breaks record

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Katie Ledecky is back at Stanford and back to pulverizing distance races.

The sophomore and five-time Olympic champion won a 1,650-yard freestyle by 54.45 seconds at a meet at Texas A&M on Saturday night.

The runner-up was in a different heat; Ledecky won her heat by 1:02.16.

Ledecky lowered her own American record, clocking 15:03.31. She had the previous mark of 15:03.92 set last Nov. 20.

Ledecky had every swimmer lapped in the 25-yard pool before the halfway point and ended up lapping everyone twice.

The men also raced a 1,650 on Saturday. The winner clocked 15:18.95, which was 15.64 seconds slower than Ledecky’s time.

Full results are here.

The 1,650 is the longest race on the NCAA program, while the longest race at the Olympics and world championships is the 1500m.

The No. 2 woman all-time in the 1,650 is triple 2008 Olympic medalist Katie Hoff, a full 21.04 seconds slower.

Ledecky owns the 1500m world record, too, 13.4 seconds faster than any other woman in history.

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MORE: Michael Phelps’ discussion with Katie Ledecky after 2017 Worlds