Gabby Douglas wins American Cup, first title since 2012 Olympics

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NEWARK, N.J. — Just like four years ago, Gabby Douglas posted the highest all-around score at the American Cup. There was just one significant difference on Saturday.

“My scores counted!” Douglas said.

The Olympic all-around champion led wire to wire to win in her first meet of the Olympic year, her first all-around title since she the London 2012 Games.

In between, Douglas took 2 1/2 years off from meets, returning last March and competing four times in 2015 with a best all-around finish of second place.

On Saturday, Douglas, hoping this summer to become the first Olympic all-around gold medalist to compete in the following Games since Nadia Comaneci in 1980, made no major errors over four routines.

She totaled 60.165 points in a sparkling fuchsia and silver leotard, beating 2015 World Championships teammate Maggie Nichols by .466 at the Prudential Center. The packed crowd roared with every clean landing and high-flying flip at the biggest annual international meet in the U.S.

“I’m so thankful to have that clicking mode, when the cameras are there and when it counts,” Douglas said. “I kind of have that, switch it on, switch it off.”

DOUGLAS VIDEO: Balance Beam | Floor Exercise | Uneven Bars | Vault

The field did not include Simone Biles, the three-time reigning World all-around champion and Rio Olympic all-around super favorite expected to make her 2016 debut later this month.

Douglas broke through at this meet four years ago by posting the highest all-around score, despite being an unofficial competitor outside of the overall standings. She watched as Jordyn Wieber was awarded the trophy at Madison Square Garden.

“I’m not going to lie, I was a little sad,” Douglas recalled Saturday with a humorous pout. “Oh man, I kind of wanted the cup [trophy].”

Would this year’s Douglas have beaten the 2012 American Cup Douglas?

“You cannot speculate on these things because gymnastics is evolving every year and every year expectations are harder,” U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said. “She’s definitely further ahead than last year.”

Douglas did speculate. In some ways, she’s ahead of her 2012 pace.

“The form needs to be there a little bit more, but overall I would have to say it’s kind of better than 2012 [American Cup],” said Douglas, who along with Olympic floor exercise champion Aly Raisman is trying to become the first U.S. woman to make back-to-back Olympic teams since 1996 and 2000. “I feel like my mental game is more there, and I feel more strong and more aggressive.”

Douglas said she’d probably give this first American Cup trophy to her mom to put in a case in their Los Angeles home.

The American Cup winners in 2004 (Carly Patterson) and 2008 (Nastia Liukin) bagged Olympic all-around gold later that year, with Douglas’ top score in 2012 adding to that trend.

That bodes well for Douglas’ hopes to become the first back-to-back Olympic women’s all-around champ since Věra Čáslavská in 1964 and 1968.

She’ll have to surpass Biles, who beat Douglas in all four of Douglas’ meets last year and relegated Douglas to silver by a comfortable 1.083 points at the World Championships on Oct. 29.

Also Saturday, American Donnell Whittenburg led the men’s competition going into the final rotation, when he fell on high bar and was passed by Japan’s Ryohei Kato for the title by .366.

Sam Mikulak, a 2012 U.S. Olympian, finished fourth on Saturday, falling off pommel horse and high bar and putting one hand down on his final floor exercise pass.

Mikulak is coming back from a partially torn left Achilles suffered in early October, which knocked him out of the World Championships.

The next notable meet is the Jesolo Trophy in Italy in two weeks, which could feature Biles and Raisman in their 2016 competition debuts.

The P&G Championships and Olympic trials are in June and July, after which the five-man and five-woman U.S. Olympic teams will be named.

“There’s more work to be done,” Douglas said. “I’m not going to let up.”

MORE: Mary Lou Retton recalls 1985 American Cup win after Olympics

Golf faces uncertain Olympic future due to numerous dropouts

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 27:  Jason Day of Australia (L) and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walk together up the fifth fairway during their semifinal match at the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play at the Austin Country Club on March 27, 2016 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
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AKRON, Ohio (AP) — For the longest time, golf’s biggest headache in preparing for a return to the Olympics was getting a new course built in Rio de Janeiro.

That seems like a nuisance compared with its next major hurdle.

Who’s going to play?

Ten eligible players over the last two months have pulled out of the Olympics, six of them specifically citing concerns about the Zika virus. The last week alone was particularly devastating to a sport wanting to make a good impression after being gone from the games for 112 years.

Rory McIlroy, a four-time major champion with the broadest global appeal among young stars, was the most prominent player to withdraw. That was until Tuesday when Jason Day, the No. 1 player in the world, said he would not be going. Shane Lowry and Branden Grace are planning to start families and will stay home because of Zika.

That’s four players from the top 25 who won’t be in Rio, and dread that more might follow.

One of them might be Jordan Spieth, who described his Olympic position Tuesday as “uncertain.”

“I’ve always been excited about the possible opportunity, but there’s quite a few different factors that would turn somebody away from going. It’s not just one, there’s quite a few factors,” Spieth said, mentioning Zika, security and reports of violence.

The International Golf Federation stopped responding to each withdrawal because it was repeating the same statement: It is disappointed, but understands that each player has to decide on his own.

“Unfortunately with what’s going on with Brazil and Rio with the Zika virus, there’s a small chance it could happen, and I just can’t put my family through that, especially with the future children we’re looking at having,” Day said.

While the sport is assured a spot in 2020 in Tokyo, the International Olympic Committee will vote next year to decide if golf stays longer than that. And it doesn’t help when there’s an All-Star roster of players who won’t be there for whatever reasons.

Because countries are limited to two players (a maximum of four if they are among the top 15), only 18 players from the top 50 will be in Rio – as of Tuesday.

IGF executive director Antony Scanlon, who has been involved in nine Olympics, believes golf still can put on a good show.

“We gave a commitment to have the best players there,” Scanlon said. “The decision they’re making are personal. We can’t make those decisions for them. All you can do is understand the decision they’re making. After the games, we’ll have two worthy champions, gold medalists that history will look back on. When the IOC members come to the venue, they’re going to have a great time. They’ll experience a sport where you can get close to the players and see their passion and determination.

“All we can do is make sure we deliver a great event.”

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

When golf made its pitch to get back into the Olympics for the first time since St. Louis in 1904, the IGF presented video support from Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and other top players who offered enthusiasm and unconditional support for Olympic competition.

That was in 2009, before Brazil was devastated by political corruption and an economic meltdown, before concerns over polluted water and whether Rio could provide adequate security. And that was before Zika.

Brazil has been the hardest hit by the outbreak of Zika, a mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects and possible neurological problems in adults. Charl Schwartzel and Lowry said if the Olympics were anywhere else, they would be there.

“The Olympic committee has to look at this and go, ‘Look, it was a weird situation, so don’t penalize golf because of a weird situation,'” Bubba Watson said.

But is it as simple as blaming it on Rio?

No women eligible for the Olympics have dropped out, and they would seem to be at greater risk from Zika. Then again, the women do not have the chance to play on a big stage like the Olympics. All three of their U.S. majors are held the week before the men’s majors and often get lost in coverage.

The perception is that Zika is an easy way out from going to South America for an Olympic competition that has little history behind it in golf. And the leading organizations did themselves no favors by cramming their biggest events into the summer ahead of the games. The final two majors, the British Open and PGA Championship, will be held in the month before the competition in Rio.

After the Olympics, PGA Tour players go right into the lucrative FedEx Cup, and then for Americans and Europeans, it’s off to the Ryder Cup and its flag-waving fervor.

“Other athletes have been training four and eight years to go to the Olympics. I can see why they’re going because it’s the pinnacle of their sport,” Lowry said. “It’s not the pinnacle of golf yet. It could be in 20 years’ time. But it’s not like winning the U.S. Open or winning the Masters or playing in the Ryder Cup.”

MORE: Tiger Woods wishes Olympic golf tournament had ‘more quality’ field

Keni Harrison emerges from 11 siblings to brink of Olympic berth

EUGENE, OR - MAY 28: Kendra Harrison of the United States, reacts after winning the 100 meter hurdles race at Hayward Field on May 28, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)
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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Even as the middle child in a family with 11 kids, Keni Harrison always stood out.

Only fitting, then, that her family stands out, too. A few of them are hoping they’ll be at the stadium in Rio de Janeiro later this summer – dressed in their familiar neon shirts to cheer on Keni, the American record holder in the 100-meter hurdles, at the Olympics.

The 23-year-old Harrison used sports – first gymnastics, then soccer, then, finally, track – to carve her path in an oversized family that wasn’t originally planned that way.

At first, her mother, Karon, didn’t want kids, yet ended up with one short of a dozen – nine of whom are adopted, including Keni, who will try to secure her spot in Rio next week at Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon.

“I know it wasn’t easy raising all of us,” said Keni, who broke the American record last month. “But my parents found a way. They always found a way.”

The Harrison crew grew up in a six-bedroom house in Clayton, North Carolina. Bathroom space was at a premium and meals were typically on the run – many of them eaten out of the back of a hotel shuttle bus the family used to transport all the kids from one activity to another.

Keni was born in Tennessee to a mother she never knew. Karon and Gary had just adopted a daughter, Tasha, when they got a call from the agency about another infant in need of a home. Were they interested?

Next thing they knew, they were on their way home from a camping trip to pick up Keni. She and Tasha are 11 days apart.

The Harrison house has always been filled with noise, screams, love and caring. Casey, 33, is the oldest and Kara, 18, the youngest in a family that includes kids of many nationalities – including two from Bolivia and two of Korean heritage.

“It was always busy, but you don’t think about it,” their mom said. “You had birthday parties out of the back of the car. You always keep snacks in the car. You’re running here and there.”

Both the parents are retired military, with Gary now working for the Transportation Security Administration and Karon as an assistant preschool teacher.

They bought toilet paper in bulk, along with cereal, mac and cheese, fish sticks and milk – lots of milk. The family went through nearly seven gallons a week.

Gary and their grandpa built a large dining room table so they could congregate. One problem: They were rarely home together. Their schedules were just too frenzied; Karon memorized everything and jotted it all down for her husband.

They made plenty of memories. A few embarrassing ones, too.

Like when the family picked pick up Casey after high school cross country practice in a shuttle bus with the word “Marriott” fading on the side but still visible.

“They’d all yell my name and wave,” laughed Casey, an Air Force major living in Anchorage, Alaska. “You sort of pretend you don’t know the people yelling out the window at you.”

It was hard to ignore the talent of Keni, though.

At first, she appeared headed toward a soccer career. She was super-fast, which drew the attention of the track coach who asked her to run in a few meets.

She showed so much potential even with little training and wearing tennis shoes. It didn’t take long until she hit her stride, capturing 100 and 400 hurdles titles at the 2010 USA Junior Olympics. She caught the attention of Clemson, where she went before transferring to Kentucky and going on to twin two individual NCAA titles.

Keni remains a volunteer assistant coach for Kentucky while training under Wildcats coach Edrick Floreal. At the recent NCAA championships in Eugene, she helped out the team before squeezing in her own workouts.

“She’s the kind of kid that doesn’t take anything for granted,” her mom said. “Keni feels she has to live up to a lot of expectations and doesn’t want to disappoint people. She doesn’t realize that everyone will be proud of her no matter how she does.”

Support. This group has that in abundance.

Whenever Keni competes, there’s sure to be family around. Usually in bright attire. That’s the way it was when Casey graduated from the Air Force Academy, her family driving out to Colorado and wearing fluorescent green shirts.

“People were like, `Where is the (family) section?”‘ Casey recounted. “I’m like, `See all those green shirts? It’s right there.”‘

Just thinking about the trials has Keni’s mom on edge, especially since she has to miss it for a previously planned trip. Her husband will be there, though.

It’s a loaded field, too, one that includes 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medalist Dawn Harper-Nelson, Lolo Jones and Brianna Rollins, the 2013 world outdoor champion. But Harrison is the one to catch after breaking the American record last month at the Nike Prefontaine Classic in a time of 12.24 seconds. It was just 0.03 shy of eclipsing the fastest time in history.

“To everybody else, she’s a superstar,” Casey said. “To us, she’s just Keni.”

MORE: U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials broadcast schedule