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

Yulia Stepanova, doping whistleblower, appeals her Olympic ban

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - JULY 06:  Yuliya Stepanova looks on after finishing last in the Womens 800m heats during day one of the 23rd European Athletics Championships at Olympic Stadium on July 6, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images for European Athletics )
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Whistleblower Yulia Stepanova‘s hopes of competing in the Summer Olympics are all but over. Her fight to expose doping and corruption is not.

“It’s OK to lose a good fight,” Stepanova’s husband, Vitaly Stepanov, told The Associated Press on Monday.

They have appealed to the International Olympic Committee to reverse its decision, handed down Sunday, that denies Stepanova a chance at competing in the Rio Games, which begin Aug. 5. The decision, the Stepanovs claim, is based on incorrect information, including the IOC’s framing of Stepanova’s decision to become a whistleblower as a too-little-too-late desperation play made after the Russian team had cast her aside.

It’s a conclusion that both the World Anti-Doping Agency and track’s governing body, the IAAF, disagree with; both recommended Stepanova be allowed to compete in Rio.

But Stepanov said he received several signals that the IOC would not go along, beginning with a general lack of interest from the key decision makers. He said that during the push for Olympic eligibility, he spoke with two separate IOC officials for a total of 90 minutes.

“I think what the IOC didn’t do is spend enough time to understand how big the problem is in Russia and how much covering up is happening in Russian sports,” he said.

Stepanova was the 800-meter runner who was entrenched in the Russian doping system but later came forward with details about the cheating. That triggered investigations that led to the banning of the Russian track team from the Olympics. After receiving more information about Russian sports as a whole, the IOC opted against a ban of the entire Russian team.

Part of that decision included a ruling that any Russian with a previous doping ban would not be allowed in Rio. That includes Stepanova, though the legality of that ruling is in question: In 2011, the Court of Arbitration for Sport invalidated the IOC’s Rule 45, which called for Olympic bans for any athlete who’d served more than a six-month doping penalty. CAS said it amounted to double jeopardy.

It was one of several facets from the decision handed down Sunday that indicated the difficulty the IOC had in finding the right balance between, as president Thomas Bach called it, “individual justice and collective responsibility.” There also were political concerns; a Russian official addressed the IOC executive board and told members not to cave into geopolitical pressure.

While Russia largely welcomed the decision, it was roundly criticized by those in the anti-doping world. The move to ban Stepanova was widely viewed as the worst part of the judgment.

“The decision to refuse her entry in to the Games is incomprehensible and will undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Stepanov said his wife got a bout of the stomach flu on Sunday – making a bad day that much worse.

She was training for the Olympics, knowing that if she made it, she would not compete for a medal, the way she had in the past.

“Her goal is to participate,” Stepanov said. “In my view, she deserved to be an Olympian a lot more than when she was a doped athlete.”

But the odds are against her.

Stepanov said there is no money to fund an appeal to CAS, which would have the last say on her possible ban.

“Sunday was a day to cry a little, to get disappointed,” Stepanov said. “But today’s Monday. We feel we’re trying to fight for the right thing, so we wake up and start fighting again.”

MORE: Russian whistleblower denied bid to compete in Rio Olympics

Gabby Douglas ‘a very strong possibility’ for all-around, Martha Karolyi says

Gabby Douglas
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Gabby Douglas has “a very strong possibility” to get a chance to defend her Olympic all-around title in Rio, U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said Monday.

“Gabby’s preparation is in a very, very good direction, and I foresee that she can be in the all-around, but we’re not taking this decision as of now yet,” Karolyi said.

The U.S. will put no more than three women from its five-woman team in the all-around in qualifying. The top two Americans in qualifying will advance to the all-around final, the most prestigious individual competition in the sport.

“We have a tentative lineup, but that’s absolutely tentative and we would not reveal that lineup at the moment yet, because most likely there will be changes as time goes,” said Karolyi, adding that the lineup won’t be finalized until next week.

Simone Biles is considered a lock to be one of the all-arounders in qualifying. Who joins her is unclear.

Douglas and Aly Raisman were tapped at the 2015 World Championships, with Biles and Douglas topping Raisman in qualifying and then going one-two in the all-around final.

However, both Raisman and first-year senior Laurie Hernandez finished higher than Douglas in the all-around at the P&G Championships and the Olympic Trials in the last month.

Karolyi said that Douglas, who fell off the balance beam on both nights at the Olympic Trials, has improved at a pre-Olympic training camp. Karolyi also said that Douglas would not perform the difficult Amanar vault in Rio, which carries five tenths more in start value than the vault Douglas used at the Olympic Trials.

Biles and Raisman both perform the Amanar. If Biles, Douglas and Raisman do the all-around in qualifying, Douglas will go in with a start-value disadvantage in the chase to grab two available final spots.

In 2012, Douglas, Raisman and Jordyn Wieber all did the all-around in qualifying, with the 2011 World all-around champion Wieber finishing third out of the Americans (and fourth overall), missing the all-around final.

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