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

Simone Biles among Time Person of the Year finalists

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07: Simone Biles of the United States competes on the uneven bars during Women's qualification for Artistic Gymnastics on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Simone Biles is one of 11 finalists for Time‘s Person of the Year.

Time‘s Person of the Year, named annually since 1927, has never been an individual athlete or team. Tennis player Billie Jean King was part of the “American Women” group named in 1975.

In 2015, the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion Caitlyn Jenner was one of eight finalists.

The Person of the Year “is the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.”

Biles, 19, is the only teenager finalist and is six years younger than the youngest-ever solo Person of the Year, Charles Lindbergh in 1927. Biles won four gold medals and one bronze in Rio, the largest collection for a female gymnast at one Olympics since 1988.

The Person of the Year will be announced on Wednesday morning on “Today.”

Here are the finalists, in alphabetical order:

Simone Biles
Hillary Clinton
CRISPR Scientists
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Nigel Farage
The Flint Whistleblowers
Beyoncé Knowles
Narendra Modi
Vladimir Putin
Donald Trump
Mark Zuckerberg

VIDEO: Biles shows Stephen Colbert how to stick the landing

Tonga flag bearer Pita Taufatofua eyes 2018 Winter Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08:  (BROADCAST - OUT) Pita Taufatofua of Tonga poses for a photo on the NBC Today show set at Copacabana Beach on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Tonga’s famous flag bearer, Pita Taufatofua, said he wants to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier.

“I’m going to be taking my Olympic dream one step further,” Taufatofua said in an Olympic Channel video published Monday. “My goal is to let people see, if I can do it, they can do it. The goal is to hunt down that Olympic medal at the 2018 Olympics.”

Sure enough, Taufatofua already has an International Ski Federation bio page. The federation lists one other Tongan cross-country skier with a bio, Makeleta Stephan, who was last of 93 finishers in a 2015 World Championships event.

In 2014, Bruno Banani became the first Tongan to compete at a Winter Olympics, placing 32nd in men’s luge. He was later the subject of a documentary. Banani gained fame starting in early 2012, when the story of his name was widely publicized. Banani’s real name is Fuahea Semi, but he changed it to the name of his German clothing sponsor as a marketing ploy.

Taufatofua lost his opening Olympic taekwondo match by mercy rule in Rio, two weeks after his his shirtless, oiled-up appearance in the Opening Ceremony.

Judging by the Olympic Channel video, Taufatofua’s chances of qualifying for the Olympics look better for Tokyo 2020 than Pyeongchang 2018.

PHOTOS: Tongan flag bearer steals show at Opening Ceremony