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IIHF not giving up on NHL Olympic agreement

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AARHUS, Denmark (AP) — Like Russia’s star Alex Ovechkin, the International Ice Hockey Federation thinks NHL players need not miss the 2018 Winter Olympics – though team owners likely now need a “game-changer” offer on the table.

“We are continuing to try to find solutions,” the governing body’s general secretary Horst Lichtner told The Associated Press on Tuesday, after the NHL said it would not take part in the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Lichtner spent much of the day in talks with IOC officials and winter sports leaders about the NHL’s announcement late Monday. The league ended negotiations aimed at ensuring it would shut down for the Olympic period in February and let its superstars play in South Korea.

Ovechkin said Tuesday he would play at the Winter Games anyway, suggesting the NHL was bluffing.

Lichtner also said the door is not closed, though he acknowledged that the Switzerland-based IIHF must make a better offer.

“Then we can re-open the discussion, maybe not for ever but to come back with some so-called game changers to the (NHL team) owners which would then probably help to find a better decision than we have now,” he said.

The IIHF had already agreed to meet players’ travel and insurance costs when the IOC ended its long-time commitment to pay. The NHL sought more concessions, but the IOC would not concede a share of marketing rights to a commercial league.

Lichtner said the IIHF was focused on a five-year plan for the sport in Asia, leading up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Games in the coveted Chinese market.

“We have a strategy and that would of course be easier and much nicer if this is with the NHL than without,” the German official said of a plan that includes the Russia-based KHL.

A Chinese delegation is due to attend the annual world championships, staged in May in France and Germany.

Though a two-Olympic deal was part of recent NHL talks, Lichtner did not rule out finding a separate solution to the Beijing Olympics.

“I don’t think we should predict now what will happen until 2022,” he said. “We will always try to do the best for ice hockey – and this is put the best players on the ice and let them play, because they want it.”

That includes Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals star who said Tuesday that “I’m pretty sure everything is going to be fine.”

“It’s my country,” Ovechkin said in Toronto. “It’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. Somebody going to tell me I don’t go. I don’t care, I just go.”

The IIHF’s Lichtner predicted that others players could follow.

“I actually think there will be some more Ovechkins in this world who want to use the Olympic stage to show their skills,” Lichtner said.

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U.S., Great Britain to hold track and field dual meet

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The U.S. and Great Britain go head-to-head in a track and field meet on July 21 at the London Olympic Stadium.

“The Meet” will include nine running, jumping, hurdles and relay events and last two hours. Specific events and athletes will be announced early next year.

The U.S. topped the overall medal standings at every Olympics and world outdoor championships since 2004.

Great Britain is one of three countries to earn at least five medals at every Olympics and worlds since 2007, joining the U.S. and Kenya.

British athletes made six podiums at the just-completed worlds at the London Olympic Stadium, including in all four relays. The other two medals came from Mo Farah, who is moving to road racing and marathons after this season.

“The Meet” is similar to swimming’s “Duel in the Pool,” a biennial head-to-head competition between the U.S. and rival Australia from 2003 through 2007 and between the U.S. and Europe between 2009 and 2015.

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Five women’s gymnasts to watch at P&G Championships

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As Rio gold medalists decide on their futures, this week’s P&G Championships mark the first showcase for a new class of U.S. women’s gymnasts.

For the first time since 2008, nobody in the nationals field in Anaheim has competed at an Olympics. Usually, a gymnast or two carries over into the post-Olympic year, like Bridget Sloan in 2009 and Kyla Ross in 2013.

But this year, the feeling is akin to 2005, when no woman (or man) from the 2004 Athens Games chalked up at nationals.

Back then, a 15-year-old Nastia Liukin, who had already starred in a commercial during the 2004 Olympics, made her senior nationals debut and won the all-around. Three years later, Liukin won the Olympic all-around in Beijing.

There will be talk this week of finding the next Liukin, or Gabby Douglas, or Simone Biles, who, like Liukin, won her senior nationals debut the year after the Olympics.

“Some of them [from Rio], hopefully Simone, will be coming back, but I think this is a great opportunity for some of these girls to go out there and prove that they’re just as ready to compete at a world championships,” said Liukin, now an NBC Olympics analyst. “They have to step up a little bit and kind of become the leaders.”

MORE: P&G Champs broadcast schedule

Gymnasts this week are vying to impress new U.S. national team coordinator Valeri Liukin (Nastia’s father). The four-woman roster for October’s worlds, where there is no team event, will be named after a selection camp later this summer.

Five gymnasts to watch at the P&G Championships:

Ragan Smith
Rio Olympic alternate
2017 AT&T American Cup champion

The Texan performed admirably in her first senior season in 2016, placing fifth in the all-around at the Olympic Trials. Her best events are balance beam and floor exercise, but the U.S. needed uneven bars help in Rio. So she went to the Games as an alternate at age 15, making headlines for this photo with 6-foot-11 basketball player DeAndre Jordan.

Smith, coached by 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal, emerged this year as the U.S.’ most reliable all-arounder and clear favorite this week. She won the American Cup on March 4 despite a beam fall. A definite all-around medal favorite at October’s worlds.

Ashton Locklear
Rio Olympic alternate
2014 World team champion

Locklear was beaten for the Olympic team bars specialist spot by Madison Kocian after nearly matching Kocian in scores in four routines between last year’s P&G Championships and Olympic Trials. The 19-year-old is not considered an all-around threat this week but is favored to make the world team based on her bars ability. She was fourth in the event at 2014 Worlds.

Riley McCusker
2017 Jesolo Trophy all-around winner

McCusker, who has the same coach as Laurie Hernandez, struggled at the American Cup in her first senior competition, falling on bars and beam. She rebounded to win Jesolo a month later and remain in the mix as the No. 2 U.S. all-arounder (Smith wasn’t at Jesolo).

However, McCusker was on crutches with a cast on her wrist in early July and said she expected to be back to peak form in September, not August.

Morgan Hurd
2017 Stuttgart World Cup bronze medalist

Hurd, a first-year senior who competes in glasses, was adopted from China as a toddler and now lives with her mom in Delaware.

Liukin, asked to name gymnasts to watch this week, started with Hurd, whom she says has the highest floor exercise start value in the world. “She could be capable of winning a world all-around medal and possibly become a world champion on floor,” Liukin said.

Jade Carey
2017 U.S. Classic vault winner

The U.S. has a tradition of sending a vault specialist to worlds, but neither of the top vaulters from the last Olympic cycle — Biles nor MyKayla Skinner — is competing this week. Enter Carey, a 17-year-old who wasn’t an elite gymnast before this season.

Carey performed the difficult Amanar vault at July’s U.S. Classic, where she was the only gymnast to perform two vaults, which is required to compete for medals on the event at worlds.

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