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NHL boss asked point-blank: ‘Is the 2018 Olympics dead?’

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The NHL has announced it will not participate in the 2018 Olympics, and commissioner Gary Bettman didn’t budge from that stance Monday.

“Is the 2018 Olympics dead?” a reporter asked Bettman at a press conference before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

We made an announcement, how long ago, Bill?” Bettman said, seated next to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. “Six weeks ago, we were very clear and definitive that the teams had no interest in going to the Olympics in PyeongChang. And I know that there have been a variety of comments either from René Fasel of the International Ice Hockey Federation or from representatives of the [NHL] Players’ Association suggesting that this was still an open issue. It is not and has not been. … I hope that was definitive enough.”

Earlier this month, Fasel and the IIHF said they were “exploring options” with the NHL Players’ Association and the IOC and still “keeping the door open” for NHL participation at the 2018 Olympics.

Fasel said he planned to call Bettman and hoped there was more time to convince Bettman to change the NHL’s opinion on Olympic participation.

Bettman has said that deadline has passed. The NHL plans to announce its full 2017-18 schedule in late June, without an Olympic break.

The NHL has already announced an All-Star weekend in late January, less than two weeks before the Winter Games. It did not hold All-Star games in 2006, 2010 and 2014 due to the Olympics, but did have All-Star games in 1998 and 2002, the first two Olympics with NHL participation.

Bettman repeated his Olympic refrain over the last several months again Monday.

“We’re not anti-Olympics,” he said. “We’re anti-disruption to the season, and I don’t believe that there’s any appetite to continue participation. Having said that, we said [in previous meetings with the IOC, IIHF and NHLPA], listen, if there’s something you want to tell us that might change the equation, that might interest the teams, we’ll listen. We weren’t negotiating. We never negotiated.”

Specifically, Bettman said the NHL suggested in a November meeting with the NHLPA a nine-year calendar that included, among other items, NHL participation in the 2018 and 2022 Olympics. The negotiations obviously did not lead to an agreement.

Bettman recently made a three-day visit to 2022 Winter Olympic host China, where the NHL plans to hold two exhibition games in September.

In all of his meetings in China, including with the country’s minister of sport, Bettman said the 2022 Beijing Winter Games were not once brought up by the Chinese.

“The concern is about growing the game [in China]; it’s not about two weeks in 2022,” Bettman said. “What happens with the Olympics in 2022 is something that we don’t have to address right now, so we’re not going to.”

The biggest complication in the NHL not participating in the 2018 Winter Games is the situation of Alex Ovechkin, who has said he plans to leave the Washington Capitals to play for Russia regardless. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis supported Ovechkin last year but backed off a bit in April, according to Sports Business Daily.

“We have an expectation that none of our players are going, but I don’t want to get involved in the gymnastics involved in what that means,” Bettman said Monday. “There’s no reason to pick that fight right now.”

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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.”

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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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