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Madison Kocian, competing with tear, glad she stuck with NCAA gymnastics

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Madison Kocian is the only member of the Final Five who has competed since the Rio Olympics. She’s the only one who didn’t turn professional.

And, get this, Kocian competed both in Rio and this past season as a UCLA freshman with an injured shoulder.

She said she suffered a small subluxation (partial dislocation) on an uneven bars release move at the Olympic Trials but managed through it to win Olympic team gold and bars silver medals. Kocian previously fractured her left tibia in February 2016.

Resting last fall didn’t help matters much. Kocian then competed with a torn labrum and partially torn rotator cuff for UCLA in the spring semester, doing the all-around in 12 of 14 meets and winning half of them.

“That was the hardest thing going through the season,” Kocian said in a phone interview last month. “Nothing’s going to really heal the tear unless you do surgery. We were trying every other option.”

Kocian is taking the summer off (no surgery plans yet as of the interview). That means the P&G Championships in August will include no female gymnasts with Olympic experience for the first time since 2008.

Most women retire from elite international competition when they choose the NCAA route. Kocian has not yet.

“I know I have accomplished so much already,” said Kocian, who shared the 2015 World uneven bars title with three other gymnasts. “It’s just a matter of if I feel like I need to do anything else before closing that door. It’s still open. I could stop in college after next year and start training [elite], or finish my four years in college and continue my life.”

In this stretch last year, between the Olympic Trials and Rio Games, Kocian saw the last of her Olympic teammates turn pro (Laurie Hernandez).

Kocian said she was always set on competing as a Bruin, which meant keeping her amateur status for NCAA eligibility.

“I wanted to experience the college student-athlete life and be a part of that different world,” Kocian said. “The hardest part for me was after the Olympics, the media engagements and appearances. I couldn’t get paid for that.”

Kocian, a Texan, juggled her first quarter in Los Angeles while performing at seven stops of a 36-city USA Gymnastics post-Olympic tour and accepting an invitation to the Country Music Association Awards in Nashville.

She made the honor roll in the fall, winter and spring quarters.

“I didn’t know how I was going to make it through traveling and school at the same time,” she said. “I think maybe I should have come into school in January [rather than September].”

Kocian thought about it some more and continued her answer.

“Fall is preseason and where you really get to know your team and teammates,” before the season starts in January, she said. “I think if I would have went in January, starting school and gym season at the same time would have been even more tough.”

Kocian’s remaining UCLA goals are to earn as many All-America honors as possible (she has four; the UCLA career record is 19) and capture an NCAA team title. UCLA was fourth last season and last won in 2010.

“It was something different, a totally new experience that I was just getting used to,” she said. “I found my rhythm.”

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Skylar Diggins-Smith has the opportunity to fill USA Basketball’s need

Skylar Diggins
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Skylar Diggins-Smith said making the U.S. Olympic team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is her second chance.

An ACL tear derailed her Rio 2016 hopes. That happened in a WNBA game on June 28, 2015.

Though Diggins-Smith was among 25 Olympic finalists named in January 2016, she didn’t return to game action until that May, four weeks after the 12-woman Olympic team was chosen.

The 27-year-old guard said she’s played for USA Basketball for 12 years, since before her standout Notre Dame career that led to her current stint with the Dallas Wings (formerly Tulsa Shock).

“This is the most clear my mind has been,” with USA Basketball, Diggins-Smith said from training camp in Seattle on Tuesday, ahead of a Thursday exhibition against China at Key Arena (10 p.m. ET, usab.com/live).

Signs point to Diggins-Smith making her major international tournament debut at September’s FIBA World Cup, the quadrennial world championship event.

Though Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi‘s surprising returns crowd the backcourt, the other Olympic gold medalist guard, Lindsay Whalen, retired from the national team.

Diggins-Smith’s play last season, her first full campaign back from the ACL tear, boosts her case. She made the All-WNBA First Team.

She also made the first team in 2014. That year, Diggins-Smith was among the final cuts for the world championship team less than a week before the tournament.

“Every time I come to USA Basketball, I think you have a tendency to kind of overthink,” Diggins-Smith said Tuesday. “You just want to do the right thing, don’t really want to make mistakes. … You want to do the right thing, and you press a little bit.”

USA Basketball has stressed finding its next stalwart point guard following five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, three-time Olympian Dawn Staley (now the U.S. head coach) and the 37-year-old Bird, eyeing her fifth Olympics in 2020.

“Give me three guards that have separated themselves from everyone else in the WNBA to put themselves at the same level as Sue, Diana, Lindsay Whalen,” then-U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said after the Olympic team was named in April 2016. “You really start to look around and, you go, that is a huge question that has to be answered.”

“Obviously, there’s a need,” Staley said in February, listing point guards other than Bird at that camp.

The first name Staley mentioned was Diggins-Smith, for what it’s worth.

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USA Track and Field to honor 1968 Olympic team on 50th anniversary

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USA Track and Field begins a campaign this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympic team.

Members of the Mexico City Games team, one of the greatest track and field teams in history, will be honored at high-profile events the remainder of the year.

The campaign, “1968-2018: Celebrating Athletic Achievement and Courage,” culminates with a “Night of Legends” reunion in December at the USATF Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, also attended by current U.S. stars.

The 1968 Olympic team is most remembered for Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who took gold and bronze in the 200m and were sent home after raising their black-gloved fists in a human rights salute during the national anthem.

The team also included gold medalists Bob Beamon (long jump), Dick Fosbury (high jump), Al Oerter (discus), Wyomia Tyus and Jim Hines (100m), Lee Evans (400m), Madeline Manning Mims (800m), Willie Davenport (110m hurdles), Bob Seagren (pole vault), Randy Matson (shot put), Bill Toomey (decathlon) and the men’s and women’s 4x100m and men’s 4x400m.

“The legacy of the greatest track & field team to ever be assembled is still felt 50 years later,” USATF CEO Max Siegel said in a press release. “These Olympians persevered through athletic challenges and social injustices, maintaining their composure and dignity when others may have fallen. It is USATF’s honor to pay homage to their achievements and bring the team together for an epic celebration at our Annual Meeting.”

U.S. track and field athletes will compete at two meets on NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold this weekend — the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.

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