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Laurie Hernandez eyes return to competition in 2018

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NEW YORK – Laurie Hernandez hardly considers her 14 months away from competitive gymnastics a break.

Since earning Olympic team gold and balance beam silver in Rio, the 17-year-old won “Dancing with the Stars,” authored a book and even enrolled in ballet lessons.

But her most rewarding experience has been speaking at schools. Students have asked her seemingly every question, from when she started taking gymnastics classes (age 5) to whether she climbed trees when she was younger (yes, all the time).

Seeing how many children were inspired by her Rio performance motivated Hernandez as she prepares to return to the sport.

“I didn’t realize at the Olympics how many people were truly watching,” Hernandez said Wednesday night at the annual Women’s Sports Foundation Salute to Women in Sports. “Now I’m excited to get back into the gym.”

Hernandez recently added handstand holds, back tucks and front flips to her conditioning program, in addition to continuing to run and lift weights.

“It’s a little difficult, but it’s fine,” she said. “I’ll push it a little more after the holidays.”

She has her eye on returning to competition in 2018.

“That’s definitely the hope,” Hernandez said. “I’m not going to rush anything, but I would love to compete in 2018.”

Hernandez, who said her next goal in gymnastics is to compete at the world championships for the first time and hopefully the 2020 Olympics, has not yet identified her comeback meet.

She noted that Aly Raisman took more than two years off after the London Olympics.

“I know every athlete is different,” Hernandez said. “But I wouldn’t mind following in her footsteps.”

Simone Biles, who has not competed since winning four gold medals in Rio, recently announced that she plans on returning to full-time training Nov. 1 and competition next summer.

“I look up to her, even though we are teammates,” Hernandez said. “I can’t wait to see her out there, but hopefully I’ll be out there with her soon.”

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Innsbruck residents say no to 2026 Winter Olympic bid

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Innsbruck will not bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, after voters in the Austrian province of Tyrol defeated a public referendum on Sunday.

53.35 percent of votes disapproved of the bid, InsideTheGames reported. A feasibility study suggested Innsbruck could have hosted the 2026 Winter Games on a budget of 1.175 billion euros ($1.3 billion) by utilizing existing venues in the Tyrol region and southern Germany.

Innsbruck, the host of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Games, is one of just three cities to have hosted a Winter Olympics more than once, along with St. Moritz and Lake Placid. No city has hosted the Winter Olympics three times.

Innsbruck also hosted the inaugural Winter Youth Olympics in 2012.

Sion, Switzerland, is the only city to have confirmed a bid plan for the 2026 Winter Games. Calgary and Stockholm could also bid.

U.S. Olympic Committee board members discussed the pros and cons of possible 2026 or 2030 Winter Olympic bids on Friday. The U.S. last hosted the Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002.

“I put a stake in the ground that we are interested in hosting the Winter Games,” USOC chairman Larry Probst said he told members of the U.S. Olympic community at the USOC Assembly in Colorado Springs on Thursday. “Ideally, that’s probably 2030, so that there’s no confusion with preparations for [Los Angeles] 2028 [Summer Games].”

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Rafael Nadal claims 16th Grand Slam title by winning U.S. Open

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NEW YORK (AP) — Rafael Nadal against Kevin Anderson in the U.S. Open final shaped up as quite a mismatch — and that’s exactly what it was.

His game at a high level at the end of an unusually easy path through a Grand Slam field, Nadal overwhelmed first-time major finalist Anderson 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday to win his third championship at Flushing Meadows.

It is the No. 1-ranked Nadal’s second Grand Slam title of the year and 16th overall. Among men, only longtime rival Roger Federer has more, with 19.

At No. 32, Anderson was the lowest-ranked U.S. Open men’s finalist since the ATP computer rankings began in 1973. The 31-year-old South African never had been past the quarterfinals at any major tournament in 33 previous appearances, so when he won his semifinal on Friday, he climbed into the stands to celebrate.

There would be no such joy for him on this day. Nadal simply dominated every facet of the 2½-hour final.

Nadal added to his U.S. Open triumphs in 2010 and 2013 and improved to 16-7 in Grand Slam finals. For the first time since 2013, he appeared in three in a single season, losing to Federer at the Australian Open in January, then beating Stan Wawrinka for his record 10th French Open trophy in June.

Nadal’s career haul also includes two trophies from Wimbledon and one from the Australian Open. All of his big victories have come while being coached by his uncle, Toni, who is now stepping aside. The U.S. Open was the last Grand Slam event of their partnership.

Not since Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2000 had a man won a Slam tournament without facing any opponents ranked in the top 20.

In New York this time, the bracket was weakened by the injury withdrawals of three of the top five men: past champions Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Wawrinka.

Plus, Nadal did not need to deal with Federer: The potential for a semifinal, which would have been their first U.S. Open meeting, was dashed when Juan Martin del Potro eliminated Federer in the quarterfinals. Nadal then beat del Potro, the 2009 champion but now ranked 28th, in the semis.

Much like Nadal’s 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 win against Wawrinka at Roland Garros, the only beauty of this match was not in its competitiveness — not by a long shot — but in an appreciation for one participant’s absolute superiority.

Forehands whipped up the line. Two-handed backhands ripped cross-court with ferocity. The spinning, back-to-the-net returns of serves that darted in at him at more than 130 mph (210 kph) and helped him break Anderson four times.

He even came up with some terrific volleys, winning the point on all 16 of his trips to the net. Anderson, meanwhile, finished 16 for 34 in that category. Another difference-maker: Nadal never faced a break point, although that was more a reflection of his talent once the ball was in play than any particularly dominant serving.

With Nadal standing way back to receive serves, nearly backing into the line judges, he neutralized Anderson’s most effective skill. Anderson came in having won 103 of 108 service games across six matches, but Nadal accumulated break points at will from the get-go — two in a six-deuce game at 1-all, another two in a five-deuce game at 2-all.

Anderson began trying to end points quickly with a volley. Two problems with that: Anderson is not usually a serve-and-volleyer and so is no expert at that tactic; Nadal is superb at summoning passing shots at extreme speeds and angles, especially when facing the sort of target provided by the 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Anderson, the tallest Grand Slam finalist in history.

It was only a matter of time until Nadal capitalized on a chance. Anderson let him do just that at 3-all, 30-all, double-faulting to offer up Nadal’s fifth break point of the match, then badly pushing a cross-court forehand wide.

That only made the score 4-3, but the statistics until then were telling: Anderson had 21 unforced errors, Nadal just four. A pattern had been established. When Nadal broke to lead 4-2 in the second set, that was pretty much that.

As the 2017 Grand Slam season wrapped up, it marked a return to the heights of their sport for Nadal and Federer: Each won two of the four major titles.

Not only didn’t Nadal win one in 2015 or 2016 — his first such shutouts since 2004, when he was still a teenager — but he didn’t even make it to a major final in that span. Seems safe to say that, at age 31, he is once again the Nadal of old.

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