Two years to Rio Olympics: Gymnastics storylines

Gabby Douglas
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The telltale stat in U.S. women’s gymnastics is this: No American has made back-to-back Olympic teams since 1996 and 2000.

Of the five-member 2012 U.S. Olympic champion team, three have not competed since the London Games. One more hasn’t competed in 2014.

Start with Gabby Douglas, the Olympic all-around champion, who has moved from Iowa to Los Angeles back to Iowa and is now living in Ohio. She returned to a National Team camp for the first time since 2012 this spring but last week pushed back her anticipated competitive comeback to 2015.

Jordyn Wieber, the 2011 World all-around champion, is now at UCLA and hasn’t set a return date, if she returns at all. Aly Raisman, the Olympic floor exercise champion, also hasn’t competed since London, but she aims to return to a National Team camp in the fall.

Two years out: Rio’s readiness | Storylines: Swimming | Track and Field | Gymnastics | More Sports

McKayla Maroney bounced back from an Olympic vault silver medal performance to win the 2013 World Championship on the apparatus. She underwent knee surgery in March but said Saturday that she’s more determined than ever to make the 2016 Olympic Team.

Kyla Ross, the youngest member of the Fierce Five, is the only one who has competed through the last two years. She’s the reigning World all-around silver medalist.

Ross was beaten at the 2013 World Championships by Simone Biles, a powerful 4-foot-8 Texan who draws comparisons to 2008 Olympic balance beam champion Shawn Johnson.

Of course, Douglas, Wieber, Maroney and Ross were all juniors two years before the London Olympics. So the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team could be made up entirely of gymnasts we’ve yet to see perform at major international events.

Every member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic men’s team is still active, looking to return for 2016 and make up for that fifth-place finish.

Sam Mikulak is the reigning U.S. all-around champion, while Danell LeyvaJohn Orozco and Jonathan Horton each missed chunks of time the last two years with injuries. Horton, a two-time Olympian, is expected to compete for the first time since London at the P&G Championships in two weeks.

The balance of power in international gymnastics remains the same. The Chinese, Russian and Romanian women are still a threat to the U.S., and they’ll try to prove it at the first World Championships team competition since the Olympics in October.

Japan’s Kohei Uchimura won his fourth straight World Championship in the all-around in 2013 and is in the “greatest of all time” discussion at age 25. Japan, though, has been unable to beat China in a team competition at the Olympics or Worlds since 2004.

Major gymnastics events before Rio 2016:

2014 P&G Championships — Aug. 21-24, Pittsburgh
2014 World Championships — Oct. 3-13, Nanning, China
2015 P&G Championships — Aug. 13-16, 2015, Indianapolis
2015 World Championships — Oct. 23-Nov. 1, 2015, Glasgow, Scotland
2016 P&G Championships
2016 U.S. Olympic Trials

Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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Lara Gut-Behrami wins Killington giant slalom, and the overall title race may be on

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Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami rallied from third place after the first run for her 35th career World Cup victory, taking a giant slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Saturday.

Gut-Behrami, 31, earned her fifth World Cup giant slalom win and first in six years. She prevailed by .07 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino combining times from two windy runs. Sweden’s Sara Hector, the Olympic champion and first-run leader, ended up third.

“Last two years I’ve been getting better in GS again,” said Gut-Behrami, who won the GS at the last world championships in 2021. “Last year I was struggling with my health. I was all the time sick.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Gut-Behrami’s best events are downhill and super-G, so a strong start to the season in GS could put her on a path to winning the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. She previously lifted that crystal globe in 2016.

Reigning World Cup overall champ Mikaela Shiffrin, who previously placed second, third, fourth and fifth in Killington giant slaloms, finished 13th after winning the season’s first two races, slaloms in Finland last week. It marked her lowest World Cup GS finish since December 2019.

“[Finland] was a spectacular weekend,” Shiffrin, who has not had much recent GS training, said after her 10th-place opening run Saturday. “Every race is a different story.”

Shiffrin won all five World Cup slaloms in Killington dating to 2016 and will go for her 50th career World Cup slalom victory across all venues on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock).

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