Simone Biles, Kyla Ross

Analyzing the U.S. gymnastics women’s World Championships team

Leave a comment

The world’s two best gymnasts last year, Simone Biles and Kyla Ross, will lead the U.S. at the World Championships in Nanning, China, from Oct. 5-12.

Biles, Ross and four women who have never competed at an Olympics or Worlds are charged with winning a third straight global gold, something no nation has done since the Romanian dynasty of the late 1990s. The Americans, then led by Gabby DouglasJordyn WieberAly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, won the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics.

There was no team event at the 2013 World Championships. This U.S. squad is far different from the Fierce Five of the London Games. For one, there are six gymnasts on a World Championships roster.

In Nanning, the U.S.’ biggest competition should be Russia, which won silver at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics.

The Russian team pillar is Aliya Mustafina, who led the nation to team gold at the 2010 Worlds, tore an ACL in 2011, won Olympic all-around bronze in 2012 and World all-around bronze in 2013.

Viktoria Komova, the 2011 World and 2012 Olympic all-around silver medalist, could miss a second straight World Championships. She wasn’t on Russia’s nominative team and has dealt with injury since the London Games.

The U.S. has issues of its own. Maroney isn’t competing this season after March knee surgery. Several other up-and-coming gymnasts have been knocked out by injuries this year, including the 2011 and 2012 U.S. junior all-around champions and the third-place finisher from this year’s P&G Championships senior all-around.

As far as the Rio Olympic outlook, keep in mind that one of the seven gymnasts on the 2010 World Championships team made it back for the 2012 Olympic team — Raisman.

Here’s a look at the U.S. team and each gymnast’s credentials (*one of the seven will be designated the alternate once in China):

Simone Biles: The two-time reigning U.S. all-around champion and the reigning World all-around champion will be counted on heavily. Biles, 17, won medals on every apparatus except uneven bars (where she finished fourth) at the 2013 World Championships in perhaps the greatest single-meet performance in U.S. gymnastics history.

Kyla Ross: The only Olympian on the U.S. roster finished second to Biles in the all-around at the last two P&G Championships and the 2013 World Championships. She is arguably the second-best gymnast in the world. Ross won silver on uneven bars and balance beam at the 2013 Worlds and placed fifth in the floor exercise final. Like Biles, she will be leaned on in the team competition.

Alyssa Baumann: Baumann, from the same gym that produced Nastia Liukin and Carly Patterson, finished fourth in the all-around at the P&G Championships. She turned 16 on May 17 and is the youngest member of the U.S. team. She could join Biles and Ross on balance beam and floor exercise in the team final.

MyKayla Skinner: Not to be confused with Maroney, Skinner has won medals on vault at the last three U.S. Championships. An American woman has won a vault medal at each of the last seven World Championships. If Biles can’t keep the streak going in Nanning, Skinner could very well.

Ashton Locklear: The North Carolina native won the P&G Championships title on uneven bars, an event in which the U.S. has lacked depth in recent years. It is Biles’ weakest event, creating an opening for Locklear to be an asset in the three-up, three-count format in the team final.

Madison Kocian: Kocian appears to have edged 2013 Worlds selection Brenna Dowell for this spot on the strength of her P&G Championships bars silver behind Locklear. (Dowell, the 2013 P&G Championships bronze medalist on bars, has dealt with an ankle injury and is the non-traveling alternate.)

Madison Desch: Desch, part of the Pan American Championships team with Skinner, Locklear and Kocian, has performed her best on floor exercise at the last two P&G Championships. Before that, she won balance beam and was second in the all-around in the junior division at Nationals in 2012.

Kohei Uchimura’s mother competes in gymnastics meet

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

Skate America
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

MORE: World’s top skater leaves famed coach

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Respectfully, Donavan Brazier believes he has a chance at legendary record

Leave a comment

On the night of the biggest race of his life, Donavan Brazier met the man whom he is trying to succeed and, perhaps, supplant.

David Rudisha, the two-time Olympic 800m champion and world-record holder, told Brazier before the Oct. 1 world championships 800m final that he believed in the 22-year-old American more than any other man in that night’s event.

Later that evening in Doha, Brazier proved the sidelined Kenyan prophetic, winning in a national record 1:42.34 and becoming the first American to win a world title in the event.

Brazier, in his first global championship final, also ran the fastest time by somebody that young since Rudisha’s 2012 Olympic title and world-record epic pulled that field to personal bests.

Rudisha’s mark of 1:40.91 — from a race Brazier has watched dozens of times — is still significantly faster. That hasn’t stopped followers from wondering if Rudisha’s days as world-record holder may be numbered.

Sounds like Brazier may be wondering, too.

“I think I definitely have the opportunity,” Brazier told NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey in a watchback of his 2019 Diamond League and world titles. “If we’re looking at guys that are currently racing right now, I think I might have the best opportunity to do it.”

Brazier exercised caution. He was by no means predicting such a feat.

“David Rudisha, when he first broke it, he was a once-in-a-century athlete,” Brazier said. “For someone to break it so quick and just to say it so nonchalantly, I think it’s not really giving David Rudisha the respect that he deserves. A 1:40.91 is a really dangerous record to break.”

Brazier, who took up running in middle school in Michigan rather than football because he was “terribly skinny,” quickly became a dangerous prospect. In 2016, he went into the Olympic Trials ranked third in the world as a Texas A&M freshman.

Then came the obstacles. Brazier was eliminated in the first round of trials, three weeks after winning the NCAA title on the same Oregon track. In 2017, he won the U.S. title but failed to make the world final. He didn’t race at all outdoors in 2018 due to a foot injury.

Brazier looked at 2019 as a redemption year. He hit a series of successes: an American indoor 800m record, the world’s fastest indoor 600m in history, his first Diamond League win, a repeat national title and the Diamond League Final title.

Brazier said that last victory in Zurich took him from “not a well known guy, maybe a medal contender, maybe not,” to the world championships favorite. Rudisha hasn’t raced since 2017 due to injuries.

Brazier, after meeting Rudisha and former world-record holder Seb Coe, capped the season with his biggest title yet in Doha. The feeling was more relief than happiness. Brazier, after getting knocked down repeatedly in his first two seasons as a pro, noted that Muhammad Ali also won his first world title at age 22.

Brazier mouthed “thank you” after crossing the finish line, a salute to everybody who helped him reach that point.

“I’m thanking myself, too, because I’m the one who put in all the hard work to do it,” Brazier said. “I’m not saying that this is the end of my career, but it was definitely the peak of my career and the pinnacle of it. I never accomplished anything on a stage like that.”

MORE: Dalilah Muhammad rewatches 2019 world records

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!