Wladimir Klitschko

Wladimir Klitschko not ready to give up on Olympic dream

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NEW YORK — World heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko still hopes to compete in the Rio Olympics, but that does not appear possible.

“Wladimir Klitschko is not eligible for any of the qualifying paths,” an International Boxing Association (AIBA) official said in an email Friday, citing qualifying procedures here and here.

In 2013, AIBA, which is boxing’s international governing body for Olympic competition, also said Klitschko was ineligible, but added then that exceptions could be made to allow certain boxers into the Olympics as it moved toward allowing professionals to compete in the Games.

On Wednesday, Klitschko did not sound ready to give up on returning to the Olympics while at Madison Square Garden, where he will fight American Bryant Jennings in a title defense April 25.

“I’m not ready to talk about it in particular, what it looks like, because AIBA, that’s the sanctioning body of amateur [boxing], needs to get along with professional boxers,” the Ukrainian Klitschko said. “I’ve heard about the rules. There’s certain amount of boxing fights and experience, whatever the rules are, I’m not right now familiar with that, because I think it hasn’t been confirmed 100 percent yet.

“If there is a chance, I would love to participate. Any other sport, they can play professionally [and play in the Olympics]. It’s a shame for boxing that professional boxers cannot perform in the Olympics.”

Klitschko declined to give a deadline on when he would decide whether he will try to make the Olympics, if given the opportunity.

“I hope not the Olympics after Rio. I’m going to be 45 next Olympics [he will actually be 44], after Rio,” he said. “I hope things will be cleared up in the next half-year, and then we’ll go from there.”

Klitschko won the Atlanta 1996 Olympic super heavyweight gold medal.

“That was my dream, to fight again at the Olympics, 20 years later,” Klitschko said. “Not just to fight, but to win the gold again.”

Klitschko smiled when asked to recall his experience in Atlanta, saying “the Olympics have changed my life.”

“I have great memories,” Klitschko said. “Meeting Muhammad Ali. … He was visiting the [athletes’] village, gathering a lot of people. I was one of them. It was exciting to see him in person. I didn’t get a chance to shake his hand.”

Klitschko said that was the first time he was close to Ali. The two Olympic champions have met several times since.

Klitschko’s second memory was of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing on July 27.

“One of the memories is the bombing of the disco, where my friends went to, and I was there before,” Klitschko said. “But I left, because I have to be in the schedule and sleep. When I heard the next morning, which was right on the other side of the campus where we were staying, it was really sad. Thankfully, nobody from my team got injured, but they were there.”

Does Klitschko’s older brother, Vitaly, regret not being an Olympian?

“I think he does in certain ways, but another side, he’s happy because I won the gold for both of us,” Klitschko said.

Vitaly is now the mayor of Kiev. Klitschko laughed when asked if Vitaly might unretire.

“I can joke about it,” Klitschko said. “Sometimes before the fights, he says, ‘Man, these are such exciting times. I am missing it.’ But of course not. His responsibility now is mayor of city of Kiev, for four million people. There’s no way.”

Michael Phelps plans to compete in April

WATCH LIVE: Simone Biles returns to U.S. Gymnastics Championships

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Simone Biles‘ comeback continues at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Friday night.

Biles enters her second meet since the Rio Olympics, where she earned four gold medals.

She is a clear favorite to win her fifth U.S. all-around title, which would break the record she currently shares.

LIVE STREAM: U.S. Gym Championships — 8 p.m. ET (for Olympic Channel subscribers)

Biles showed her comeback was for real at her first meet back three weeks ago, winning the U.S. Classic despite an uneven bars fall. Her all-around score was the highest in the world since Rio.

Friday marks the fifth anniversary of Biles’ first national title, when she was a braces-wearing, first-year senior gymnast oozing with talent but also unproven. She became so dominant that the prevailing notion was that everyone else was competing in a non-Simone division.

A new generation of women go up against Biles in the two-day meet that concludes Sunday.

That includes Ragan Smith and Morgan Hurd, who won the U.S. and world all-around titles in Biles’ absence last year, and Riley McCusker, who led the U.S. Classic going into the final rotation.

Gymnasts are competing to impress a world championships team selection committee. The five-woman world team will be named after an October selection camp.

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Ragan Smith defends U.S. gymnastics title, competing through pain

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BOSTON — When Ragan Smith won the U.S. all-around title last August, her margin of victory was greater than Simone Biles‘ average the previous four years.

At the world championships in October, Smith fell off the balance beam in qualifying and still posted the second-highest all-around score, just .001 off the lead. If Smith hit all four routines in the final, she would be crowned the world’s greatest gymnast of 2017 (during Biles’ break from the sport).

But as the all-around final began at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, Smith crutched out of the training gym. She suffered three torn left ankle ligaments on a warm-up vault, according to the Dallas Morning News, that needed four to five months to heal.

Smith is expected to compete in the all-around at the U.S. Championships on Friday and Sunday (broadcast schedule here), looking to impress a world championships team selection committee. The five-woman world team will be named after an October selection camp.

The ankle still hurts sometimes. So do her three or four broken toes. Smith doesn’t know the exact number because she doesn’t like to get medical check-ups before meets. She would think too much about the diagnosis.

In fact, Smith said she felt pain in practice every day for the last year.

“Everything starts hurting worse because we’re getting older,” said Smith, who turned 18 last week. Smith added that a coach joked to her recently, “You already have a 100-year-old body.” 

“Everybody I feel like has injuries here and there,” she said. “Everybody’s like banged up right now. We [gymnasts] are so strong mentally and physically that I feel like we push through it.”

Back home in the Dallas area, Smith marks her goals on a dry-erase board. The chief one for her two summer meets is this: Be the best Ragan I can be.

“That’s all I’m really striving for this competition,” she said Wednesday.

Smith did not do the all-around at the U.S. Classic three weeks ago, skipping floor exercise because she wants to debut it as a surprise this week. She called Classic “a practice run,” where her best result was third on beam.

Only two gymnasts per nation can compete in a world all-around final. If Biles is one of them, then Smith has to beat out Morgan Hurd (who won the 2017 World all-around title after Smith’s injury) and Riley McCusker (second to Biles at the U.S. Classic).

Smith, the youngest Rio Olympic alternate, is determined to compete on the elite level through 2020. She can take motivation from her bedroom wall and that dry-erase board, both of which had the same quote posted — “She believed she could so she did.”

“These coming up years, it’s definitely who’s in the game the longest. It’s definitely who’s not injured,” she said. “That’s pretty much who they pick, I feel like. You’re training your whole life for one year of gymnastics because that’s when you have to be at your highest peak. I definitely feel like it’s who’s in the game the longest and who can survive and who can help their body the best.”

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