Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman

A recent history of U.S. Olympic gymnastics comebacks

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Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman seemed pleased with their return to competitive gymnastics in Italy on Saturday, their first meet since each won two gold medals at the London Olympics.

But history is not on their side on the road to the Rio 2016 Games.

Douglas, Raisman and McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross are trying to become the first U.S. women’s gymnasts to make back-to-back Olympic teams since Dominique Dawes and Amy Chow in 2000.

Since 2000, six U.S. Olympians tried and failed to return to the Games four years later. They included Olympic and World all-around champions, even gymnasts who won U.S. and World titles in the years leading into their squashed repeat bids.

The 2012 quartet fights not only a younger generation of gymnasts to make the five-woman 2016 Olympic team but also this history of the last six Olympians who attempted the same:

Nastia Liukin
2008 Olympic all-around champion

Liukin returned the season after the Beijing Olympics, placing fourth on the balance beam at the 2009 U.S. Championships. She announced a break from the sport two weeks later, citing not being in the physical shape she would like to compete and withdrawing from 2009 World Championships consideration.

Another two years passed before Liukin announced she was training for the 2012 Olympics. She returned to competition in May 2012. Her best finishes at the 2012 U.S. Championships and the U.S. Olympic Trials were sixth and seventh on the balance beam, respectively, missing the five-woman London Olympic team.

Shawn Johnson
2008 Olympic all-around silver medalist

Johnson went on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009, and won, and then blew out her left knee in a January 2010 skiing accident. She took part in her first U.S. national team camp since the Beijing Olympics in November 2010 and returned to competition in 2011, with a best finish of fourth on balance beam at the U.S. Championships.

Johnson was the second alternate for the 2011 World Championships team and competed at the Pan American Games, placing second on uneven bars.

In June 2012, Johnson announced her retirement, four days before the U.S. Championships, citing continued problems with her left knee.

Alicia Sacramone
Ten-time World Championships medalist

Sacramone, the oldest member of the 2008 Olympic team, briefly retired in 2009 but returned to competition in 2010, winning the World title on vault. She claimed the U.S. balance beam title in 2011 but tore an Achilles tendon during World Championships training.

She endured, captured her sixth national title on vault and placed second on vault and beam at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. But she was not named to the U.S. Olympic team, which already had strong vaulters with all-around prowess.

Chellsie Memmel
2005 World all-around champion

Memmel competed at the 2009 U.S. Championships, placing eighth on balance beam, and then sat out 2010. She placed second in the all-around at the 2011 U.S. Classic, a U.S. Championships tune-up meet. At Nationals, she was eighth in the all-around and second on balance beam.

Memmel did not make the 2011 World Championships team but was selected for the Pan American Games. She withdrew before the Pan Am Games with a shoulder injury, which required surgeries in September 2011 and February 2012.

She competed once more, falling twice on the beam at the 2012 U.S. Classic, failing to meet a qualifying score and having her petition to compete at the 2012 U.S. Championships rejected.

Bridget Sloan
2009 World all-around champion

Sloan, the youngest member of the 2008 Olympic team, emerged as the world’s best gymnast the year after the Beijing Games. She won the U.S. and World Championships all-arounds.

She was limited by an ankle injury and a torn pectoral in 2010, keeping her from defending her U.S. all-around title. She still made it to the World Championships, where she placed fourth on the uneven bars.

In 2011, she joined Johnson on the Pan American Games team, which proved to be Sloan’s final international competition. Sloan placed 10th in the all-around at the 2012 U.S. Championships but suffered an elbow injury in warm-ups at the Olympic Trials and withdrew.

Tasha Schwikert
2001 and 2002 U.S. all-around champion

Schwikert, a 2000 Olympic alternate who competed in Sydney due to another gymnast’s injury, was the only member of the 2000 or 2004 U.S. Olympic teams who attempted to earn a spot at a second Games.

She captured U.S. all-around titles in 2001 and 2002 and was second to 2004 Olympian Courtney Kupets in 2003.

In 2004, Schwikert was third in the all-around after one of two days at the U.S. Championships, competing with a sore right Achilles. But she fell to ninth after the second day and was an alternate for the Athens 2004 Olympics. That time, she did not get called up to compete.

Catalina Ponor, three-time gymnastics gold medalist, eyes Rio 2016 Olympics comeback

Jade Carey on brink of becoming first gymnast to qualify for U.S. Olympic team

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The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials aren’t until late June, but Jade Carey is in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games in March.

Carey, seeking an individual Olympic gymnastics spot outside of the team competition, earned the maximum points in a World Cup series that is one path to Olympic qualification.

Carey has three wins each on floor exercise and vault with two World Cups left in March. Carey will mathematically clinch an Olympic spot if no other gymnasts win three times on one of the apparatuses to force a tiebreaker.

So far, no other gymnast has two wins on floor. One gymnast has two wins on vault. A gymnast’s top three finishes across the eight-stop series count in Olympic qualifying. If Carey finishes atop the floor or vault standings, she goes to the Olympics.

Carey picked up those third wins on floor and vault at the sixth World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend.

The one downside to qualifying this route: Carey would not be able to compete in the team competition at the Olympics. Those four spots will be determined at and after June’s trials in St. Louis, with Simone Biles likely grabbing one of them.

“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said in October of going the World Cup route, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”

Carey is a world medalist on vault and floor, but she doesn’t have the all-around credentials of Biles and some other U.S. gymnasts.

Olympic team event roster sizes were cut from five to four for Tokyo, putting a greater onus on all-around prowess given a team must put three gymnasts on each apparatus in the Olympic final.

The U.S. is the deepest country in women’s gymnastics, so the only truly safe pick to make the four-woman Olympic team event roster is Biles.

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Justin Schoenefeld gets U.S.’ first men’s aerials World Cup win in 4 years

Justin Schoenefeld
U.S. Ski & Snowboard
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Justin Schoenefeld ended a four-year U.S. men’s aerials drought with his first World Cup win Saturday in Belarus.

Schoenfeld, 21, hit a double full-full-full in the super final to beat a field that included world champion Maxim Burov of Russia. Burov was fourth, one spot behind another American, Chris Lillis. Full results are here.

“I’m pretty speechless right now,” Schoenefeld said, according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard. “I’m just shocked. It just all came so quick, all of a sudden the two finals were over, and I was on top of the podium. I probably landed two of my training jumps yesterday, but I managed to land all of my comp jumps down to my feet.”

Schoenefeld’s best previous World Cup finish was fourth, in Belarus last season.

Lillis earned the U.S.’ last World Cup men’s aerials victory on Feb. 20, 2016, also in Belarus. The four-year gap between wins marked the longest for the U.S. men since aerials was added as an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Schoenefeld also became the first American of either gender to win a World Cup aerials event in two years, since Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018. That gap was the longest for the U.S. since 2005.

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