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

Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping