Lauren Hernandez

First U.S. Olympian born in 2000? It may be gymnast Lauren Hernandez

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INDIANAPOLIS — Maggie Haney was driving her junior gymnastics pupil Lauren Hernandez to or from practice in New Jersey last week when Hernandez piped up from a passenger seat.

“Today is August 5th,” Hernandez said.

“Yeah, why?” Haney responded.

“Rio is one year from today,” Hernandez said.

“How do you know that?” Haney said.

“Why wouldn’t I know that?” Hernandez said.

Early Saturday afternoon, five hours before Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman were to perform in the senior P&G Championships at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, there was Hernandez on top of the podium.

Hernandez won the U.S. junior all-around title, by one tenth of a point over teammate Jazmyn Foberg, and that is very notable in Olympic terms.

Each of the last nine U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics teams, starting with Moscow 1980 (boycotted but a team was still named) has included at least one athlete who turned 16 years old or younger in the Olympic year.

All of the women competing in the senior competition Saturday night — Biles, Douglas, Raisman and others — are past that threshold.

Hernandez was born June 9, 2000. She will move into the senior, Olympic-eligible division in 2016, the Olympic year. She could be among the group of athletes to be the first Olympians born in the 2000s.

And, judging by that car conversation, she is confident she can be one of the five U.S. women’s gymnasts going to Rio, on one of the hardest Olympic teams to make in any sport in any country.

“It will be a little bit of a challenge just to be a senior for the Olympic year,” said Hernandez, who also goes by Laurie because there were other Laurens at the gym she first joined around age 5. “I’m looking forward to challenges. I’m ready.

“I’m not really looking at just making it [on the Olympic team]. I’m looking at progressing my skills, cleaning up all the execution and just working every day and inching closer and closer, and I know that I will get there if I put my mind to it.”

Hernandez has a ballet background, which explains why her favorite event is floor exercise.

“It’s very sassy,” said Hernandez, who performed her best on uneven bars over two days of competition this week, with an all-around average that would have ranked third in the senior division’s first night of competition in Indianapolis, ahead of Douglas.

Hernandez had to be bribed with sugar cookies to go to ballet class starting at age 3, but the rush eventually wore off and she made the switch to gymnastics.

Hernandez began training under Haney since 5 or 6, competing at 7 and home-schooling in third grade.

She’s also dislocated her right kneecap and tore the patella tendon, fractured her left elbow and right wrist (twice on the wrist) and slammed four bottom teeth against one of the uneven bars, keeping her from eating solid food for a month, before she had braces.

“I am glad that happened,” Hernandez said of the most serious, the knee injury, which happened on a training camp vault and required surgery last year. “It feels better than ever.”

In 2013, Hernandez placed second in the P&G Championships junior division all-around two months after she turned 13.

The winner, Bailie Key, is 15 months older than Hernandez. This year, Key, now a senior gymnast, was second to Biles (and ahead of Douglas and Raisman in their comeback meet) at the Jesolo Trophy in Italy on March 28.

Hernandez apparently isn’t far behind. She swept the Jesolo Trophy, Secret Classic (on July 25) and P&G Championships junior all-around titles this year and finished second to Biles twice in closed-door camp competitions combining the junior and senior team members, Haney said.

“Second to Simone is like first,” said Haney, who in her career recorded NC State’s first perfect-10 score while on the team from 1997-00.

U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, part of the selection committee for Olympic and Worlds teams, was asked if Hernandez could make the 2016 Olympic team.

“That is a possibility,” Karolyi said Wednesday. “I think it will be a strong competition next year. We have a few juniors who will be breaking in.”

The stellar 2013 meant Hernandez was put on a list of elite gymnasts that were subject to U.S. Anti-Doping Agency drug testing. Testers showed up at her gym for the first time in the beginning of 2014, when she was 13 years old.

“We were on [balance] beam, and two ladies walked in,” Hernandez said. “They were like, oh, we’re from USADA. You need to get drug tested. I just went to the bathroom five minutes before they got there. So it took me like two hours to actually give them the drug test. By that time, practice was basically over.”

There’s reason to believe it will be harder for the first-year seniors in 2016 than it was in 2012, when Kyla Ross made the first-year senior jump to the Olympic team that Hernandez hopes to replicate.

The comebacks of Douglas and Raisman look stronger than the failed comebacks of 2008 Olympic team members four years ago.

And Hernandez is coming back herself from not competing at all in 2014 due to the wrist and knee injuries. She shed tears watching last year’s P&G Championships on an Internet stream from New Jersey, crying less out of happiness for her teammate Foberg winning than out of missing her chance at medals.

Five of them clanked around Hernandez’s neck as she spoke with reporters following her victory Saturday afternoon. She needed to propel herself with her arms on to a competition platform not quite three feet off the ground to sit chest level with the media.

“I’m 4-11 now,” she said, noting a three- to four-inch growth over the last three years.

Haney knows that Hernandez’s prime may pass before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, when she’ll be 20. All five members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team were teenagers.

“Her time is now,” Haney said in a 2013 podcast. “We don’t have a five-year plan or a six-year plan anymore. We’re down to a three-year plan at this point.”

Now, it’s less than one year.

“Kyla wasn’t a senior until [2012], and look where she ended up,” Haney said Saturday. “I hope the seniors are a little worried about them [Hernandez and Foberg] next year.”

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Tokyo Paralympic triathlon test event cancels swim due to water bacteria

AP
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TOKYO (AP) — High levels of bacteria forced the swimming portion of a triathlon test event for the Tokyo Paralympics to be canceled Saturday.

It’s the second setback in the triathlon for organizers of next year’s Olympics and Paralympics. An Olympic triathlon running event was shortened from 10km to 5km on Thursday because of what the International Triathlon Union (ITU) called “extreme levels” of heat.

Tokyo’s hot and humid summers are a major worry for Olympic organizers. The water issues are a reminder of the Rio Games, when high bacteria and virus levels were found in waters for sailing, rowing and open-water swimming.

In a statement, the ITU said E-coli levels were “more than two times over the ITU limits.” It said the water was at Level 4, the highest risk level.

E-coli bacteria, which normally live in the intestines of animals and people, can produce intestinal pain, diarrhea and a fever.

The venue in Tokyo Bay, called Odaiba, has been a concern for organizers, who have experimented with different measures to clean the water in the area, located in an urban part of central Tokyo.

The ITU is scheduled to hold it final test event on Sunday “depending on the latest water quality tests”, it said in a statement.

A few days ago the ITU described water quality conditions at the venue as “very good.” However, swimmers at a recent distance swimming event at the same venue complained of foul-smelling water.

The water temperature at the venue on Saturday was 84 degrees Fahrenheit, with the air temperature hovering above 90.

Tokyo spokesman Masa Takaya said “we are set to conduct a comprehensive review with the international federation.”

He said a triple-layer underwater screen will be installed for next year’s Olympics, replacing a single-layer.

“Based on the results of multiple research in the past, we believe that the multiple layer screen will assure the successful delivery of the competitions,” he said.

Filthy water plagued the Rio Olympics. The South American city lacks a functioning sanitation system for much of its population. Open water there tested high for bacteria and viruses, which confronted athletes in rowing, sailing and triathlon.

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MORE: Double DQ caps bizarre Tokyo Olympic triathlon test event

Women’s hurdlers take center stage as Diamond League hits crunch time; how to watch

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A showdown between world record holder Kendra Harrison (U.S.), reigning Olympic champion Brianna McNeal (U.S.) and 2019 world leader Danielle Williams (Jamaica) in the women’s 100-meter hurdles is the marquee event of the Diamond League meet Sunday in Birmingham, England.

With the track and field world championships not starting this year until Sept. 28, the Diamond League gets an uninterrupted run to its season finales Aug. 29 in Zurich and Sept. 6 in Brussels. The 32 Diamond League events are split between the two finales, with a $50,000 prize awaiting the winner of each final.

The last two meets before those finales — Sunday’s meet and the Aug. 24 meet in Paris — are all about qualifying for a shot at those final jackpots.

Birmingham will be the last chance to win points in the men’s 400m, women’s long jump, women’s 1,500m/mile, men’s javelin, women’s 100m hurdles, men’s 100m and women’s 200m. It’s the second-to-last chance in the women’s discus, women’s pole vault, men’s 400m hurdles, men’s high jump, women’s 3000m steeplechase and women’s 800m.

NBC Sports Gold streams live and commercial-free on Sunday, starting with field events at 7:15 a.m. Eastern and track events kicking off at 9 a.m. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs coverage Monday at 4 p.m.

The women’s 100m hurdles also features two Americans who need points to reach the final — Nia Ali and Queen Claye.

Other American athletes aiming to improve solid chances of qualifying include Raevyn Rogers (women’s 800m), Jenn Suhr (women’s pole vault), Mike Rodgers (men’s 100m), Valarie Allman (women’s discus), Michael Cherry (men’s 400m), Kahmari Montgomery (men’s 400m), Vernon Norwood (men’s 400m), David Kendziera (men’s 400m hurdles), Jeron Robinson (men’s high jump) and Courtney Frerichs (women’s 3,000m steeplechase)

Americans who have already qualified in these events include Ajee Wilson (women’s 800m) and Brittney Reese (women’s long jump), both of whom will be competing in Birmingham,

U.S. qualifiers Jenna Prandini (women’s 200m), Emma Coburn (women’s 3,000m steeplechase) and Sandi Morris (women’s pole vault) will not be in Birmingham. Christian Coleman (100m) withdrew from the meet on Friday, spoiling a showdown with Canada’s Andre De Graase and leaving the potential qualification of Jamaica’s Yohan Blake as the most interesting question.

Americans who may qualify in absentia, pending other results, include Justin Gatlin (100m), Noah Lyles (100m), Jenny Simpson (1,500m), Rai Benjamin (400m hurdles), TJ Holmes (400m hurdles), Michael Norman (men’s 400m), Nathan Strother (men’s 400m) and Fred Kerley (men’s 400m).

In a non-Diamond League event, U.S. champion Craig Engels brings his famous mullet to Birmingham in the 1,500 meters.

Here are the Birmingham entry lists and the current Diamond League standings. The schedule (all times Eastern, x-event not counted toward Diamond League standings):

7:45 a.m. — Women’s Discus
8:02 a.m. — Women’s 100m Hurdles Heat A
8:07 a.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
8:14 a.m. — Women’s 100m Hurdles Heat B
8:26 a.m. — x-Men’s 110m Hurdles
8:46 a.m. — Men’s 100m Heat A
8:55 a.m. — Men’s 100m Heat B
9:03 a.m. — Men’s 400m
9:10 a.m. — Women’s Long Jump
9:13 a.m. — Men’s 400m Hurdles
9:19 a.m. — Men’s High Jump
9:23 a.m. — Women’s Mile
9:33 a.m. — x-Women’s 100m
9:38 a.m. — Men’s Javelin
9:43 a.m. — x-Men’s 1,500m
9:55 a.m. — Women’s 3,000m Steeplechase
10:12 a.m. — x-Men’s 800m
10:22 a.m. — Women’s 100m Hurdles Final
10:32 a.m. — Men’s 100m Final
10:41 a.m. — Women’s 800m
10:52 a.m. — Women’s 200m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 8:07 a.m.
Suhr has no Diamond League points but has the world lead at 4.91 meters. Perennial contenders Katerina Stefanidi (Greece) and Yarisley Silva (Cuba) are also competing.

Men’s 400m — 9:03 a.m.
No one has clinched qualification yet, but Cherry is set to compete in Birmingham and should get through. Americans have the top four spots in the standings — Norman, Cherry, Strother and Kerley.

Women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase — 9:55 a.m.
World record holder Beatrice Chepkoech and three fellow Kenyans who have all qualified alongside Coburn will have their eyes on records.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — 10:22 a.m. final; 8:02 a.m. heats
Most of the top 12 on the world list this year and most of the hurdles who have clinched spots in the final will be here, including Williams and the American trio of Harrison, Sharika Nelvis and Christina Clemons. McNeal, who will run in the world championships with Harrison and Ali, will not qualify.

Women’s 200m — 10:52 a.m.
Dutch sprinter Dafne Schippers, who’s aiming for her third straight world championship, has qualified but will race in Birmingham against equally accomplished sprinters Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bahamas), who has won the last two Diamond League titles at this distance and the 2016 Olympic 400-meter gold, and Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, whose list of international honors is lengthy.

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