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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Joey Mantia extends U.S. medal streak at speed skating worlds; Dutch dominance returns

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Joey Mantia ensured the host U.S. finished with a medal at the world single distances championships. Ireen WüstKjeld Nuis and Jorrit Bergsma ensured the Netherlands finished atop the medal standings.

Mantia joined Shani Davis as the only U.S. men to earn individual medals at three different editions of the championships, taking bronze in the 1500m on the last day of the speed skating meet at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Mantia won the mass start at the last two worlds in 2017 and 2019 (and finished fifth on Sunday, after the 1500m bronze).

Mantia clocked a personal best 1:42.16 in the fifth of 12 pairs of the 1500m. It held up until Nuis (1:41.66) and countryman Thomas Krol (1:41.73) in the last two pairs.

“Was starting to think that I’m so old that I can’t time trial anymore,” Mantia, a 34-year-old whose last 1500m personal best came in 2015, told media in Utah. “Maybe there’s a little bit of hope left.”

Mantia’s medal extended the U.S. streak of making the podium at every world championships this millennium — 16 straight. The single bronze is the smallest medal output since 2000.

Full results are here.

Wüst and Nuis gave the Dutch a sweep of the men’s and women’s 1500m titles, two years after they did the same at the PyeongChang Olympics. Bergsma, an Olympic and world 10,000m champion, earned his first global medal of any color — gold — in the 16-lap mass start.

The Netherlands failed to earn any golds on the first two days of the four-day competition. The dominant Dutch, who topped the medal standings at every Olympics and worlds dating to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, entered Sunday trailing Russia.

But Wüst began the day by clocking 1:50.92 to win the 1500m by .21 over Russian Yevgenia Lalenkova. American medal hope Brittany Bowe, the 2015 World champion who took bronze last year, finished 14th a day after taking eighth in her world-record 1000m distance.

Nuis and Krol went one-two in the men’s 1500m to tie Russia’s medal total. Then Irene Schouten took bronze in the women’s mass start to put the Netherlands ahead for good, followed by Bergsma’s capper.

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MORE: Shani Davis retires, takes new role in speed skating

Netherlands on the board; more world records at speed skating worlds

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It took four world records from other countries before the Netherlands won its first title in an Olympic program event at the world single distances speed skating championships.

Jutta Leerdam got the dominant skating nation on the board on the third day of the four-day competition and in the ninth Olympic program event. Leerdam scored an upset over defending champion and world-record holder Brittany Bowe, the American who ended up eighth.

Leerdam, 21, prevailed despite having zero World Cup podiums to her name. She clocked 1:11.84, just .23 slower than Bowe’s world record set on the same Utah Olympic Oval last year. Bowe, who recently had her yearlong win streak snapped in the 1000m, finished in 1:12.92.

“It’s a nightmare,” Bowe said, according to media on site.

Later, the Netherlands won the men’s team pursuit in a world record 3:34.68, the fifth world record in Olympic events the last two days on the world’s fastest ice at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Full results are here.

The world championships conclude Sunday, highlighted by American Joey Mantia defending his world title in the mass start.

In other Saturday events, both the men’s 1000m and women’s 5000m world records fell. On Friday, world records were lowered in the men’s 10,000m and women’s team pursuit.

Pavel Kulizhnikov followed his Friday world 500m title with the 1000m crown, repeating his double gold from 2016. Kulizhnikov was one of the Russians banned from the PyeongChang Olympics after he served a prior doping ban.

On Saturday, Kulizhnikov clocked 1:05.69 to take .49 off Dutchman Kjeld Nuis‘ record from last March, also set at Salt Lake City. Nuis, the Olympic 1000m and 1500m champion, took silver, 1.03 seconds behind.

Russian Natalya Voronina and Czech Martina Sablikova both went under Sablikova’s world record in the 5000m. Voronina came out on top in 6:39.02, 2.99 seconds faster than Sablikova’s record from a year ago and 2.16 seconds faster than Sablikova on Saturday.

Voronina’s time would have been the men’s world record as recently as 1993. Sablikova won the previous 10 world titles in the event dating to 2007.

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