Mark Cavendish
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Mark Cavendish warms to Rio bid: ‘Olympic medal is the only thing I’m missing’

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Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish, a 26-time Tour de France stage winner, seems intent to pursuing the Rio 2016 Olympics, after casting major doubt in January.

“It has got to the point that even if it’s in synchronized swimming … an Olympic medal is the only thing I’m missing,” the two-time Olympian said earlier this month, according to the Telegraph.

Cavendish, 30, had medal hopes evaporate at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympics.

In 2008, Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins finished ninth in track cycling’s madison after winning the World Championship five months earlier. Cavendish was the only British track cycling team member not to win a medal in Beijing.

In 2012, Cavendish was the hope to win Great Britain’s first gold medal of the London Games in the road race. He finished 29th.

In January, Cavendish said he wanted to try for a third Olympics, but it would be hard.

“I can’t do it on the road [the Rio road race course doesn’t suit his sprinting prowess], can’t do it in the time trial, and on the track there’s just no way to qualify without quitting the road,” he said then, according to the BBC.

But Cavendish returned to track cycling in August with a plan on competing in the omnium, a six-race event, to be eligible to qualify for the Olympic team if that’s the route he wanted to take in the next year.

“It’d be nice to have an Olympic medal, just to stop people banging on about it,” Cavendish said in August, according to British media.

An Olympic qualification attempt would be just that — an attempt with no certain spot available. Cavendish’s 2008 event, the madison, is no longer part of the Olympic program.

Great Britain selectors can only send one man to the Olympics in Cavendish’s new preferred event, the omnium. Cavendish may have to earn that spot over the reigning Olympic bronze medalist, Ed Clancy, who was also part of the nation’s gold medal-winning team pursuit squad in 2008 and 2012.

“I’ve got to be totally honest,” Great Britain team technical director Shane Sutton said in August, according to Cyclingnews.com. “It’s not going to be easy for [Cavendish].”

Cavendish is believed to narrow any gap to Clancy thanks to a tweak in the omnium format to favor his abilities, but British reports say the Olympic omnium man would also have to be part of the team pursuit squad, at least as a reserve rider. Cavendish’s team pursuit experience is limited.

“Look if it was the old omnium, as it was at the last Olympics, Ed would be going, 100 percent,” Cavendish said, according to the Telegraph.

Clancy prevailed in Cavendish’s return to the track in August.

“The preferred option is Ed Clancy as he is also the strongest guy in the team pursuit,” British cycling endurance coach Heiko Salzwedel said in an August Telegraph report. “The team pursuit is still our priority event. There are too many uncontrollables in the omnium. The team pursuit is controllable, and we will not make any sacrifices.”

MORE CYCLING: Can Tour de France stars contend for medals at 2016 Olympics?

At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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