Usain Bolt
AP

Olympic Year in Review: Summer Sports

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OlympicTalk takes a look back at the year in Olympic sports this week. Today, we review summer sports.

Rio Olympic medal contenders emerged in 2015, with World Championships in most Summer Games sports, including track and field, swimming and gymnastics.

The first half of 2016 will be about determining who makes the Olympic team, but first let’s look back on who stamped their names as Rio medal favorites this past year.

Track and Field

Usain Bolt swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the World Championships in August, like he usually does, but he overcame the greatest doubt about his abilities since he burst onto the scene in 2008.

Injuries, slow times in spring races and the rise of 2004 Olympic 100m champion Justin Gatlin led many to believe Bolt would be beaten to the finish line at a global championship for the first time since 2007, but the Jamaican legend outleaned Gatlin by .01 in the 100m and crossed in more comfortable fashion in the 200m and relay. But can he do it again in his (planned) Olympic farewell in Rio?

Bolt did not author the most impressive performance at Worlds, however. That title may belong to Ashton Eaton, who broke his world record in his first decathlon in nearly two years. In Rio, Eaton will look to become the third man to win multiple decathlon gold medals.

Allyson Felix moved up to challenge herself in the 400m at the World Championships and notched her maiden title in the one-lap event to go along with a decade’s worth of 200m accolades. Felix, now the most decorated U.S. athlete at the World Championships with 13 medals, hopes to race the 200m and the 400m at the Rio Games, but that may rely on scheduling.

Other highlights included Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba breaking the 1500m world record (not at Worlds), Christian Taylor notching the second-farthest triple jump in history and Aries Merritt earning 110m hurdles bronze four days before a kidney transplant.

The U.S. track and field team bagged 18 medals at Worlds in Beijing, its fewest at an Olympics or Worlds since 2003, with fewer gold medals than Jamaica and Kenya.

MORE TRACK AND FIELD: Top ten performances at World Championships

Swimming

Michael Phelps returned from a suspension following his DUI arrest and life-altering therapy to publicly commit to a run for his fifth Olympics, get engaged and expect his first child and produce the fastest times in the world this year in his three primary events — 100m and 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley.

Phelps was not at the World Championships in August as part of his punishment, which meant more headlines for Katie Ledecky. The 18-year-old swept the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and added a fifth gold in the 4x200m free relay.

Missy Franklin, who earned six golds at the 2013 Worlds, earned two individual medals in August, a silver and a bronze. Franklin completed her NCAA career and turned professional in the spring, moving from California back to Colorado. She’ll gear up for Rio as an underdog, notably behind Ledecky in the 200m free and Australian Emily Seebohm in the backstrokes.

Then there’s Ryan Lochte, who raced his smallest slate of events at a major international meet in 11 years yet still came away from Worlds with a fourth straight 200m IM crown. Lochte is the oldest of U.S. swimming’s Big Four at 31 but hopes a coaching change in 2013 keeps him fresh for a fourth Olympics.

Internationally, Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu cemented her status as the world’s best all-around female swimmer by sweeping the individual medleys at a second straight Worlds.

The U.S. goes into the Olympic year facing its greatest threat to dominance in the sport since the heyday of its rivalry with Australia. Americans earned 18 medals in Olympic events at Worlds, their fewest at an Olympics or Worlds in 50 years.

MORE SWIMMING: Early look at U.S. Olympic men’s team | Women’s

Simone Biles
AP

Gymnastics

American Simone Biles and Japan’s Kohei Uchimura completed sweeps of every World all-around title since the last Olympics, meaning it’s possible Rio will be the crowning Games for the two greatest gymnasts in history.

Biles, an 18-year-old Texan, broke U.S. records for career Worlds medals (14 overall, 10 golds) and easily topped returning Olympic champion Gabby Douglas in the all-around.

Douglas and Olympic floor exercise champion Aly Raisman performed well this year in their first competitions since 2012, setting up to become the first U.S. women to make multiple Olympic gymnastics teams since 2000. That will be decided after the Olympic trials in July.

Like Biles, Uchimura proved peerless with a sixth straight World all-around title. No other man or woman has eclipsed three. He also led Japan to knock off China in the team event at a Worlds or Olympics for the first time since 2004.

The U.S. men qualified for Rio in fifth place at Worlds, doing so without injured Olympians Sam MikulakJohn Orozco and Jacob Dalton.

MORE GYMNASTICS: Takeaways from World Championships

Basketball

The Olympic men’s and women’s fields are mostly complete after continental qualifiers. The U.S. men and women had already earned berths via 2014 World titles. In 2015, Olympic silver medalist Spain joined the men’s field, while World silver and bronze medalists Serbia and France advanced to last-chance qualifiers in July.

Mike Krzyzewski will lead the U.S. men’s team for the final time in Rio, to be succeeded by Gregg Popovich. The roster will of course be loaded but also complicated by decisions such as whether Kobe Bryant, at age 37, merits a place on the team after his NBA retirement.

Geno Auriemma had said London would be his final Games, but he, too, is returning to coach in Rio. His squad could include a bevy of his former UConn players, such as Maya MooreTina Charles and Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird in their fourth Olympics, plus perhaps one of his current players, senior National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart.

MORE BASKETBALL: Nine nations qualified for Olympic men’s tourney

Beach Volleyball

Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings overcame two shoulder dislocations this season to team with Olympic silver medalist April Ross and reach the final of the World Series of Beach Volleyball in August.

There, they fell to Olympic favorites Larissa and Talita of Brazil, though Walsh Jennings had limited use of that right shoulder and ended up undergoing a fifth surgery on it in September.

Brazil also rules the men’s field, with Alison and Bruno sweeping the World Championships, World Series of Beach Volleyball and World Tour Finals this summer.

Beijing Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser split with partner Sean Rosenthal and returned to playing with Nick Lucena, with whom he paired in his first tournaments 12 years ago. Dalhausser and Lucena finished the season making the World Series of Beach Volleyball and World Tour Finals championship matches against Alison and Bruno.

MORE BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Walsh Jennings, Ross forge ahead after memorable phone call

American Women

2015 marked the year of the dominant female athlete, from the aforementioned Ledecky and Biles to Carli Lloyd and the U.S. Women’s World Cup team to Ronda Rousey (a 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist) and Serena Williams.

Many more American women established themselves as gold-medal favorites with unbeaten runs in 2015.

Triathlete Gwen Jorgensen extended an unprecedented winning streak to 13 top-level international races since May 2014, bagging her second straight World title. She’s positioned to become the first U.S. Olympic champion in a sport that debuted at Sydney 2000.

Wrestlers Adeline Gray and Helen Maroulis earned World titles in a 100-minute span Sept. 11 and go into 2016 hoping to become the first U.S. women to earn Olympic gold in the sport. Gray and Maroulis, former roommates, both lost in the 2012 Olympic trials finals and went to London anyway to serve as training partners for the women who did make the team.

Boxer Claressa Shields didn’t have a World Championships to crush in 2015, but she moved her record to 66-1 by winning the Olympic trials in November. Shields hasn’t lost since she won 2012 Olympic gold at age 17.

The U.S. became the first nation to hold the Olympic, World, World League and World Cup women’s water polo titles simultaneously after capturing its first World title in six years.

In rowing, the U.S. women’s eight took a 10th straight global title at the World Championships on Sept. 6 with a boat that included just one woman with Olympic experience.

Summer and Winter Paralympic medalist Tatyana McFadden swept the Boston, Chicago, London and New York City marathon wheelchair races for a third straight year.

Olympic Year in Review: Winter Sports | Summer Sports | Photos | Social Media

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