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

Justin Morneau nixes Olympic baseball qualifying return

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Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP with the Minnesota Twins, was taken off Canada’s Olympic baseball qualifying roster before he would have played his first competitive game in more than two years.

Morneau, 38, experienced an unspecified setback in training and was replaced on Canada’s roster for next month’s Premier12. The global tournament marks the first opportunity for many world baseball powers to qualify for the sport’s return to the Olympics.

Morneau never played in the Olympics before baseball was cut from the Games after 2008; active MLB players have never competed in the Games. But he was on Canada’s roster at all four World Baseball Classics from 2006 through 2017.

At November’s Premier12, the top nation from North and South America will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Japan and Israel are already qualified. Those that do not qualify will get another chance next year.

Morneau could become the second Major League Baseball MVP to play Olympic baseball as a medal sport. The other was Jason Giambi, who made the U.S. team in 1992, the same summer he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.

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MORE: Joe Girardi replaced as U.S. baseball manager by World Series champion

Kolohe Andino is first U.S. Olympic surfing qualifier; Kelly Slater faces last chance

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Kolohe Andino is the first American to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, which leaves one spot left for 47-year-old Kelly Slater to chase at the final contest of the season.

Andino, a 25-year-old Californian whose first name means “rascal” in Hawaiian, clinched his place in Tokyo on Friday at the penultimate stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour in Portugal. He is ranked fifth in the world, trailing a trio of Brazilians.

One more American man will join Andino on the Olympic team. It will be one of Slater, the 11-time world champion, John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World champion, and rising 22-year-old Hawaiian Seth Moniz.

Slater was handed a golden opportunity to qualify when Florence announced in early July that he tore an ACL for the second time in 13 months. Florence had won two of the first five events this season.

Slater has been chasing the sidelined Florence in the standings ever since. But it has not been easy.

Slater hasn’t made the quarterfinals in any of his last seven contests going into December’s finale — the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said in July, noting a back injury. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, who won the Pipe Masters seven times between 1992 and 2013, must reach the quarterfinals at this year’s event to have any chance of passing Florence to qualify for the Olympics.

Complicating matters: Florence said in August it was his “goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points,” according to ESPN.com. If Florence does return for the December contest, and makes the quarterfinals, Slater could only pass him with a victory.

Moniz goes into the finale ranked one spot behind Slater, meaning he, too, can grab that second and final Olympic spot with a win or a runner-up.

Slater, who turns 48 on Feb. 11, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, according to the OlyMADMen.

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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