Gabby Douglas returns to site of breakthrough at American Cup

Gabby Douglas
AP
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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Gabby Douglas keeps saying it feels like deja vu, from the event to the area to the stakes.

Maybe, but only in the loosest sense.

Four years ago she arrived at the AT&T American Cup as a wide-eyed teenager, sitting quietly on a chair in the corner of a crowded room deep inside Madison Square Garden while 20 feet away a sea of cameras engulfed U.S. teammate and reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber.

Two days later, the lights came on and everything changed.

In the span of four electric rotations, Douglas matured from gymnastics prodigy to budding star, posting the top score in the invitation-only international meet to show U.S. women’s team national coordinator Martha Karolyi she could handle the pressure that comes with competing alongside the best.

Five months following her breakthrough at the Garden, Douglas stood on top of the podium at the 2012 Olympics with gold draped over her neck and the sport at her feet.

Now, just as she planned, she’s back for another go-round at the American Cup (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra, 1 p.m. ET).

Only this time, American Cup is across the river in New Jersey. Only this time, it’s her picture on the banners outside the Prudential Center. Only this time, Douglas is the one in the middle of the cameras.

“It’s a whole different level I guess,” Douglas said.

There is, however, one constant: Douglas still has something to prove. To herself, to Karolyi and to those who still view her bid to defend her Olympic triumph in Rio this summer as little more than a publicity stunt.

Douglas hears the skepticism even as she does her best to ignore it. She gets that she’s attempting to do something that hasn’t been done in nearly 50 years.

The cycle for Olympic all-around champions — particularly if you’re American — is pretty simple: cement your spot in the sport’s royalty, cash in on your celebrity then give your body a well-deserved break by retiring and ceding the spotlight to the next wave of Karolyi’s ponytailed perfectionists.

It’s what Mary Lou Retton did a year removed from her golden moment in Los Angeles in 1984. It’s what Carly Patterson did after soaring in Athens in 2004. It’s what Nastia Liukin eventually did when the 2008 champion’s aching shoulders finally said enough during the 2012 Olympic Trials.

Douglas, however, is following a different path. She carefully plotted a path to the 2016 Games as she bounced from Iowa to Los Angeles back to Iowa before landing at Buckeye Gymnastics in Columbus, Ohio, 18 months ago. She returned to competition at the Jesolo Trophy last March with a new coach and the burden of outsized expectations that come when you have a pair of Olympic golds tucked away somewhere.

She understood getting into peak form would take time. It’s why she didn’t panic after a blah fifth-place at the P&G Championships last summer or get too concerned when her training before the 2015 World Championships in Scotland hardly made it seem she was ready to make inroads on good friend and three-time World champ Simone Biles.

Yet when the U.S. team walked through the smoke and the strobe lights at the SSE Hydro last October, Douglas did what she always seems to do when the pressure ramps up: she put on a show, helping the Americans to an easy gold in the team competition before picking up silver in the all-around behind Biles.

“I feel in a competition, it just clicks,” Douglas said.

Which is among the reasons Karolyi entered Douglas and Maggie Nichols in the eight-woman field at the American Cup rather than Biles, who will make her 2016 debut in Italy later this month. The men’s field includes three-time U.S. champion Sam Mikulak, but there’s little doubt where the star power lies.

“Gabby sometimes needs a very good incentive to train hard,” Karolyi said. “She knows a competition is a great incentive because you don’t want to go out there and look bad.”

Douglas is well aware of her performance-driven vanity. Sure she’d like to be crisper in practice. Yet she’s old enough to know that’s just not how she works. Though she will unveil a more difficult uneven bars routine on Saturday, she’s still working on the other upgrades she’ll need if she wants to catch Biles.

Even with trials four months away, Douglas insists she’s not in a hurry. She needed time off after World Championships to deal with a couple of health issues, and even as she talked on Thursday she wore an ice pack on her knee. She’s been through this before. She knows what’s coming and she wants to use that experience to her advantage.

“Why push it?” Douglas said. “Save your body. Save your energy. You’ve got to be really wise.”

Something Douglas will need to be if she wants to earn a spot on what could be the most loaded U.S. women’s Olympic team ever. Karolyi will give her stars credit to a point, but only to a point. The best five this summer, regardless of their résumé, will head to Brazil.

“Just because you won a title, [the process] won’t be any different this time around,” Karolyi said.

That’s fine by Douglas. Let others worry about her legacy or her bid to catch Biles and become the first repeat Olympic titlist since 1968. She’ll just worry about going out there and being Gabby Douglas.

“I don’t feel the need to put all that pressure on myself,” she said. “I just say to myself the Olympics will come.”

MORE: Mary Lou Retton on winning 1985 American Cup after Olympics

French Open: Daniil Medvedev stunned by 172nd-ranked qualifier

Thiago Seyboth Wild
Getty
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No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev was eliminated by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild at the French Open, the first time a top-two men’s seed lost in the first round of a major in 20 years.

Seyboth Wild, a 23-year-old in his second-ever Grand Slam main draw match, prevailed 7-6 (5), 6-7 (8), 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in more than four hours on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

“I’ve watched Daniil play for, like, my entire junior career until today, and I’ve always dreamed about playing on this court, playing these kind of players,” he said. “In my best dreams, I’ve beaten them, so it’s a dream come true.”

Seyboth Wild overcame the ranking disparity, the experience deficit (it was his first five-set match) and cramps. He began feeling them in the second set, and it affected his serve. Medvedev’s serve was affected by windy conditions. He had 15 double faults.

“I’m not going to look at it back on TV, but my feeling was that he played well,” he said. “I don’t think I played that bad, but he played well.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Seyboth Wild, who had strictly played in qualifying and lower-level Challenger events dating to February 2022, became the first man to take out a top-two seed at a Slam since Ivo Karlovic upset Lleyton Hewitt at 2003 Wimbledon, which ended up being the first major won by a member of the Big Three.

The last time it happened at the French Open was in 2000, when Mark Philippoussis ousted No. 2 Pete Sampras.

It’s the most seismic win by a Brazilian at the French Open — and perhaps any major — since the nation’s most successful man, Gustavo Kuerten, won his third Roland Garros title in 2001.

Tuesday marked the 26th anniversary of Kuerten’s first big splash in Paris, a third-round win over 1995 French Open champion Thomas Muster en route to his first Roland Garros title.

As a junior, Seyboth Wild won the 2018 U.S. Open and reached a best ranking of eighth in the world. Since, he played eight Grand Slam qualifying tournaments with a 1-8 record before advancing through qualifying last week.

The 2021 U.S. Open champion Medvedev entered the French Open having won the first clay tournament title of his career at the Italian Open, the last top-level event before Roland Garros.

“Because wind, dry court, I had a mouthful of clay since probably third game of the match, and I don’t like it,” he said. “I don’t know if people like to eat clay, to have clay in their bags, in their shoes, the socks, white socks, you can throw them to garbage after clay season. Maybe some people like it. I don’t.”

Medvedev’s defeat leaves no major champions in the bottom half of the men’s draw. The top seeds left are No. 4 Casper Ruud, last year’s French Open and U.S. Open runner-up, and No. 6 Holger Rune. No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz and No. 3 Novak Djokovic play their second-round matches in the top half on Wednesday.

Women’s seeds to advance Tuesday included No. 6 Coco Gauff, who rallied past 71st-ranked Spaniard Rebeka Masarova 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, plus No. 1 Iga Swiatek, No. 4 Elena Rybakina and No. 7 Ons Jabeur in straight sets.

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Olympians, Paralympians star on Top Chef World All-Stars in Paris

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U.S. Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls get a taste of Paris in this week’s episode of Top Chef World All-Stars, premiering Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.

Olympic medalists Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Suni Lee and Paralympic medalists Mallory Weggemann and Hunter Woodhall team up with contestants for a cooking challenge in front of the Eiffel Tower, one year before the French capital hosts the Games.

Olympians have appeared on Top Chef before.

A 2020 episode set at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Coliseum included Diana Taurasi, Rai Benjamin, Nastia Liukin, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Christian Coleman and Kerri Walsh Jennings.

A January 2018 episode featured figure skater Meryl Davis, freeskier Gus Kenworthy and skeleton slider John Daly, one month before the PyeongChang Winter Games.

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