Gabby Douglas
AP

Gabby Douglas returns to site of breakthrough at American Cup

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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

Geraint Thomas cuts Julian Alaphilippe’s Tour de France lead

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FOIX, France (AP) — When one French rider starts to fade, another comes to the fore. One way or the other, France may still be on course for its first Tour de France winner since 1985.

Dancing over his saddle, his mouth wide open and gasping for air, Thibaut Pinot launched a ferocious attack Sunday and profited from the first signs of weakness in the high mountains from French race leader Julian Alaphilippe to edge closer to the yellow jersey in the overall standings.

Ascending the last uphill finish in the Pyrenees with a display of power and fluidity that signaled that he’ll also be a major contender to win the Tour, Pinot gained time on all his rivals for the second consecutive day following his triumph at the famed Tourmalet mountain in the previous stage.

Heading to the second and final rest day Monday ahead of what promises to be a climactic final week in the Alps, the race is exquisitely poised. Six riders are all within 2 minutes, 14 seconds of each other at the top of the standings.

The six terrible ascents above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) in the Alps, peppered over three mountain stages, will likely decide who will stand on top of the podium on the Champs-Elysees next Sunday.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

“The high mountains have only just begun,” said Alaphilippe. “The Alps are going to be a big mouthful.”

Surging from the mist and rain, Pinot crossed the finish line of Sunday’s Stage 15 in second place, 33 seconds behind Simon Yates, who posted a second stage win after a long solo raid, three days after his first stage victory in the southwestern mountain range.

The 29-year-old Pinot was irresistible when he made his move seven kilometers from the summit. Only Emanuel Buchmann and defending champion Geraint Thomas’ teammate Egan Bernal could follow. But Pinot accelerated again about 2 kilometers later to drop them for good.

Pinot moved to fourth place overall, 1 minute, 50 seconds behind Alaphilippe.

“The weather conditions and the stage were good for me, I had good sensations, I needed to make the most of it,” said Pinot. “I need to keep going up in the general classification, the most difficult stages are looming.”

While Pinot was escorted by his faithful Groupama-FDJ teammate David Gaudu in the final ascent toward Prat d’Albis, Alaphilippe was isolated without a single teammate to help him in the 12-kilometer climb and cracked, yet managed to salvage his yellow jersey.

Alaphilippe was so exhausted after his effort up the hill, where he grimaced through the rain, that he had to grip a roadside barrier afterward while he caught his breath.

“If I crack I hope he’ll carry the torch for the French,” Alaphilippe said about Pinot.

Thomas, who had already conceded time to Pinot at the Tourmalet, remained second in the general classification. He got dropped when Pinot took the lead from a reduced group of contenders but did not panic. He rode at his pace until he accelerated with 1.5 kilometers left to cut the overall gap on Alaphilippe from 2 minutes, 2 seconds to 1:35. Steven Kruijswijk of the Netherlands stood third overall, 1:47 off the pace.

Thomas said after the stage he could have tried to follow Pinot earlier but instead opted for a conservative approach because he did not want to bring back Alaphilippe to the front. Bernal was with Pinot and the Welshman would not take the risk of chasing down their common rival. Bernal, a Colombian with excellent climbing skills, remains involved in the fight for the yellow jersey, 2:02 behind Alaphilippe.

“I felt better than yesterday but I needed to try to pace it when it all kicked off,” Thomas said. “It’s a difficult one, tactics wise. I wanted to go, I had the legs to go but I wasn’t going to chase down Egan Bernal with Alaphilippe on my wheel.”

Coming right after the ascent of the Tourmalet, Stage 15 ran close to the ancient Cathar castles and was a punishing ride totaling more than 39 kilometers of climbing.

Alaphilippe was so exhausted after his effort up the hill, where he grimaced and dribbled through the rain, that he had to grip a roadside barrier afterward while he caught his breath.

“If I crack I hope he’ll carry the torch for the French,” Alaphilippe said about Pinot.

Yates, the Vuelta defending champion, was given a free reign by the peloton when he took part in an early breakaway as he was not a threat overall. He made his decisive move about 9 kilometers from the line.

“I’m very proud of that,” Yates said of his second victory at this Tour.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce turns back the clock, wins another Diamond League

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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce continues to show she’s just as fast as before childbirth, winning a Diamond League 100m in 10.78 seconds in London on Sunday.

Fraser-Pryce, a 32-year-old, two-time Olympic champion, beat a field that included the two fastest women of 2018, Brit Dina Asher-Smith (10.92) and Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou (10.98).

It lacked the only woman ranked higher than Fraser-Pryce this season, Rio Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, who edged her countrywoman at the Jamaican Championships on June 21.

But Fraser-Pryce has now broken 10.79 three times this season, her first time doing so since 2013. She could become the oldest woman to win an Olympic or world 100m title in Doha in two months.

“10.78 is a fabulous time,” she said. “My aim for Doha is definitely to be on the podium. For me, it’s a long season from here, so I am hoping my experience will come into play.”

Full London results are here. The meet lacked U.S. stars who are preparing for this week’s USATF Outdoor Championships, where world champs spots are at stake. The Diamond League resumes Aug. 18 in Birmingham, Great Britain.

Also Sunday, Kenyan Hellen Obiri won an anticipated head-to-head with Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan in the 5000m. Obiri, the world champion, clocked 14:20.36, the world’s fastest time in two years. Hassan, who nine days ago broke the mile world record, took third in a European record 14:22.12.

Swede Daniel Ståhl won a discus that included the world’s top three this year and the reigning Olympic and world gold and silver medalists. Stahl launched a 68.56-meter throw to overtake Jamaican Fedrick Dacres.

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