U.S.’ ‘most improved’ gymnast hopes to best Gabby Douglas at American Cup

Maggie Nichols
Getty Images

NEWARK, N.J. — Maggie Nichols will walk into the Prudential Center for the AT&T American Cup on Saturday (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra, 1 p.m. ET) more than ready to compete against the Olympic all-around champion, her friend and usual teammate Gabby Douglas.

Nichols will have two very important things on her side: a mature new floor routine and the approval of U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi.

In practice Thursday, Nichols did a run-through of her brand-new floor exercise, which has more of the Latin-inspired choreography that became her signature in 2015.

Her previous routine, which earned bronze at the 2015 World Championships, used a piece of paso doble music called “España Cañí.”

Her new music for 2016 — the music Nichols hopes to hear in Rio in August — is similar, “a tango-ish sort of thing,” she said.

“It’s still very new,” Nichols said Thursday, “so it won’t be as good as I probably can dance. I’ll try my best.”

The sophisticated routine reflects the grown-up athlete Nichols has become after her breakout 2015.

In August, she led after the first three of eight rotations at the P&G Championships, eventually finishing second behind Simone Biles and ahead of 2012 Olympians Douglas, Aly Raisman and Kyla Ross.

Two months later, she earned team gold and floor bronze in her World Championships debut in Glasgow, Scotland.

She also added high school graduate to her list of accomplishments, finishing classes at Roseville Area High in Minnesota in December.

She’s now focused entirely on gymnastics. Nichols plans to stay amateur and compete collegiately at Oklahoma in January 2017, after the expected post-Olympic whirlwind dies down.

While her résumé speaks for itself, it was the endorsement of Karolyi that marked her as a Rio contender.

“Maggie Nichols, the biggest improvement I can see in this quadrennium is her,” Karolyi said last August. “At the beginning, she was just average, new elite, two and a half, three years ago. And every year, very seriously, very committed, very dedicated, she worked her way, and I think at this moment she is showing definitely world-class gymnastics.”

Nichols feels she’s still improving.

“My skills are getting cleaner, and everything’s getting more powerful,” she said.

Karolyi’s feedback has been more about mentality, that she urged Nichols to “stay really focused and calm and do what I usually do.”

Not that Nichols or Karolyi are worried that she’ll falter under the pressure at the American Cup.

“Maggie never missed a routine last season in any competition,” Karolyi told USA Gymnastics. “She handles very well the pressure, and she is one of those girls who really likes to perform. Sometimes gymnasts get a little intimidated, but not her.”

Nichols isn’t thinking about the fact that she’ll be facing off with the reigning Olympic all-around champion on Saturday.

Though Douglas earned World Championships all-around silver behind Biles in October, Nichols posted an all-around score in the team final that would have won bronze in the individual final.

Does Nichols consider herself the favorite Saturday?

“I haven’t thought too much about it, but it’s my goal so that’d be really cool if it came out that way,” Nichols said.

A few months before the London Olympics, Douglas posted the highest score at the American Cup, but the win wasn’t official because she was competing as an exhibition athlete.

All four U.S. female all-around Olympic champions — Douglas, Nastia Liukin, Carly Patterson and Mary Lou Retton — won the American Cup the same year as their Olympic title.

Biles, the three-time U.S. and World all-around champion and Rio Olympic favorite, was not entered in the American Cup.

USA Gymnastics could enter a maximum of two gymnasts and wanted to get an early look at Douglas and Nichols.

Biles is slated to make her 2016 debut at the Jesolo Trophy in Italy in two weeks.

MORE: Mary Lou Retton reflects on American Cup win 

Correction: Due to an editing error, Maggie Nichols was incorrectly credited with posting a higher World Championships all-around score than Gabby Douglas in an earlier version of this post.

U.S. men’s gymnastics team named for world championships

Asher Hong
Allison and John Cheng/USA Gymnastics

Asher Hong, Colt Walker and world pommel horse champion Stephen Nedoroscik were named to the last three spots on the U.S. men’s gymnastics team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Brody Malone and Donnell Whittenburg earned the first spots on the team by placing first and second in the all-around at August’s U.S. Championships.

Hong, Walker and Nedoroscik were chosen by a committee after two days of selection camp competition in Colorado Springs this week. Malone and Whittenburg did not compete at the camp.

Hong, 18, will become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009. He nearly earned a spot on the team at the U.S. Championships, but erred on his 12th and final routine of that meet to drop from second to third in the all-around. At this week’s camp, Hong had the lowest all-around total of the four men competing on all six apparatuses, but selectors still chose him over Tokyo Olympians Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus.

Walker, a Stanford junior, will make his world championships debut. He would have placed second at nationals in August if a bonus system for attempting difficult skills wasn’t in place. With that bonus system not in place at the selection camp, he had the highest all-around total. The bonus system is not used at international meets such as world championships.

Nedoroscik rebounded from missing the Tokyo Olympic team to become the first American to win a world title on pommel horse last fall. Though he is the lone active U.S. male gymnast with a global gold medal, he was in danger of missing this five-man team because of struggles on the horse at the U.S. Championships. Nedoroscik, who does not compete on the other five apparatuses, put up his best horse routine of the season on the last day of the selection camp Wednesday.

Moldauer, who tweeted that he was sick all last week, was named the traveling alternate for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. It would be the first time that Moldauer, who was fourth in the all-around at last fall’s worlds, does not compete at worlds since 2015.

Though the U.S. has not made the team podium at an Olympics or worlds since 2014, it is boosted this year by the absence of Olympic champion Russia, whose athletes are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

The U.S. women’s world team of five will be announced after a selection camp in two weeks. Tokyo Olympians Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles are in contention.

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Paris 2024 Olympic marathon route unveiled

Paris 2024 Olympic Marathon
Paris 2024

The 2024 Olympic marathon route will take runners from Paris to Versailles and back.

The route announcement was made on the 233rd anniversary of one of the early, significant events of the French Revolution: the Women’s March on Versailles — “to pay tribute to the thousands of women who started their march at city hall to Versailles to take up their grievances to the king and ask for bread,” Paris 2024 President Tony Estanguet said.

Last December, organizers announced the marathons will start at Hôtel de Ville (city hall, opposite Notre-Dame off the Seine River) and end at Les Invalides, a complex of museums and monuments one mile southeast of the Eiffel Tower.

On Wednesday, the rest of the route was unveiled — traversing the banks of the Seine west to the Palace of Versailles and then back east, passing the Eiffel Tower before the finish.

The men’s and women’s marathons will be on the last two days of the Games at 8 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET). It will be the first time that the women’s marathon is held on the last day of the Games after the men’s marathon traditionally occupied that slot.

A mass public marathon will also be held on the Olympic marathon route. The date has not been announced.

The full list of highlights among the marathon course:

• Hôtel de ville de Paris (start)
• Bourse de commerce
• Palais Brongniart
• Opéra Garnier
• Place Vendôme
• Jardin des Tuileries
• The Louvre
• Place de la Concorde
• The bridges of Paris
(Pont de l’Alma; Alexandre III;
Iéna; and more)
• Grand Palais
• Palais de Tokyo
• Jardins du Trocadéro
• Maison de la Radio
• Manufacture et Musées
nationaux de Sèvres
• Forêt domaniale
des Fausses-Reposes
• Monuments Pershing –
• Château de Versailles
• Forêt domaniale de Meudon
• Parc André Citroën
• Eiffel Tower
• Musée Rodin
• Esplanade des Invalides (finish)

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