Gabby Douglas wins American Cup, first title since 2012 Olympics

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NEWARK, N.J. — Just like four years ago, Gabby Douglas posted the highest all-around score at the American Cup. There was just one significant difference on Saturday.

“My scores counted!” Douglas said.

The Olympic all-around champion led wire to wire to win in her first meet of the Olympic year, her first all-around title since she the London 2012 Games.

In between, Douglas took 2 1/2 years off from meets, returning last March and competing four times in 2015 with a best all-around finish of second place.

On Saturday, Douglas, hoping this summer to become the first Olympic all-around gold medalist to compete in the following Games since Nadia Comaneci in 1980, made no major errors over four routines.

She totaled 60.165 points in a sparkling fuchsia and silver leotard, beating 2015 World Championships teammate Maggie Nichols by .466 at the Prudential Center. The packed crowd roared with every clean landing and high-flying flip at the biggest annual international meet in the U.S.

“I’m so thankful to have that clicking mode, when the cameras are there and when it counts,” Douglas said. “I kind of have that, switch it on, switch it off.”

DOUGLAS VIDEO: Balance Beam | Floor Exercise | Uneven Bars | Vault

The field did not include Simone Biles, the three-time reigning World all-around champion and Rio Olympic all-around super favorite expected to make her 2016 debut later this month.

Douglas broke through at this meet four years ago by posting the highest all-around score, despite being an unofficial competitor outside of the overall standings. She watched as Jordyn Wieber was awarded the trophy at Madison Square Garden.

“I’m not going to lie, I was a little sad,” Douglas recalled Saturday with a humorous pout. “Oh man, I kind of wanted the cup [trophy].”

Would this year’s Douglas have beaten the 2012 American Cup Douglas?

“You cannot speculate on these things because gymnastics is evolving every year and every year expectations are harder,” U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said. “She’s definitely further ahead than last year.”

Douglas did speculate. In some ways, she’s ahead of her 2012 pace.

“The form needs to be there a little bit more, but overall I would have to say it’s kind of better than 2012 [American Cup],” said Douglas, who along with Olympic floor exercise champion Aly Raisman is trying to become the first U.S. woman to make back-to-back Olympic teams since 1996 and 2000. “I feel like my mental game is more there, and I feel more strong and more aggressive.”

Douglas said she’d probably give this first American Cup trophy to her mom to put in a case in their Los Angeles home.

The American Cup winners in 2004 (Carly Patterson) and 2008 (Nastia Liukin) bagged Olympic all-around gold later that year, with Douglas’ top score in 2012 adding to that trend.

That bodes well for Douglas’ hopes to become the first back-to-back Olympic women’s all-around champ since Věra Čáslavská in 1964 and 1968.

She’ll have to surpass Biles, who beat Douglas in all four of Douglas’ meets last year and relegated Douglas to silver by a comfortable 1.083 points at the World Championships on Oct. 29.

Also Saturday, American Donnell Whittenburg led the men’s competition going into the final rotation, when he fell on high bar and was passed by Japan’s Ryohei Kato for the title by .366.

Sam Mikulak, a 2012 U.S. Olympian, finished fourth on Saturday, falling off pommel horse and high bar and putting one hand down on his final floor exercise pass.

Mikulak is coming back from a partially torn left Achilles suffered in early October, which knocked him out of the World Championships.

The next notable meet is the Jesolo Trophy in Italy in two weeks, which could feature Biles and Raisman in their 2016 competition debuts.

The P&G Championships and Olympic trials are in June and July, after which the five-man and five-woman U.S. Olympic teams will be named.

“There’s more work to be done,” Douglas said. “I’m not going to let up.”

MORE: Mary Lou Retton recalls 1985 American Cup win after Olympics

Alysa Liu rallies to win Junior Grand Prix with another quadruple jump

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U.S. figure skating champion Alysa Liu landed a quadruple Lutz for a second straight Junior Grand Prix, rallying from fourth after the short program to win an event in Poland on Friday.

Liu, who in January became the youngest U.S. champion in history at age 13, won both of her starts in her first season on the Junior Grand Prix to become the first U.S. woman to qualify for the six-skater Junior Grand Prix Final since 2013 (Polina Edmunds and Karen Chen). The Final is held with the senior Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, in December.

She won Friday by 6.63 points by surpassing a pair of Russians, a rarity in this era. Her free skate is here.

Liu trailed by 4.03 points after doubling a planned triple loop in the short program. She was the lone skater in the field to attempt a triple Axel (landing three of them, including two in combination and one with a negative grade of execution) or a quad.

Liu tallied 138.99 points in the free skate and 203.10 overall. She ranks sixth in the world this season by best total scores among junior and senior skaters, though some top skaters have yet to compete.

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Rafaela Silva, first Brazilian gold medalist at Rio Olympics, claims innocence after positive drug test

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Rafaela Silva, the judoka who grew up in Rio’s most famously violent favela to become Brazil’s first gold medalist at the Rio Olympics, reportedly tested positive for a banned substance last month.

Silva tested positive for fenoterol, a substance that can be legal to treat asthma if an athlete has a therapeutic use exemption (TUE). Silva did not have a TUE before testing positive at the Pan American Games in August, according to Brazilian media.

A possible punishment has not been announced.

Silva claimed innocence at a news conference Friday afternoon, saying that a young child with whom she had bodily contact at her training location used the substance, and she plans to compete at a domestic event this weekend, according to O Globo.

Silva, 27, backed up her Rio Olympic 57kg title by taking bronze at the world championships later in August. If she is punished for the positive test, Silva could lose that bronze medal, though she said Friday that she had a clean drug test at worlds, according to O Globo.

Silva, from Rio’s Ciadade de Deus favela, has the Olympic rings tattooed on her right bicep with the inscription “God knows how much I’ve suffered and what I’ve done to get here.”

Brazil’s top female swimmer, Etiene Medeiros, reportedly tested positive for fenoterol in May 2016 but was cleared to compete at the Rio Olympics.

In PyeongChang, Slovenian hockey player Ziga Jeglic tested positive for fenoterol and was scratched before his nation’s last game before it was announced. Jeglic was suspended from the Games and, later, was suspended eight months.

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