Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas
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Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas ease into Olympic selection meets at Secret Classic

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Simone Biles will not win the Secret Classic. Neither will Gabby Douglas.

And that’s OK.

The world’s two best gymnasts are competing on half of the events at the Secret Classic rather than the all-around. U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi calls this meet the first step in the Olympic selection process but also a “warm-up” for stars.

Biles and Douglas have Karolyi’s blessing to take it easy at the XL Center on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Live Extra).

The more important meets are the P&G Championships in St. Louis from June 23-26 and the Olympic Trials in San Jose from July 8-10, after which the five-woman Rio team will be named.

“You don’t want to get extremely early into full competition shape, so maybe I would say this competition you have maybe 80 percent, and the [P&G] championships you go to 90 and for trials you have to reach 100 percent routine readiness and best shape and take that all the way through the Olympic Games,” Karolyi said Friday afternoon. “For the more established girls, more like a warm-up to get ready for championships. For certain other gymnasts, they really have to prove themselves, and this will give them an opportunity to do that.”

The “more established girls” definitely include the three-time reigning World all-around champion Biles and Olympic all-around champion Douglas, Karolyi said. Karolyi also said co-World uneven bars champion Madison Kocian could maybe be considered on that list, too.

Kocian, like Biles and Douglas, will compete only on uneven bars and balance beam Saturday. Kocian is still working her way back from a fracturing her left tibia in February. Biles and Douglas are holding back in Hartford.

“No need to do the all-around,” said Douglas, who won her first all-around title since the London Games at the AT&T American Cup on March 5. “It’s like a tune-up meet.”

Biles won’t try for a third straight Secret Classic title. She is undefeated in all-around competitions since after the 2013 Secret Classic, when she fell on uneven bars and floor exercise, barely stayed on the balance beam and didn’t attempt a vault.

Why are Biles and Douglas doing bars and beam and not floor exercise and vault Saturday?

“Those are the more stressful events,” Biles said of bars and beam. “You get out there, and you see how you react to the crowd.”

The all-around favorite on Saturday appears to be Aly Raisman, the Olympic floor exercise champion looking with Douglas to become the first women to make back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000.

“[My coach] doesn’t want my first meet all-around [in Olympic selection season] to be at [P&G] championships,” said Raisman, who did do the all-around at the Pacific Rim Championships in April. “He just wants me to get everything and make sure everything feels good.”

The top gymnast not in Hartford is Maggie Nichols, the only American to compete on all four events in the 2015 World Championships team final. Nichols is working her way back from arthroscopic knee surgery several weeks ago.

“She will be in the [P&G] championship,” Karolyi said. “She’s gradually adding the gymnastics skills. She did her rehab, and then she’s already on the level where she can do full bar routines. She can do the beam, almost, with exceptional skill. She is adding more and more tumbling passes to her [floor exercise] routine. She is on the right track. Hopefully everything goes fine and she just will be ready to compete again in time to prove herself that she will be an asset for U.S. gymnastics.”

MORE: 10 men to watch at P&G Championships in Hartford this weekend

Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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