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Aly Raisman takes advice from Tom Brady, eyes another Olympics

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The double standard didn’t hit Aly Raisman fully until she found herself talking to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. You know, as one does.

The three-time Olympic medalist, all of 22, was trying to explain to Brady the long odds she faced of making it to Rio de Janeiro this summer for the 2016 Games. Brady, a four-time Super Bowl winner still going strong in his late 30s, just didn’t get it.

“I was like, `I’m too old,”‘ Raisman said. “Tom said, `No. you’re not.’ And it’s like, when quarterbacks win the Super Bowl, they don’t ask them if they’re done.”‘

Maybe because American gymnasts on the other side of their 20th birthday usually are.

Since Martha Karolyi took over as national team coordinator in 2001, the window for the top American women to compete at the highest level has been limited to a gymnastics version of “one and done.” No U.S. female gymnast who made her Olympic debut under Karolyi’s guidance has come back to do it again four years later. That’s due to a variety of factors, from health concerns to a seemingly endless stream of fresh faces.

Karolyi’s job is to win gold medals, preferably lots of them. And while the U.S. is so deep that any five-woman combination of the top Americans would be favored to stand on top of the podium during the Olympic team final, Karolyi won’t be satisfied getting there by a point or two. She wants to leave no doubt.

Yet Raisman and defending Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas – closing in on her 21st birthday – are still here. Press them on why and usually the response is some variation of “why not?”

“I’ve got the rest of my life to just chill back and lay back,” Douglas said.

The goal is to delay the start of the next chapter for as long as possible, even though there is scant evidence of American women staying at the top beyond one Olympic cycle. For proof of how hard it is, look no further than Douglas and Raisman’s other “Fierce Five” buddies from London – all teenagers when they overwhelmed the field to join 1996’s “Magnificent Seven” as the only Americans to win team gold.

In the afterglow, all five talked about giving it another shot. Instead, London turned out to be the last stand for 2011 world all-around champion Jordyn Wieber, who retired due to injury and is now at UCLA, where she serves as the most overqualified student manager in the country for the school’s women’s gymnastics team. McKayla Maroney (Google “McKayla Maroney is not impressed” for a reminder) hasn’t competed since winning gold on vault at the 2013 world championships. Kyla Ross, just 15 in London, won a handful of medals at worlds in 2013 and 2014 but stepped down from the elite program earlier this year after a subtle but steady decline in form and is now prepping to join the Bruins in the fall.

Raisman and Douglas sacrificed the chance to compete in college when they turned professional before London. Their Olympic success opened up the kind of lucrative financial opportunities they’d have had to pass up if they held onto their amateur status as Ross did.

They game-planned expertly, taking a break after the Games to cash in on their celebrity while continuing to keep an eye on Rio off in the distance, opting to hit “pause” instead of “stop.” Douglas oversaw a film based on her life and is currently being followed around by reality TV cameras chronicling her bid to become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around gold medalist in nearly 50 years.

Raisman stopped by “Dancing With The Stars.” There were apparel deals and distractions, all while current three-time reigning world champion Simone Biles led the next wave of girls ready to fill the void. Douglas bounced from training in Iowa to Los Angeles back to Iowa before resettling in Columbus. Raisman’s longtime coach, Mihai Brestyan, put her through months of conditioning before clearing her to do a single tumbling pass.

They returned to competition at the same meet in Italy in March 2015, helped the Americans win gold at the 2015 world championships and head to this week’s U.S. championships in St. Louis – the last warm-up before the Olympic Trials in San Jose next month – very much in the mix.

Douglas captured the American Cup in New Jersey and the Jesolo Cup in Italy this spring. Raisman won gold at the U.S. Classic in Connecticut earlier this month, albeit with Douglas and Biles competing in just two events instead of the usual four.

Douglas and Raisman, who has a floor exercise gold medal and a bronze on balance beam to go with the team gold the Americans won in London, know not to get ahead of themselves. They remember the end of Nastia Liukin and Alicia Sacramone‘s storied careers. A member of the silver-medal winning 2008 Olympic team, Sacramone, 24, was pointed toward London when she tore her Achilles in the days before the 2011 world championships. She returned to competition in less than eight months hoping to make the cut as an event specialist. She couldn’t.

“I just had this feeling,” Sacramone said. “I just don’t think I’m going to make it. People weren’t talking to me. … It was just a mix of being like, `Yep, I’m being pushed out the door.”‘

Liukin, the defending Olympic champion, held out hope until her throbbing shoulders finally gave out on the uneven bars, her signature event. She rose and saw a standing ovation through tears. She was 22.

Both were well past their peaks by American standards but practically neophytes compared to some of their international competitors. Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan turned 41 on June 19, seven weeks before her seventh Olympics.

“We are woman, we say one thing and change our mind,” Chusovitina joked at the world championships in Scotland last fall.

Daniele Hypolito of host Brazil will be 32 in September. Romania’s Catalina Ponor came out of retirement in her late 20s and may be the only Romainian female gymnast in Rio – a month before her 29th birthday – after the longtime powerhouse stunningly failed to qualify as a team. Ponor returned in part out of duty, yet her presence highlights the hardening gap between the U.S. and most of the rest of the world.

One of the reasons gymnasts like Chusovitina and Ponor keep making their way back is because their country lacks the competitive depth to make them replaceable. That’s not the case in the U.S. – which is what makes Raisman and Douglas’ bids so spectacular.

“People think if you make a comeback you’re going to fail,” Douglas said. “And that’s not the case.”

MORE: Ten gymnasts to watch at P&G Women’s Championships

Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

MORE: NHL players vote on world’s best female hockey player

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