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

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Simone BilesGabby Douglas and Aly Raisman have proven they belong on the Olympic team. That decorated trio, plus several more Rio hopefuls, get another chance to impress a selection committee at the P&G Championships in St. Louis this weekend.

The five-woman Olympic team will not be announced until after the U.S. Olympic Trials finish in San Jose on July 10. But the P&G Championships mark an important precursor.

The competition format is the same as trials — four events each on two nights under the bright lights in front of the scrutinizing eyes of Martha Karolyi and the rest of the selection committee.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have coverage Friday and Sunday at 9 ET both nights.

Here are 10 gymnasts with Olympic aspirations to watch in St. Louis:

Simone Biles
2013, 2014, 2015 World all-around champion

The world’s best gymnast, perhaps of all time, can become the first woman to win four straight U.S. all-around titles outright in 64 years. It would be absolutely stunning if she doesn’t. The Texan is arguably best in the world on balance beam, floor exercise and vault. Biles captured the 2014 and 2015 U.S. all-around titles in blowout fashion by an average of 4.6 points.

Gabby Douglas
2012 Olympic all-around champion
2015 World all-around silver medalist

Douglas is clearly the world’s second-best gymnast, which is remarkable given she went 31 months between competitions from the 2012 Olympics to her comeback in March 2015. If Douglas has any designs on challenging Biles at this meet, the U.S. Olympic Trials in two weeks or the Rio Games, she must upgrade her vault to the difficult Amanar, which she hasn’t performed in competition since the London Games.

Brenna Dowell
2013, 2015 World Championships team member

Dowell is the only NCAA gymnast on this list, and the Oklahoma Sooner makes it because her best event is the one generally viewed as the U.S.’ weakest — uneven bars. However, Dowell fell off bars at the 2015 World Championships and the Pacific Rim Championships in April, putting her behind younger gymnasts who also specialize on bars.

Laurie Hernandez
2015 U.S. junior all-around champion

Hernandez, born in 2000, is the highest touted of the gymnasts making their senior-level debuts this year. The last nine U.S. Olympic teams have included at least one woman who turned 16 years old or younger in the Olympic year, so Hernandez must be taken seriously. What must also be considered is her injury history, which grew with a knee strain that slowed her this spring.

Madison Kocian
2015 co-World uneven bars champion

If uneven bars is the U.S.’ biggest need, then Kocian’s gold medal from the World Championships is extremely valuable. However, she is coming off a fractured tibia from late winter. Kocian couldn’t walk for six weeks and didn’t vault or perform floor exercise at the Secret Classic three weeks ago.

Ashton Locklear
2014 World Championships fourth place, uneven bars

Locklear and Kocian may be vying for one possible Olympic team spot as the last two U.S. champions on uneven bars. Kocian beat Locklear at the 2015 P&G Championships, but Locklear had the edge at the Secret Classic three weeks ago.

Maggie Nichols
2015 World Championships bronze medalist, floor exercise

Nichols looked like an Olympic shoo-in last year, taking second to Biles in the P&G Championships all-around and being the only American to compete on all four events in the Worlds team final. But arthroscopic knee surgery kept her out of meets in early April and early June. She last competed at the AT&T American Cup on March 5.

Aly Raisman
2012 Olympic floor exercise champion, balance beam bronze medalist

Raisman had to be proud of her effort in winning the Secret Classic, just as she did four years ago. The 2012 Olympic team captain fell in the first 10 seconds of her first routine on uneven bars but recovered on her last three events. She punctuated the night with the meet’s highest vault score by landing the difficult Amanar. If Biles and Douglas are locks, Raisman is next in line.

MyKayla Skinner
2014 World Championships bronze medalist, vault

Skinner is the only active American besides Biles to make multiple World Championships event finals in this Olympic cycle. She was third on vault and fourth on floor in 2014. But Biles, Nichols and Raisman are all World floor medalists, and Biles and Raisman can both throw the difficult Amanar vault. Skinner faces tough competition to make a U.S. team in a three-up, three-count Olympic team final format.

Ragan Smith
2016 Jesolo Trophy second place, all-around

Smith is the least decorated gymnast on this list, but Karolyi has named her as one to watch this year. The 2015 U.S. junior all-around bronze medalist, she was second to Douglas in the Jesolo Trophy all-around in March, beating Hernandez, Skinner and Raisman.

MORE: Karolyi Ranch film to premiere on NBC

World Alpine Skiing Championships on for 2021 after request to delay rejected

Alpine Skiing World Championships
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GENEVA (AP) — A request by the organizers of next year’s skiing world championships in Italy to postpone the event by one year was rejected Thursday by the International Ski Federation.

FIS ruled that the event will go ahead from Feb. 9-21, 2021, in Cortina d’Ampezzo — the highlight of an Alpine season that faces challenges to find safe protocols for international travel and attending races in Europe, North America and China.

The Veneto region of northern Italy was hit hard by the coronavirus and the season-ending World Cup races in Cortina in mid-March were canceled. That week-long event was to be a test for the 2021 worlds.

“The last month of efforts to come to this solution demonstrates the strong collaborative spirit of the ski family and stakeholders.” FIS president Gian-Franco Kasper said.

Organizers in Italy have said they expect losses of about 30 million euros ($34 million) if the worlds are also canceled. They asked for a postponement to March 2022, which would be only weeks after the Beijing Olympics.

“But we will be ready in any case and we will show that these world championships can change the history of a region despite the current difficulties,” Alessandro Benetton, president of the Cortina organizing committee, said in a statement.

Italian racer Sofia Goggia, the 2018 Olympic downhill champion, said she was “happy for Cortina because it will host the first major international event after the coronavirus epidemic.”

Cortina, which hosted the 1956 Olympics, will co-host the 2026 Winter Games with Milan and use the worlds as a showcase for the resort.

The women’s World Cup downhill on the Olympia delle Tofane course each January is one of the most scenic in the sport with a signature jump between tall outcrops of jagged rock.

The Dolomites venue was awarded the 2021 worlds by FIS after missing out as a candidate four straight times from 2013-19.

MORE: Anna Veith retires, leaves Austrian Alpine skiing in unfamiliar territory

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Russia track and field athlete clearance frozen due to unpaid fine

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MONACO (AP) — The program allowing Russian track athletes to compete internationally will be frozen because the country’s federation failed to pay a fine on time, World Athletics said Thursday.

The Russian track federation, known as RusAF, owes a $5 million fine and another $1.31 million in costs for various doping-related work and legal wrangles. World Athletics said RusAF missed Wednesday’s deadline to pay.

World Athletics said it would freeze the work of the Doping Review Board, which vets Russian athletes who want the “authorized neutral athlete” status that allows them to compete internationally, and its taskforce monitoring RusAF’s anti-doping reforms.

World Athletics said both bodies will be “put on hold” until its council meets to discuss the situation at the end of July.

“RusAF is letting its athletes down badly,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said in a statement. “We have done as much as we can to expedite our ANA process and support RusAF with its reinstatement plan, but seemingly to no avail.”

RusAF president Yevgeny Yurchenko earlier told the Tass state news agency that his federation’s finances were damaged by the coronavirus pandemic and that it had asked for more time to pay.

World Athletics’ statement didn’t directly address that issue, but said Russia hadn’t indicated when it would pay.

Russia was fined $10 million by World Athletics in March, with $5 million suspended for two years, after the federation admitted to breaking anti-doping rules and obstructing an investigation.

The Athletics Integrity Unit said fake documents were used under the previous management to give an athlete an alibi for missing a doping test.

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