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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

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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