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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

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics