Simone Biles, Aly Raisman
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U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team will prove sport’s unpredictability

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In 2012, a 15-year-old Simone Biles finished third in the junior all-around at the U.S. Championships.

She was too young to be eligible for the London Olympics, not that she would have been considered for the U.S. team. At the time, Biles wasn’t one of the first two names mentioned in early predictions for the Rio squad.

Biles has gone undefeated in seven U.S. and world championships competitions since and is now one of the biggest favorites for gold across all sports at the Games.

She can clinch her Rio spot by winning the Olympic Trials all-around in San Jose, Calif., this weekend (broadcast schedule here). The all-around winner plus four team members chosen by a committee will be announced shortly after the meet ends Sunday night.

Of the 14 women competing for five Olympic berths, Biles is the only one who finished in the top five of the 2012 U.S. Championships junior all-around.

Junior results are one of the best harbingers for senior, Olympic division success. But this year’s Olympic team will throw that out the window. (So did the 2012 team, as Jordyn Wieber was the only gymnast who made the 2008 U.S. junior all-around top 10 and competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials)

By the end of the weekend, Biles will likely be joined on the Olympic team by Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, who turned senior in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and are set to become the first female gymnasts to make back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000.

The other contenders include Maggie Nichols and Laurie Hernandez, who finished 11th and 21st, respectively, in the 2012 U.S. junior all-around. Nichols was runner-up to Biles at last year’s P&G Championships.

Hernandez went on to finish second in the U.S. junior all-around at age 13 in 2013 and won it in 2015. She was third in her U.S. senior all-around debut two weeks ago, behind Biles and Raisman.

Madison Kocian and Ashton Locklear, who count uneven bars as their best event, may be vying for one spot on the Olympic team. Neither competed at the 2012 U.S. Championships.

Kocian actually tied for sixth in the 2009 U.S. Championships junior all-around at age 12 (Kyla Ross won, Raisman was third and McKayla Maroney was 27th). She tied for fifth the following year but missed the 2012 Nationals due to a wrist injury.

Locklear didn’t make her national-level debut until she was already a senior gymnast in 2014. She finished fourth on the uneven bears at the world championships later that year.

VIDEO: Simone Biles throws acrobatic first pitch at Astros game

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes – less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa, Florida, and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose so far Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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