Madison Kocian
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At U.S. Gymnastics Trials, it’s a fight for one spot in Rio

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Technically, there are five spots available on the U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team that will be unveiled on Sunday night at the end of Olympic Trials. But not really. And Ashton Locklear knows it.

“We all do the math in our heads,” Locklear said. “I think you kind of have to. You need to know what’s going on around you.”

Barring injury or a catastrophic drop in form, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez are heading to Brazil next month.

That leaves one position open — maybe — the one Locklear and good friend Madison Kocian will try to convince national team coordinator Martha Karolyi they’re worthy of during what may be the most important 48 hours of their athletic lives.

No pressure or anything.

“I definitely need to prove myself,” Locklear said. “I definitely need to show consistency.”

It’s a testament to the depth of the powerhouse program Karolyi has built that the only real lingering drama with less than a month to go before the games centers around who will serve as the anchor on uneven bars. The top choices are the fluidly elegant Locklear — who helped the U.S. to team gold in the 2014 world championships — and the precise Kocian — who won gold on her favorite event at the 2015 world championships.

Both provide compelling arguments. Locklear’s cumulative uneven bars score during the two preliminary meets leading up to Olympic Trials was 0.3 better than Kocian’s total. Yet Kocian provides Karolyi with flexibility in the all-around, heady territory considering she broke the tibia in her left leg just above the ankle at the end of February.

“I didn’t really think it was going to be fractured or anything,” Kocian said. “I went to doctor, he told me it was fractured. I melted down. I broke into tears. I didn’t know what that meant for me.”

What it meant for the 18-year-old Texan was two weeks in a cast, another two on crutches while wearing a protective boot and six-plus weeks of limited training while most of the crowded elite field — really, if the U.S. were allowed to field two five-woman teams it would turn the race for gold into an intramural — kept pressing forward.

“I drove myself crazy in the beginning,” Kocian said. “It was really hard. I had to stay off bars 3-4 weeks, I’d never stayed off that long.”

GYMNASTICS TRIALS: Broadcast Schedule | How Team Looked In 2012

In a way, it may have been a blessing. Sure, sitting for the better part of two months was difficult. It also gave her a chance to recharge mentally, no small thing in a world where the relentless grind of training can wear occasionally wear down bodies and motivation in equal measure.

Kocian believes she’s “more focused than ever,” buoyed by her strong performance at the U.S. championships two weeks ago, where she finished fifth in the all-around thanks in part to a floor routine she and her coaches basically threw together on the fly.

“It was important for her to prove besides being a bars specialist she is a steady competitor on floor and beam,” Karolyi said.

Kocian was planning on vaulting at Olympic Trials but was told by Karolyi not to bother out of fear it may affect her still tender ankle.

“She told my coaches she didn’t want to take any risks,” Kocian said. “She knows it’s not really worth it right now. It’s not really going change my position on the team.”

Kocian isn’t sounding presumptuous, but she knows her best shot at making an impact on a team heavily favored to defend the gold it won so easily in London four years ago is on bars, beam and floor. The vault will be there in case the U.S. should need it.

That’s not the case for the 18-year-old Locklear, whose career path was altered when she fractured her L4 vertebra in 2013. She spent months in a brace and when she was finally cleared soon realized floor exercise and vault weren’t exactly ideal ways for someone with lower-back issues to spend their free time.

So she focused on bars and beam, figuring the extra practice time would give her an advantage. It was a risky strategy, the gymnastics equivalent of a high school senior applying to just one college in hopes of getting accepted.

Locklear is well aware that Karolyi has five women in mind and can name four of them pretty easily. It’s that last one, though, that will be tricky. Maybe it’s Locklear. It’s more likely it’s Kocian. At least, at the moment. And that’s where things can get stressful.

“It’s hard because we’re really good friends and we both want each other to do their best,” Locklear said. “I’m pretty sure she watches me too. We’re competitive with each other but we’re best friends too.”

The friendship will be tested this weekend, though in the big picture the decision will hardly impact the American’s chances of standing atop the podium after team finals on Aug. 9.

The difference between Locklear and Kocian can be measured in small fractions. The U.S. won the 2012 Olympics and 2014 and 2015 world championships by at least five points. Whoever makes the team will likely come home with a gold medal — possibly more than one — in their suitcase.

MORE: Romania chooses its Olympic female gymnast

Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir retire from ice dance competition

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Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the most decorated Olympic figure skaters in history, announced their retirement late Tuesday. They’re done competing in ice dance, and their upcoming Canadian tour will be their last together.

“After 22 years, it feels like the right time to step away from the sport,” Virtue said in a video. “This is so personal and emotional for both of us.”

“It just feels for us like it’s the right time to say goodbye while we’re still loving and enjoying the sport as much as we always have been,” Moir said. “This is my first selfie video, and I’m not going to cry. What a beautiful ride it’s been.”

The news was expected.

Virtue and Moir last competed in PyeongChang, earning golds in ice dance and the team event to bring their total to five medals (three golds) and break the record for most Olympic medals in the sport (buoyed by the addition of the team event in 2014).

“It definitely feels like [this is our last Olympics],” Moir said on TODAY in PyeongChang, hours after their ice dance gold. “If it is, this is a great way for us to go out. … It feels right. It feels like a good end.”

Virtue, 30, and Moir 32, teamed in elementary school. Moir, a hockey player, followed brother Danny into dance, pairing with his first partner at 8 and then with Virtue and 9.

Virtue hit the ice at age 6 because she didn’t want to be the only one in her class who couldn’t skate during a field trip. When she was 7, she was paired with Moir through Moir’s aunt Carol, who coached both as singles skaters. Two years in, Virtue attended Canada’s National Ballet School for a summer before choosing to stick with skating.

That decision ultimately led to one of the greatest careers in Canadian sports history.

They earned a junior world title in 2006, the first of eight Canadian titles in 2008 and, in 2010, the biggest of all — home gold at the Vancouver Winter Games despite Moir messing up the steps at the end of their free dance. They faced the wrong way in their final pose.

“Scott just said thank you to me and just said look around us, take this in,” Virtue said on NBC as the final couples skated.

“I had to be positive because I messed up,” Moir later joked.

Virtue and Moir developed a rivalry with American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White, with whom they traded world titles in the Sochi Olympic cycle. In Russia, the Americans edged the Canadians for the title by 4.53 points.

Moir waited until the arena emptied, returned to the rink and kissed the ice. Many thought it was a goodbye to the Olympics.

Two years later, they announced a comeback, saying they still had the fire and wanted to take advantage of one more chance to go to the Games. They won all but one of their competitions in those last two seasons, including the Olympics by a slim .79 of a point over French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

Now they join the other Canadian champions of their generation — Patrick ChanKaetlyn Osmond and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford — in leaving the competitive arena for good.

“We spent 22 years coasting around the outside of the rink, hanging out together, making programs, trying to just soak up our sporting experiences,” Virtue said. “We still can’t believe people care.”

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MORE: Keegan Messing explains decision to hold up Japanese flag

Keegan Messing ‘glad’ to have held Japanese flag for Yuzuru Hanyu

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Yuzuru Hanyu heard Japan’s national anthem at the medal ceremony for his season-debut event on Saturday. But didn’t see a flag.

That’s when the bronze medalist, Keegan Messing of Canada, “took initiative” and unfurled the Japanese flag so Hanyu could honor it at the Autumn Classic in Ontario.

While there were plenty of fans of the Japanese skater in the crowd holding their own flags, none were hoisted above the ice like in some competitions.

Messing took it upon himself to hold up the Japanese flag that was hanging from a flagpole behind the medal podium.

Messing explained his decision following the interaction:

That was just actually instinct, honestly. When they said that we’re gonna play the anthem for the winner, I looked out and I realized there was no flag ready. A couple of the spectators had a flag but so I decided to hold up a flag because if I were in that place, I would’ve liked to have a flag presented at that time. That’s why I did it. I felt like that’s what I would’ve wanted so I went ahead and took initiative and I did it. I’m very happy I did. It felt good to do. I’m glad.

Hanyu is next expected to compete on the Grand Prix circuit, again in Canada in October and at NHK Trophy in Japan in November.

Messing’s assignments are Skate America in October and Cup of China in November.

The next time Hanyu’s and Messing’s paths could cross is at December’s Grand Prix Final, should they both qualify.

MORE: Yuzuru Hanyu wins Autumn Classic

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.

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