Aly Raisman
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U.S. Olympic gymnasts walk fine line between training, overtraining

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — The girls will come in, often wide-eyed and eager, to get a feel for what the typical day of an elite gymnast looks like. After watching three-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman make her way through another energy-sapping, mettle-testing, soul-draining workout, those same girls who dream of following in Raisman’s footsteps often leave in tears.

”I feel bad that I’m supposed to be inspiring them and they don’t even want to do it anymore,” Raisman said. ”I think people are surprised at how hard it is.”

Six hours a day. Six days a week. Week after week. Year after year. Usually for as long as their bodies – not to mention their brains – can take it.

Raisman can joke about it now that she’s on the other side of it. Her spot on a second Olympic team is all but assured when national team coordinator Martha Karolyi announces the five-woman squad late Sunday night. That giddy moment, however, will be quickly tempered by the reality that the most challenging four weeks of their careers await. Time off between now and the opening ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro will be scarce, if it exists at all.

The Grind is a rite of passage in the powerhouse U.S. women’s program, one designed to end with tearful hugs on the podium with gold medals draped around their necks as ”The Star-Spangled Banner” plays. It’s a bid for glory that comes with an inherent risk as Karolyi and the coaching staff grapple with the question of how much is too much.

It’s a fine line Karolyi believes she has found a way to straddle effectively while building a dynasty that hasn’t lost a major international competition in eight years. She is unapologetic in her approach, one that places a higher emphasis on execution than repetition. During competition days the Americans are almost always done with their warm-ups first, part of Karolyi’s directive to get it right and get out of there.

”Mentally you will be tired, but physically you are doing less when you’re getting closer, then you can avoid overtraining,” Karolyi said.

If anything, Karolyi appears to have mellowed as she nears retirement. Olympic champion Mary Lou Retton remembers throwing 70 vaults a day while training under Karolyi and her husband Bela before the 1984 Games. Back then there were no extra mats to help pad the landings to take some of the pressure off their joints, an added layer of protection that is standard today.

”I hit that (gold-medal winning) vault when I had to,” Retton said with a laugh while pointing out that at 48 she’s already had both hips replaced. ”They train smarter and more efficient. I’m pretty beat up.”

At this point in the Olympic cycle, ”healthy” is a relative term. When the 2012 Olympic team arrived in London, reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber was dealing with stress fractures in her right leg. While the adrenaline took over during competition, she spent the majority of her down time in treatment and limited her practice routines. Though Wieber helped the ”Fierce Five” roll to gold, she also failed to qualify for the all-around final, finishing as the third American behind Raisman and Gabby Douglas.

Now retired and serving as a volunteer assistant at UCLA (where she’s also a student), Wieber doesn’t believe she was overworked, calling her injury ”inevitable” after thousands of hours in the gym. The severity of the pain didn’t ramp up until the team arrived in London. With a lifetime goal finally in sight, Wieber bit her cheek and pressed forward.

”Everybody was banged up at the Olympics,” she said. ”I’m on the Olympic team already. I’m not going to give that up.”

It’s a mindset that can place Karolyi and her staff in a difficult position, particularly when it comes to teenagers who will likely have just one shot at their sport’s biggest stage.

”Coaching gymnastics is such a small part of it,” said Kim Zmeskal Burdette, who coaches national team member Ragan Smith. ”It’s reading their emotions, reading their body language. Are they just frustrated with this skill or is their body not functioning? It’s hard.”

Zmeskal Burdette would know. The 1991 world champion acknowledges she was ”extremely intimidated” to speak up during her career, concerned any sign of weakness would damage her standing. While making a comeback in the late ’90s, she ignored the throbbing in her shoulder – throbbing that eventually led to surgery – out of fear of getting passed up.

”If I say something, I don’t get to do bars,” she said. ”I don’t want to not do bars. My friends are going to do bars. They’re going to get better at bars. I’m going to be stressed that I’m not doing bars. It kind of happens naturally.”

Every single athlete at Olympic Trials has at some point been pushed to exhaustion at her home gym far away from Karolyi’s watchful eyes. Raisman estimates she’s done her boundary-pushing floor exercise ”8 million times,” which in her mind is only a slight exaggeration. There have been days she’ll peel herself off the floor to go home and her father will need to pick her up because she can’t muster the energy to get behind the wheel.

”I think people always say we train so much, but the system works,” Raisman said. ”You kind of have to push yourself to the point where you feel you can do your routine in your sleep. … I’m not saying it’s easy or it’s fun. It’s fun now that I’ve put in the work and it’s all coming together.”

VIDEO: Why Gabby Douglas made coaching adjustment

Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

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Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was put into an induced coma Wednesday after suffering injuries in a crash on the final stretch of the Tour of Poland, organizers said.

A massive crash at the finish of the first stage resulted in Dylan Groenewegen‘s disqualification from the race.

Leading a bunch sprint, Groenewegen veered toward the right barrier, pinching countryman Jakobsen, who barreled into the barrier meters from the finish line.

Jakobsen went head over heels, his bike went airborne and the barriers exploded onto the road, causing more cyclists to crash.

Jakobsen was airlifted to a hospital in serious condition and was put into an induced coma, the Tour de Pologne press office said.

Groenewegen crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, giving Jakobsen the stage win, according to the stage race website.

Groenewegen, a 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider, owns four Tour de France stage wins among the last three years.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) “strongly condemned” Groenewegen’s “dangerous” and “unacceptable” behavior. It referred Groenewegen’s actions to a disciplinary commission for possible sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

Skate America
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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

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