Analyzing the U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team

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The U.S. women’s gymnastics team in Rio is so decorated that it’s considered a slam dunk that it will repeat as Olympic champion for the first time.

The question is, can the Americans sweep all six gold medals?

The team includes world championships medalists on every apparatus, plus a first-year senior gymnast who is getting better with every competition.

Combine that with the recent decline of China (since its 2008 Olympic team title), Russia (since its 2010 World team title) and Romania (not even sending a full team to Rio).

A look at the credentials of all five gymnasts on the U.S. Olympic team:

Simone Biles
Three-time world all-around champion
Four-time U.S. all-around champion
14-time world championships medalist

The 19-year-old Texan is already the most decorated U.S. gymnast in world championships history, breaking Alicia Sacramone‘s record of 10 medals last year. Biles has not lost an all-around competition in more than three years and could win five medals in Rio to match a U.S. women’s gymnastics record. She has earned medals in the team event, all-around, balance beam, floor exercise and vault in every one of her world championships appearances.

Gabby Douglas
2012 Olympic all-around champion
2015 World Championships all-around silver medalist

Douglas took 31 months off from competition after London 2012, returning in March 2015 and improving as the year went on to finish runner-up to Biles at worlds. This year has not been as kind. Douglas was fourth at the P&G Championships and then, after a coaching adjustment, seventh at the Olympic Trials. It doesn’t look like she’ll have the chance to defend her all-around title in Rio but could be an asset in the team final on uneven bars.

Laurie Hernandez
2015 U.S. junior all-around champion
2016 U.S. Olympic Trials runner-up

Hernandez is the youngest member of the team and the first U.S. Olympic gymnast born in the 2000s. She is the breakout of 2016, competing on the senior level for the first time and rising to finish second to Biles at the Olympic Trials. She may be tapped to do the all-around in Rio but performed best on balance beam and floor exercise at Trials.

Madison Kocian
2015 World Championships co-uneven bars gold medalist

Kocian is on this team for one primary reason — uneven bars. It will likely be her only appearance in the team final. Kocian shared the world title on bars in 2015 with three other gymnasts. If the U.S. is to earn medals in every event in Rio (possibly golds in all), Kocian will be leaned on in that apparatus final for sure.

Aly Raisman
Three-time 2012 Olympic medalist
Four-time world championships medalist

The Olympic floor exercise champion is right with Hernandez for a potential second spot in the Rio all-around final behind Biles. A nation can qualify a maximum of two gymnasts into individual Olympic finals. It would be a sweet comeback for Raisman, who was motivated to return in part because she missed a 2012 Olympic all-around medal due to being on the wrong end of a tiebreaker. Expect her to be used on beam, floor and vault in the team final.

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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