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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Chicago Marathon features Emily Sisson’s return, Conner Mantz’s debut, live on Peacock

Emily Sisson
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At Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, Emily Sisson makes her return, nearly three years after Olympic Trials disappointment. Conner Mantz makes one of the most anticipated U.S. men’s debuts in 26.2-mile racing.

It is not the norm, but an American will be one of the spotlight runners in both the men’s and women’s elite races at a major marathon. Peacock airs live coverage at 8 a.m. ET.

Sisson, 30, starts her first mass marathon since dropping out of the Olympic Trials on Feb. 29, 2020, her legs “destroyed” on the hilly Atlanta course where she started as arguably the favorite. She ran the virtual New York City Marathon later in 2020, but that was solo (and not in New York City). Her 2:38:00 isn’t recorded in her official results on her World Athletics bio.

Since, Sisson won the Olympic Trials 10,000m on the track and was the top American in Tokyo in 10th place. She moved back to the roads, winning national titles at 15km and the half marathon and breaking the American record in the latter.

Sisson vaulted into the elite group of U.S. female marathoners in 2019, when she clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in American history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow.

At the time, it was the 12th-best U.S. performance all-time. In the last two years, Keira D’Amato, 37, and Sara Hall, 39, combined to run seven faster marathons. At Chicago, a flat course that produced a world record three years ago, Sisson can answer them and perhaps get close to D’Amato’s American record 2:19:12.

“I’m hoping sub-2:20,” coach Ray Treacy said, according to LetsRun.com. “With the [super] shoes and the training behind her, I would think that’s [worth] at least three minutes.”

It is less likely that Sisson can challenge for the win on Sunday given the presence of Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 World champion and defending champion in the Windy City. The 28-year-old mom is the fifth-fastest woman in history with a personal best of 2:17:08. And Ethiopian Ruti Aga, a podium finisher in Berlin, New York City and Tokyo with a best time of 2:18:34, though she has one marathon finish since the pandemic (a seventh place).

Like Sisson, Mantz has shown strong recent road racing form. The American men’s debut marathon record of 2:07:56 (Leonard Korir) is in play. If he can break that, Mantz will be among the five fastest U.S. marathoners in history.

Rarely has a U.S. male distance runner as accomplished as Mantz moved up to the marathon at such a young age (25). At BYU, he won NCAA cross-country titles in 2020 and 2021 and placed fifth in the Olympic Trials 10,000m, then turned pro and won the U.S. Half Marathon Championships last December.

“If everything goes as planned, I think sub-2:08 is realistic,” Mantz said in a Citius Mag video interview last month. “If everything goes perfect on the day, I think a sub-2:07, that’s a big stretch goal.”

The men’s field doesn’t have the singular star power of Chepngetich, but a large group of East Africans with personal bests around 2:05. The most notable: defending champion Seifu Tura of Ethiopia and 2021 Boston Marathon winner Benson Kipruto of Kenya.

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Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

Alpine Skiing Combined
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Alpine skiing officials will test a new format for the combined event, a race that is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the International Ski Federation (FIS) will test a new team format for the combined, which has been an individual event on the Olympic program since 1988. L’Equipe reported that a nation can use a different skier for the downhill and slalom in the new setup, quoting FIS secretary general Michel Vion.

For example, the U.S. could use Breezy Johnson in the downhill run and sub her out for Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom run, should the format be adopted into senior competition.

The format will be tested at the world junior championships in January in St. Anton, Austria, according to the report.

In response to the report, a FIS spokesperson said, “Regarding the new format of the combined is correct, and our directors are working on the rules so for the moment the only thing we can confirm is that there will be this new format for the Alpine combined that has been proposed by the athletes’ commission.”

Some version of the combined event has been provisionally included on the 2026 Olympic program, with a final IOC decision on its place coming by April.

This will be the third consecutive World Cup season with no combined events. Instead, FIS has included more parallel races in recent years. The individual combined remains on the biennial world championships program.

L’Equipe also reported that the mixed team parallel event, which is being dropped from the Olympics, will also be dropped from the biennial world championships after this season.

“There is nothing definitive about that yet, but it is a project in the making,” a FIS spokesperson said in commenting on the report.

Vion said the mixed team event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2018, was not a hit at the Beijing Games and did not draw a strong audience, according to L’Equipe.

The World Cup season starts in two weeks with the traditional opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.

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