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Olympic aerials champion sets first World Cup in 3 years

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Australian aerials gold medalist Lydia Lassila will compete at the top international stage this weekend for the first time since the Sochi Olympics.

Lassila, who took gold in Vancouver and bronze in Sochi, gave birth to her second son in February 2015 but never retired. She’s in Lake Placid, N.Y., for a World Cup competition Saturday (finals at 8:15 p.m. ET, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

“I was hoping that retirement feeling would come – but it kind of never did,” the 34-year-old Lassila said, according to the Australian Olympic Committee. “I’m realistic and have different expectations this time. I’d regret it if I didn’t try again.”

Lassila could become the second Australian to compete at five Winter Olympics after speed skater Colin Coates.

“Life is different now,” Lassila said in November, according to the (Melbourne) Herald Sun. “I’ve got a couple of kids instead of just one and we’re juggling different schedules.

“There’s quite a bit going on, but I’m going to have a crack at being an athlete again and see what we can do and just do what I can.”

Lassila upset the favored Chinese for gold at Vancouver 2010, coming back from two ACL tears in June 2005 and at the Torino Winter Games in February 2006.

She took bronze in Sochi behind Belarus gold medalist Alla Tsuper and Chinese silver medalist Xu Mengtao. Tsuper gave birth to her second child in 2015 and returned to training last year, according to Belarusian media.

Xu is tied atop this season’s World Cup standings with Australian Danielle Scott. Another Australian, Laura Peel, is the reigning world champion.

MORE: Hannah Kearney still dreams of Olympics in retirement

Back in the game 😁

Posted by Lydia Lassila on Thursday, January 12, 2017

Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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