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Ato Boldon to bring fresh eyes to NASCAR

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Ato Boldon likes speed. And cars. NASCAR? Well, the four-time Olympic medalist is about to find out.

The retired Olympic sprinter and NBC Olympic analyst will join NBC Sports Group’s NASCAR broadcast team as a features contributor beginning next week. His NASCAR on NBC debut will be July 1 during coverage at Daytona International Speedway.

It’s going to be an eye-opening experience for Boldon, who in an interview with The Associated Press admitted he could name “maybe 10” NASCAR drivers. When asked to list them, he came up with three: the late Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton, the retired driver and current NBC analyst.

Sam Flood, executive producer for NBC’s NASCAR telecasts, isn’t worried.

“Ato is a curious guy and I want someone who loves cars, but is also from a different sports world,” Flood said. “I want a fish out of water to show what NASCAR is all about.”

Boldon joined NBC Sports Group in 2007 and is now the network’s lead track and field analyst. He represented Trinidad and Tobago in the Olympics and is a four-time medalist in the 100 meters and 200 meters.

It was during his coverage of last year’s Olympics in Rio that Boldon first expressed curiously about NASCAR to Flood. The producer had Boldon attend the November season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

At Daytona next week, Boldon will report on what makes NASCAR fans loyal to their drivers while hanging out in the track infield. He will also examine NASCAR’s earlier days of racing on Daytona Beach.

“I don’t think until you have been in a (race) car, you understand how difficult it is,” Boldon said. “People go, ‘Oh, yeah, big deal, they drive fast and they turn left. I do that every day on my commute.’ But I don’t think people get a sense of how difficult it is. I went around that track with Jeff Burton and there was so much going on, just to keep that car wheels down and to keep it off the wall. I couldn’t imagine doing that with another 30 cars, competing for space.

“It really created an appreciation, and the same thing I say about my sport, ‘The pros make it look easy,’ and it is not.”

Boldon loves cars, but has become an environmentalist and given up gasoline-fueled cars. He has made the full transition to driving electric cars, which meant turning in a Porsche for a Tesla four years ago.

The only cars he currently owns are electric, and Boldon is a little nervous that the attraction to the sights and sounds of NASCAR might lead him into a dealership to check out a $200,000 McLaren 570S he’s been eyeing.

“I feel like I am going to be around these NASCAR races, and the sound is half of the thrill, and I’m going to go out and buy something that completely does not make financial sense in any way,” Boldon said.

Boldon will also report from Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Homestead. NBC plans to use him as a hauler driver, a member of Joe Gibbs Racing’s pit crew and will give him the wheel of NBC Sports’ on-track car to experience the horsepower and track banking.

“My hope is that people who never really thought of themselves as NASCAR fans will get something from my exposure to it. I am going in there completely wide-eyes and completely open to all possibilities,” Boldon said.

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Weekend Gymnastics Roundup: Carey and McCusker on World Cup podium

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World medalists Jade Carey and Riley McCusker headlined gymnastics action over the weekend as the World Cup circuit continued with an all-around competition in Birmingham, England, and an apparatus event in Doha, Qatar.

Carey won both the vault and floor events in Doha, pushing her to the top of the standings on both apparatus (she also won the vault and floor competitions the previous weekend at the World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan).

Doha marked the halfway point of apparatus World Cups, putting Carey in a promising position to qualify for the Tokyo Games heading into the next four events. The apparatus World Cup series includes a total of eight competitions spread over two seasons, and one gymnast per apparatus will qualify for the Olympics based on his or her top three results across the eight events.

Carey, 18, was the 2017 world silver medalist on vault and floor. But she opted not to try for a spot on the 2018 World Championships team due to the International Gymnastics Federation’s rules that active team members who help their countries qualify team spots for Tokyo (as the U.S. women did in November) cannot earn individual spots. Carey, an apparatus specialist rather than an all-around gymnast, chose the World Cup route to keep open her options of qualifying individually.

McCusker, who was part of the U.S. team that won the world title last year, finished second at the all-around World Cup in Birmingham, posting the top scores on the uneven bars and floor. Russia’s Aliya Mustafina, a seven-time Olympic medalist, won the event. Mustafina bounced back from a shaky showing last weekend at the World Cup in Stuttgart, where she finished fifth in an event won by Simone Biles. Mustafina, 24, is trying to qualify for her third Olympics after giving birth to daughter Alisa in June 2017.

The all-around World Cup circuit continues on April 7 in Tokyo, Japan, where two-time world all-around medalist Morgan Hurd and two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak are expected to compete.

First Olympic women’s aerials champion Cheryazova dies at 50

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MOSCOW — Lina Cheryazova, the first woman to win an Olympic aerials skiing gold medal, has died. She was 50.

Officials in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, where Cheryazova was living for the last two decades, said she died “following a lengthy illness,” without giving further details.

Competing for Uzbekistan, Cheryazova won gold with a triple flip when aerials skiing debuted on the Olympic program in 1994 in Lillehammer.

Shortly after winning, she learned her mother died three weeks before.

Cheryazova’s career was derailed later that year when she suffered a serious head injury while training in the United States, and spent days in a coma. She retired after failing to qualify for the 1998 Winter Olympics.