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Madison Kocian, competing with tear, glad she stuck with NCAA gymnastics

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Madison Kocian is the only member of the Final Five who has competed since the Rio Olympics. She’s the only one who didn’t turn professional.

And, get this, Kocian competed both in Rio and this past season as a UCLA freshman with an injured shoulder.

She said she suffered a small subluxation (partial dislocation) on an uneven bars release move at the Olympic Trials but managed through it to win Olympic team gold and bars silver medals. Kocian previously fractured her left tibia in February 2016.

Resting last fall didn’t help matters much. Kocian then competed with a torn labrum and partially torn rotator cuff for UCLA in the spring semester, doing the all-around in 12 of 14 meets and winning half of them.

“That was the hardest thing going through the season,” Kocian said in a phone interview last month. “Nothing’s going to really heal the tear unless you do surgery. We were trying every other option.”

Kocian is taking the summer off (no surgery plans yet as of the interview). That means the P&G Championships in August will include no female gymnasts with Olympic experience for the first time since 2008.

Most women retire from elite international competition when they choose the NCAA route. Kocian has not yet.

“I know I have accomplished so much already,” said Kocian, who shared the 2015 World uneven bars title with three other gymnasts. “It’s just a matter of if I feel like I need to do anything else before closing that door. It’s still open. I could stop in college after next year and start training [elite], or finish my four years in college and continue my life.”

In this stretch last year, between the Olympic Trials and Rio Games, Kocian saw the last of her Olympic teammates turn pro (Laurie Hernandez).

Kocian said she was always set on competing as a Bruin, which meant keeping her amateur status for NCAA eligibility.

“I wanted to experience the college student-athlete life and be a part of that different world,” Kocian said. “The hardest part for me was after the Olympics, the media engagements and appearances. I couldn’t get paid for that.”

Kocian, a Texan, juggled her first quarter in Los Angeles while performing at seven stops of a 36-city USA Gymnastics post-Olympic tour and accepting an invitation to the Country Music Association Awards in Nashville.

She made the honor roll in the fall, winter and spring quarters.

“I didn’t know how I was going to make it through traveling and school at the same time,” she said. “I think maybe I should have come into school in January [rather than September].”

Kocian thought about it some more and continued her answer.

“Fall is preseason and where you really get to know your team and teammates,” before the season starts in January, she said. “I think if I would have went in January, starting school and gym season at the same time would have been even more tough.”

Kocian’s remaining UCLA goals are to earn as many All-America honors as possible (she has four; the UCLA career record is 19) and capture an NCAA team title. UCLA was fourth last season and last won in 2010.

“It was something different, a totally new experience that I was just getting used to,” she said. “I found my rhythm.”

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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.

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