Reality show becomes possible road to Olympics

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The fact that Josh Williamson hadn’t stepped on ice until about a month ago hardly makes him an ideal candidate to become an Olympic bobsledder.

Then again, if Williamson completes the journey from the lacrosse fields in Florida to a bobsled track in Pyeongchang next year – or Beijing in 2022 – he will, in more than one way, be rewriting the script about how an American can become an Olympian.

He is one of eight athletes who have taken the newly opened reality-show route to earn a spot on a U.S. national team camp, which is where America’s Olympians are eventually chosen. Williamson was one of about 3,000 athletes who signed up at a 24 Hour Fitness, passed the initial tryout phase, then made the cut down to 91 athletes, who were invited to the Olympic Training Center for a made-for-TV tryout camp.

From there, eight made national team camps for rugby, track cycling, bobsled and skeleton. Those athletes’ names were announced at the end of a reality show that aired Friday night on NBCSN called “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful.” NBCSN will re-air “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful” at 8:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

“I think the reason I’ve enjoyed it so much is because I haven’t expected any of it,” Williamson said. “I thought I’d go out, do my best, and with the work, some things have fallen in my lap.”

The 20-year-old Williamson grew up in Orlando, Florida, and traded in football pads for a lacrosse stick in junior high. He went to Mercer University in Georgia to play, but a series of injuries chased him out of the sport.

Back in Florida, he enrolled at Florida State and started working on a degree in finance. But he was a workout junkie, and never gave up on his dreams of making something more out of that. Williamson was planning on attending a bobsledding combine in August, when he heard about the U.S. Olympic Committee’s program.

Williamson signed up, and once in Colorado Springs for the training camp, it didn’t take long for U.S. bobsled coach Brian Shimer to recognize his talent.

“He’s only 20 years old, and very seldom do we get an athlete of that quality at that age,” Shimer said. “His speed, his strength, his power, the push, he’s everything we want to see in a bobsled athlete.”

Besides the eight winners, 23 athletes were invited to continue training in their respective sports.

The USOC’s director of sport performance, Alan Ashley, said this is an out-of-the-box way of identifying elite athletes – football players, runners and the like – whose skills might translate into an Olympic sport, many of which don’t get the mainstream attention as football, basketball, baseball and hockey in America.

“We’ve always believed in `talent transfer’ – high-level athletes who may not make it in one sport but could try out in another,” Ashley said. “But when you think about all the college athletes out there, this could be a stepping stone for people to think about this in a different way.”

Exhibit A could be Williamson, who participated in last month’s National Push Championships in Calgary, and has plans to work out with the U.S. team in Lake Placid, New York, next week. The Winter Olympics are less than six months away, and a spot on the team isn’t completely out of the question. The 2022 Games in Beijing might be more realistic.

Steve Langton, Lou Moreria, these are guys I follow through Instagram, and now I’m there with them,” Williamson said of two of the best push athletes in the United States. “These are kind of my heroes, and I’m sitting next to them trying to compete. I figure no matter how I did, that was enough for me.”

However far he goes, Williamson can already say he made it to the Big Time, at least in a way.

On the reality show, he was a survivor.

“It was interesting, is the best way to put it,” he said of having the tryouts shot for packaging into the two-hour documentary-style program. “It’s harder for them, and sometimes they’d have to do a bunch of takes to make it look good on TV. The difference is, in athletics, you only get one shot at it.”

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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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