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Five female gymnasts to watch at world championships

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Female gymnasts to watch at the world championships, which begin with qualifying Tuesday, followed by the all-around final Friday and apparatus finals on Saturday and Sunday in Montreal (no team event) … 

Ragan Smith, U.S.
P&G Championships All-Around Champion
AT&T American Cup Champion

Leader of the U.S. team of four that includes zero Olympians, a first at worlds since 2007. Hopes rest on the 17-year-old coached by 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal Burdette to extend a U.S. streak of six straight all-around golds (Jordyn WieberGabby Douglas and Simone Biles four times).

With none of the Olympic all-around medalists returning, it would be no surprise if Smith does take gold. She won the U.S. all-around title by a whopping 3.4 points (greater than Biles’ average winning margin). Her title at the American Cup came despite a fall. Could challenge for beam and floor exercise medals, too.

Larisa Iordache, Romania
2014 World All-Around Silver Medalist
2015 World All-Around Bronze Medalist

The best gymnast to not compete in the Olympics last year. Romania, which earned team medals at every Olympics from 1976 through 2012, failed to qualify a full team for Rio. The nation was allowed one gymnast, and the federation chose triple 2004 Olympic champion Catalina Ponor over Iordache, who was coming off a broken finger.

Iordache finished fourth, second and third in the three world championships all-arounds won by Biles in the last Olympic cycle. She came back last month to win the World University Games all-around over a field that included Rio fifth-place finisher Ellie Black. She is Smith’s biggest competition Friday.

MORE: World Champs broadcast schedule | Male gymnasts to watch

Sanne Wevers, Netherlands
Olympic Balance Beam Champion
World Balance Beam Silver Medalist

The only woman to win gold over Biles in Rio. Wevers, a 25-year-old twin, became the oldest female Olympic gymnastics champion since 1968 with her surprise beam title. As the only returning Rio medalist, Wevers would seem a medal favorite, but she was fifth at the European Championships in April.

Maria Paseka, Russia
Two Olympic Vault Medals: Silver in Rio, Bronze in London
World Vault Champion

The only woman at worlds who earned medals at each of the last two Olympics. Paseka is a vault specialist. It’s the only apparatus Russia used her for at the Rio Games, where she was coming off a back injury. Though Biles and vault star Hong Un-Jong of North Korea won’t be at worlds, Paseka’s medal hopes are uncertain. She was fourth at the European Championships and third at the World University Games.

Oksana Chusovitina, Uzbekistan
Two Olympic Medals: 1992, 2008
Oldest Female Olympic Gymnast Ever — 41 in Rio

The great Chusovitina debuted at worlds in 1991, winning gold with the Soviet Union team. She has since competed at a record seven Olympics with three different teams — Unified Team, Germany and Uzbekistan — and an eighth is not out of the question. Chusovitina has long focused on vault, where she won 10 Olympic or world medals, the most recent in 2011. However, Chusovitina last qualified for the eight-woman vault final at worlds in 2013.

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MORE: U.S. names women’s gymnastics team for world champs

Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

Mondo Duplantis
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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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