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Dana Vollmer unlikely to compete at swimming nationals

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Dana Vollmer, who earned a medal of every color in Rio 17 months after childbirth, said she will “most likely not” swim at the U.S. Championships in late July as she works her way back from her second pregnancy.

“I’ve taken a step back from intense pool training and have been focused on strength and retraining movement patterns that I know will improve my overall health and my strength in the water,” was posted on the seven-time Olympic medalist’s social media on Saturday.

If Vollmer misses nationals in Irvine, Calif., she can not qualify for the next two major international meets — the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in August and the 2019 World Championships in South Korea.

“It’s unfortunate that next years [sic] World Championship team is selected this summer as I expect my racing to be in full swing again by then, but I am confident in my plan to be the best at 2020!” was posted on Vollmer’s social media.

Vollmer, 30, has raced in one meet since having her second child, son Ryker, on July 4. That was in Texas in January. The 2012 Olympic 100m butterfly champion considered entering meets in Mesa, Ariz., and Santa Clara, Calif., this spring but prioritized exacting her training regimen as a mother of two boys aged 3 and younger.

Come 2020, Vollmer will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic female swimmer except Dara Torres. Torres became the oldest in 2000 (when Vollmer was the youngest swimmer at trials at age 12, collecting autographs), then shattered her age record in 2008, earning three silver medals at age 41 with a 2-year-old daughter.

In Vollmer’s absence, the top U.S. female butterflier has been Kelsi Dahlia, who took 100m fly bronze at the 2017 Worlds. But everyone is chasing Swede Sarah Sjöström, the Olympic and world champion and world-record holder who has the four fastest times in the world this year.

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My focus is on being my best at 2020. The past couple weeks have been very exciting in terms of figuring out better ways to move. I had a bad back injury fall of 2004 that had me dealing with pain through 2010. It’s been a journey seeing how my body adapted to back pain and learned to work without utilizing many major muscles that I linked with increased back pain. Now, 8 yrs later, we are still uncovering layers. Same process with my shoulders after years of swimming. I’ve taken a step back from intense pool training and have been focused on strength and retraining movement patterns that I know will improve my overall health and my strength in the water. I’ve been so thankful to be injury free in these later years of my swimming career and I get so excited learning how to better use my body and ways to apply that to my strokes! I will not be competing in Santa Clara this weekend and most likely not at Nationals. It’s unfortunate that next years World Championship team is selected this summer as I expect my racing to be in full swing again by then, but I am confident in my plan to be the best at 2020!

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Simone Biles routing field, edging note card at U.S. Gymnastics Championships

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BOSTON — Simone Biles leads the field by a whopping 3.1 points halfway through the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. She beat the number at the bottom of the note card in her locker at the World Champions Centre in Texas by a much smaller margin.

No matter the perspective, Biles was more dominant on Friday night than during most of the Rio Olympic cycle. In just her second meet in two years. Nine months after returning to training after a 14-month break.

Biles tallied the highest score on every apparatus in the field and the world’s highest all-around score since Rio — 60.1 points. The second-highest score since Rio? Biles’ 58.7 from her comeback meet at the U.S. Classic three weeks ago.

“At Classics, I was still easing back into everything and kind of feeling the surroundings and getting used to competing again,” Biles, 21, said on the fifth anniversary of her first U.S. all-around title. “I feel like today I really embraced it.”

NATIONALS: Scores | TV/Stream Schedule

In the last Olympic cycle, Biles averaged a 1.94-point lead after the first day of nationals.

She rolls into the final day of competition Sunday, looking to become the first woman to win five U.S. all-around titles and the first non-teen to win since 1971. And send another message ahead of October’s world championships.

Morgan Hurd, who won the 2017 World all-around title in Biles’ absence, is in a distant second after four clean routines. The margin between Biles and Hurd is greater than the margin between Hurd and the eighth-place gymnast.

Asked to put her 60-pointer in perspective, Biles brought up the note card.

“I think it says 60 at the bottom,” said Biles, who hit 62.366 in Rio under a different scoring system.

Biles hit 60 points in a practice meet at her gym right before she left for the U.S. Classic. Her new coaches, Cecile and Laurent Landi, encouraged Biles to keep the visual reminder placed in her locker leading up to nationals.

“I wanted to show her that she could reach that score,” Laurent Landi said. “It’s not a big deal. If she does normal, she can be there.”

But nobody else can. Biles had 25.4 total points in difficulty on Friday. The next-highest gymnast (Hurd) had 22.7.

Biles essentially began the meet with a 2.7-point head start. She then was judged to have better overall execution than everybody else, even though she had the disadvantage of performing harder routines.

“She’s just mentally there,” said Riley McCusker, who led Biles going into the last rotation at the U.S. Classic and is in third place here. “She can take that time off and [be] physically there, too.”

BILES ROUTINES: Balance Beam | Floor Exercise | Uneven Bars | Vault 1 | Vault 2

Biles’ flaw in her comeback meet three weeks ago was the uneven bars. She fell trying a more difficult routine than in Rio.

On Friday, Biles nailed her bars set, receiving applause from Laurent Landi, who coached Madison Kocian to a bars silver in Rio.

Biles has never won a national title on bars. At the Olympics, she had the highest scores in the all-around on beam, floor and vault and the seventh-highest score on bars.

“She needs to go through more mental belief that she [belongs] at this level on the bars,” said Laurent Landi, a 40-year-old former French gymnast.

Landi insisted Biles was not at her best Friday. He noted her two overcooked tumbling passes on floor that cost her six tenths for going out of bounds. Imperfect landings on other events. He dismissed Biles’ lead and said he already has plans for upgraded routines before worlds, next year and possibly in the Olympic year.

“Sometimes when it’s difficult in the gym, we, my wife and I, try just to remind her who she’s trying to beat,” he said. “It’s herself.”

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GYM NATIONALS: TV/Stream Schedule | Where Are The Final Five?

Laurie Hernandez faces big decisions before comeback

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BOSTON — Laurie Hernandez still hopes to compete in 2019, but she must find a coach and a gym first. And transition from conditioning to regular gymnastics training.

“Kind of dipping my toe in the water,” she said Friday at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, where she is strictly a spectator.

Hernandez hasn’t competed since earning team gold and balance beam silver in Rio. Other than Simone Biles, she is the only member of the Final Five openly expressing a desire to return to elite competition next year.

“Because I’m still passionate about it,” she said. “Ever since I was a little girl I’ve always loved it, and I still do. It’s still really important to me.”

Hernandez said she has been on gymnastics equipment every so often but not consistently. She has said hello to new U.S. high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster.

She hopes to pick Aly Raisman‘s brain about coming back. Raisman took almost a year off after the 2012 London Games, then trained for a full year before returning to competition in March 2015.

Unlike Raisman, Hernandez said there is no unfinished business from the Olympics that motivates her.

“I know what I’m getting myself into,” Hernandez said. “It’s kind of like curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back. Being 16, being so curious, not really knowing what I’m walking into, that was such an interesting experience [in Rio].”

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GYM NATIONALS: TV/Stream Schedule | Where Are The Final Five?