Simone Biles, Sam Mikulak
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Three thoughts from U.S. Gymnastics Championships

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Three thoughts off a U.S. Gymnastics Championships that saw Simone Biles swiftly, powerfully, insert adverb reclaim the throne and Sam Mikulak match her national title for national title … 

1. An all-timer for Simone Biles
After Biles retires, which as of now will be at the Tokyo Games, this fifth national title may trail only the Olympics on her remember-when list of all-around performances.

Only once before has Biles been so dominant to win by an event-record margin with the highest scores on every apparatus.

At the 2015 American Cup, Biles nearly doubled the previous record margin, winning by 4.467 points in a one-day competition (Biles won nationals by 6.55 over two days). But this year’s nationals field was without a doubt stronger than the American Cup.

While Biles was challenged in the last quad — Katelyn Ohashi and Kyla Ross beat Biles in two of her first three senior competitions in 2013; Romanian Larisa Iordache made the 2014 World Championships interesting — there is nobody in the world who appears up to the task at the moment.

Biles’ worst all-around score of her three days of competition in her comeback (58.7 with an uneven bars fall) is still better than anybody else in the world since Rio.

At worlds, she should break Svetlana Khorkina‘s record with a fourth all-around title to extend a five-year win streak.

The only gymnast to have a longer run of major-event dominance is 18-time Olympic medalist Larisa Latynina, who won every Olympic, world and European all-around title from 1956 through 1962, save the 1959 Euros, which she appears to have sat out following childbirth.

GYM NATIONALS: Women’s, men’s results

2. The U.S. women are loaded
It’s so hard to predict far ahead in this sport. Promising gymnasts can turn senior elite at the beginning of an Olympic cycle and retire before the Games. There are no junior world championships (though that soon will change). So in 2016, as great as the Americans were, it wasn’t clear just how long they would stay at the top.

Halfway through this Olympic cycle, it appears the only changes are in the names who will stand with Biles on the gold-medal podium step at worlds in October.

Morgan Hurd and Riley McCusker counted zero falls between two days at nationals. One of them will likely join Biles on the all-around podium at worlds (an American always has). Jade Carey earned world silver medals on vault and floor exercise last year in her first year as an elite gymnast.

The teams at worlds are five women each, but the Americans have the luxury of using their fifth spot purely on a gymnast with the best chance at an apparatus medal.

The team will be named after an October selection camp.

MORE: Biles comments on statement-making leotard

3. The U.S. men must dig deep
Sam Mikulak 
and Yul Moldauer (when healthy) represent the best U.S. one-two all-around punch in several years, but the depth is not there right now. Mikulak is the only active man with Olympic experience.

Of the rest of the 2017 World Championships team, only Donnell Whittenburg competed at nationals. He was limited to two events after shoulder surgery and left off the eight finalists for the five-man world team.

When the Americans line up for team qualifying at worlds in Doha, Mikulak will be the only one who has been in that situation before. Moldauer and Marvin Kimble competed at 2017 Worlds where there was no team event.

Though Kimble missed nationals due to injury, he arguably became more valuable to the program last week, especially given the awful Thursday competition. He can contribute in a three-up, three-count team final on high bar (where the only man to crack 14 at nationals was Mikulak (14.7)) and two or three other events. His gym said Saturday that he was already back training.

The U.S. team will be named after a September selection camp. It will go to Doha as an underdog for a medal behind at least Japan, China and Russia.

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GYM NATIONALS: Where Are The Final Five?

Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

Mathias Berntsen
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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

MORE: Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is canceled

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

Gabriel Jesus
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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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