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?

Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping