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New U.S. star Jade Carey passes on gymnastics worlds with Olympics in mind

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Jade Carey, who in 2017 won two world championships medals in her first year as an elite gymnast, will not try out for this fall’s world championships team because it could shut the door on a possible path to the 2020 Olympics.

Carey, 18, gave up her spot at next week’s USA Gymnastics selection camp for worlds later this month despite being the U.S.’ second-best woman on floor exercise and vault behind Simone Biles. Carey earned world silver medals on both events last year.

The move was made because of changes to Olympic gymnastics qualifying for 2020.

Starting in Tokyo, Olympic team event roster sizes are cut from five gymnasts to four, but (and this is key for Carey) a nation can also qualify up to two more individual quota spots for gymnasts outside of the team event. Those individual spots are determined at international events the next two years.

In that case, six gymnasts from one country could compete in qualifying at the Olympics, but only four would be eligible for the team event (while all six are eligible for individual finals, max. two per country in the finals).

How do the 2018 World Championships factor into this?

Olympic gymnastics qualification states that any gymnast who helps a *team* qualify for the Games (if the U.S. finishes top three at worlds in Doha or, if not, top nine at 2019 Worlds) cannot qualify an individual spot for herself at individual apparatus World Cups over the next year and a half.

There are other paths to the U.S. getting those two extra individual spots, but apparatus World Cups is essentially* the only one where a gymnast can qualify a spot for herself rather than for USA Gymnastics to later decide who fills it. (*It’s also possible via a 2019 World Championships route, but only in the very unlikely case the U.S. does not earn a team medal in Doha.)

Carey’s father and coach, Brian, said they decided in July to prioritize this Olympic qualifying route over worlds and that it was fully supported by USA Gymnastics high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster.

“I’ve known about this qualification process for over a year,” Brian said. “I’ve studied it, researched it and stayed up to date on changes. If I did have questions or wanted to confirm things, I’ve been dealing directly with FIG [International Gymnastics Federation], but the bottom line is, if Jade competes at the world championships this year in 2018 [and the U.S. gets a team medal], then certain doors will be closed for her for the remainder of the quad leading up to 2020. We’re basically keeping all [Olympic] doors open [by passing on 2018 Worlds].

“I’ve lost hundreds of hours of sleep on that decision. Ultimately, it was every way we look at it, we either keep doors open or close them. We didn’t make the rules. It’s just my job to stay on top of the rules, stay updated, make sure I’m doing what’s in the best interest for my athlete.”

Simply put, gymnasts control their own Olympic destiny at apparatus World Cups. One gymnast per apparatus will qualify for the Olympics via the apparatus World Cup series (max. one per country).

In the eight-event series from November through March 2020, the three best results per gymnast per apparatus are tallied. Carey would have a significant chance to top the floor or vault standings, boosted since gymnasts are excluded if they compete at the next two worlds for a team that qualifies for the Olympics.

For example, if Olympic floor and vault champion Simone Biles helps the U.S. to a team medal in Doha (extremely likely), she can’t qualify for the Olympics via apparatus World Cups.

Why is the apparatus World Cups path more valuable to Carey than, say, Biles? In part because the Olympic team event size cut from five to four makes gymnasts who are strong on all four apparatuses more valuable in Olympic team selection.

It’s hard to predict 2020, but for now the U.S. has the Olympic all-around champion Biles, the world all-around champion Morgan Hurd and Riley McCusker as strong all-arounders, plus more talented teens yet to make a splash on the senior stage.

Carey was sixth in the all-around at the U.S. Championships in August but top three on both floor and vault at nationals and the U.S. Classic that preceded it.

Carey’s father stressed that their decision isn’t putting all her eggs in the apparatus World Cup basket.

For one, she might not finish first overall on floor or vault and could miss out on qualifying via that path. Even if she does qualify, she could decline the spot to prioritize trying to later be selected for the U.S. for the Olympic team event (in which case the U.S. couldn’t get that individual spot back, however. “We’re going to be very aware of that and very careful,” Brian said.).

“We’re keeping that [apparatus World Cups] door open,” Brian said. “With this new four-team-member format, it can be argued that the [USA Gymnastics Olympic] selection committee is going to want to send four strong all-arounders [to Tokyo]. If we go this path [passing on 2018 Worlds], it gives Jade more time to work on her other two events also. If we go for worlds this year, we’re going to lose more time on training [uneven] bars and [balance] beam. We also don’t know with 100 percent certainty who’s going to be on that selection committee in 2020.”

Carey hopes to compete at the 2019 World Championships. Given her experience in 2017, bursting onto the elite scene and earning two world medals, missing the biggest meet of this year was a tough sacrifice.

“That was hard, but we talked about long term and what she wanted long term and what her long-term goals were,” Brian said. “She deferred going to college and wanted to go at this 100 percent. Then you have to put on the table, what’s more important, if you’re basically committing the next two years of your life to this, is 2018 Worlds more important or is giving yourself a shot at 2020 more important?”

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U.S. to play in snow volleyball tour, led by 4-time Olympian

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When USA Volleyball asked four-time Olympian Lloy Ball to put together a team for a snow volleyball tournament in Moscow this week, the 2008 gold medalist was eager to accept.

Never mind that he’s never played on the snow before.

Or that, at 46, he’s not a likely candidate for the U.S. Olympic team if the discipline is eventually added to the Winter Games.

“I’ve been playing volleyball my entire life. It would just be an amazing feeling to know that me and my friends would be able to help volleyball grow,” Ball said. “To help be one of the forefathers, to get another discipline of volleyball into the Olympics, it would be awesome.”

The son of a volleyball coach and a member of the U.S. indoor team that won gold in Beijing, Ball played professionally in Russia for six years and was a natural choice to be a part of first American team to play on the European snow volleyball tour. After what he is calling an exploratory mission, he hopes to report back to the national governing body on how it can help the sport grow.

The ultimate goal: helping snow volleyball earn a spot in the Olympics — perhaps by 2026.

“We want to climb this mountain step by step. We do not want to rush,” said Fabio Azevedo, the general director of the sport’s international governing body, adding that snow volleyball will join the Olympics “as soon as the discipline has an amazing relevance in the world.”

“We have our road map, we have our timeline,” he said. “We really believe it is premature now to mention anything about Winter Olympic Games. I cannot say to you 2026 is realistic or not.”

Still, they are plowing ahead.

After a demonstration at the PyeongChang Olympics, the European governing body held its first snow championships in March. With its 2018-19 tour starting this weekend in Moscow it has invited teams from the United States to compete. (Teams from Kazakhstan and Brazil were also offered wild-card entries.)

Knowing that he spent time in Russia and would make a good ambassador, USA Volleyball chief Jamie Davis called Ball, who remains active as a coach and a semi-pro grass and beach volleyball player. He pulled together a team with Will Robbins, Kevin Owens and Tomas Goldsmith.

Although they have been training outside in Indiana to get used to the cold, the first time they will play on a snow court will be in Moscow.

“I’m going to rely on my massive amount of repetition and skill training and experience,” Ball said with a laugh. “Hopefully we won’t embarrass ourselves too badly and hopefully we’ll know what to do better next time. I’m going to come back and sit down with Jamie, and maybe say ‘Hey, this is something that can take off.’”

The women’s team for the Moscow tournament, which USA Volleyball put together, consists of Allie Wheeler, Emily Hartong, Katie Spieler and Karissa Cook.

“It’s a milestone for us,” Davis said. “We’re starting at level zero and building this up from scratch.”

“My hope is that we’ll get more and more athletes that are concentrating on snow, in addition to beach and indoor,” he said. “What I would hope for snow volleyball is that we’re going to be able to have players — north, south, east or west — be able to go outdoors to play the sport they love to play.”

Although snow volleyball has kicked around Europe for a decade, its growth accelerated the last five years. The European volleyball federation officially recognized the sport in 2015, and a seven-stop European tour is planned for 2018-19, starting with this week’s event in Moscow.

Azevedo said the FIVB is hoping to add three more events of its own, including one in Argentina that will be the first outside of Europe. Davis said he hopes to host one in the United States next winter.

From there, the FIVB is planning for a snow volleyball competition at the Youth Olympics and World University Games in 2020 and the winter Military World Games in 2021, along with a possible world championship.

“We are really shaping this new discipline around the world,” Azevedo said, adding that it would have much lower barriers to entry than many winter sports, which require ice rinks or luge runs or mountains.

That could help open the Winter Olympics to countries with successful volleyball programs but no ice or snow.

“Possibly snow volleyball is the only winter sport you can just pass by and play,” Azevedo said. “You just need proper clothes, football cleats, and you can play.”

An earlier incarnation of the sport had two-person teams, like beach volleyball, but organizers tinkered with the rules and settled on three-on-three, with a fourth teammate as a substitute. While indoor sets go to 25 and the beach goes to 21, snow volleyball games are up to 15

“Thank God, because it is minus 20 in Russia — Celsius,” Ball said.

Although the court layout is similar to beach, the ball is heavier when it gets wet and players wear thermal clothing and soccer cleats for traction. Ball said the sport puts a premium on ball control and serving, because it’s harder to move quickly in the snow.

“As long as you control the serve receive and serve well, I think on any surface you can be successful,” he said.

Martin Kaswurm, who is credited with inventing the sport when he set up a court outside his restaurant in Austria, said having different rules helps distinguish the sport from “its older brother beach volleyball” and could make it more appealing to Olympic officials.

“This should help to position snow volleyball as a unique version of the game,” he said.

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Ester Ledecka must decide between ski, snowboard worlds

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SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — Skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka will not be able to follow up her dual sport gold-medal performances at the PyeongChang Olympics with a similar haul of world titles this season.

That’s because the schedule won’t allow it, and she’s not happy about it.

The parallel giant slalom at the world freestyle skiing and snowboard championships in Utah is Feb. 4 — the same day downhill training opens at Alpine skiing worlds in Are, Sweden, and a day before the super-G.

“I was a little bit hoping they would reschedule the snowboard race — put it a week earlier so I could do it both — but they didn’t want to so I have to choose,” Ledecka said Tuesday after placing 29th in a World Cup downhill.

In PyeongChang, Ledecka followed her super-G title by winning the parallel GS in snowboarding — becoming the first athlete to win two golds at one Winter Games using two different types of equipment.

The 23-year-old Czech is the reigning world champion in parallel GS.

Ledecka said she brought up the issue with the International Ski Federation, which governs both sports.

“On one side I see their point. For one athlete why should they do that, right? But from the other side I think I made snowboarding a little more popular, and I think a lot of fans would be happy to see me compete in both,” Ledecka said. “It’s their decision, and I have to respect it.”

Ledecka has not decided which worlds she’ll compete in. She’s currently going back and forth between the snowboard and ski circuits.

Last week, she finished first and second in two parallel GS events in Italy and then switched to downhill skis this week. She was fastest in a downhill training run Monday before finishing 29th in Tuesday’s race.

“I think I can decide right before,” Ledecka said. “But it will probably be early, so I’m well prepared.”

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