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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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Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Mikaela Shiffrin proving she’s in league of her own

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There are ski racers, and then there is Mikaela Shiffrin.

NBC Sports essayist Tim Layden calls Shiffrin the “rarest creature,” a prodigy who continues to get better with age.

Shiffrin’s stardom took off with her heart-stopping slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics. It looked like she would ascend to an even higher level four years later in PyeongChang when she claimed a gold medal in the giant slalom, but then she lost a battle with her nerves and failed to win a medal in the slalom. She did capture a silver in the combined event.

That Olympic disappointment has fueled her historic World Cup season. She became the youngest skier to pass the 50 win mark. She broke the women’s career record for slalom victories, and she became the first skier ever to win four-straight world championship titles in a single event.

A true prodigy indeed.