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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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Peter Snell, 3-time Olympic track champion, dies

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Three-time Olympic champion and world mile record-holder Peter Snell has died in Dallas. He was aged 80.

Snell, who is regarded as one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all-time, won the 800m at the 1960 Rome Olympics aged 21, and the 800m-1500m double at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

He was the first man since 1920 to win the 800m and 1500m at the same Olympics. No male athlete has done so since.

Snell also won two Commonwealth Games gold medals in the 880 yards and mile at Perth in 1962.

He twice held the mile world record and also held world records in the 800m, 880 yards, 1000m, and the 4xmile relay.

Snell’s death was confirmed by family friend and New Zealand sports historian Ron Palenski, who heads New Zealand’s Sport Hall of Fame.

“It is very sad news, a grievous loss for New Zealand,” Palenski said. “In terms of track and field, he is probably the greatest athlete New Zealand has had.”

Snell was coached by Arthur Lydiard, an innovator who was regarded as one of the world’s finest coaches of middle and long distance athletes. Lydiard also coached Murray Halberg to win the 5000m at Rome in 1960.

Snell’s wife, Miki, said he died suddenly at his home in Dallas around noon on Thursday. He had been suffering from a heart ailment and had required a pacemaker for several years.

Snell’s athletics career was relatively short. He retired in 1965 to pursue educational opportunities in the United States.

Snell graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in human performance from the University of California, Davis, and later with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from Washington State University.

He became a research fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 1981, later becoming director of the university’s Human Performance Center.

Snell was knighted by New Zealand in 2009. A statue in his honor stands at Cooks Gardens, Whanganui, near his birthplace of Opunake, where he broke the mile world record for the first time in 1962.

Grand Prix Final results show women’s figure skating revolution progressing quickly

Grand Prix Final podium
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The revolution in women’s figure skating is being televised.

That’s a turn of phrase on an admittedly dated reference (Google it). The point is we all have been able to witness, from TV broadcasts or live streams, a season with the most radical change in the sport since child prodigy Sonja Henie, then age 11, began doing jumps in her programs nearly a century ago.

What we watched other child prodigies do at last week’s Grand Prix Final boggled the minds of even those who saw it coming, because no one imagined it coming this soon and to this degree.

This essentially Russian revolution, which has taken maximum advantage of the scoring system and youthful body types to overthrow longtime technical norms of women’s skating, has split the discipline into haves and have-nots.

There are those who have the high-scoring quadruple jumps or multiple triple Axels to seize all the medals. And those who do not have those big jumps and, as of now, no chance to regain the podiums from which they have been summarily ousted.

Given what already had happened this season, it was not surprising that Russian first-year seniors Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova swept the medals in the senior Final. Each had qualified by winning two of the six events in the Grand Prix series.

What is surprising is how far and fast the Troika – as NBC commentator and two-time Olympian Johnny Weir artfully nicknamed them, in a reference to a traditional Russian three-horse sled – has pushed the envelope and how far and fast they have left everyone else behind.

And imagine what the gap could be if women were allowed to do quads in the short program, which likely will be proposed at next year’s International Skating Union congress.

A year ago, it was shocking when the Troika, then all juniors internationally, swept the medals at the senior Russian Championships. Now it will be shocking if they don’t do it again at this year’s Russian Championships, which take place Dec. 24-29.

No women were regularly doing quads until last season. Consider what the Troika has done just this autumn:

*Kostornaia, 16, did not attempt a triple Axel in international competition before this season. Now she is doing one in the short program and two in the free, and all three were very well executed as she took gold at the Grand Prix Final.

*Shcherbakova, 15, began her international season the way she had finished last year at junior worlds, with one quad Lutz in the free skate; at the Grand Prix Final, she did two quad Lutzes (one clean, one under-rotated) and attempted her first quad flip (fall) in finishing second.

*Trusova, 15, began this season after having landed quad Lutz, quad Salchow and quad toe loop as a junior, but she was not attempting more than two in a program. In her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada, she did four quads (three clean). At the Grand Prix Final, she added an excellent quad flip for five free skate quads, one of which she doubled and three of which were clean. She also attempted (and under-rotated) a triple Axel for the first time in the short program.

Even with the mistakes, the quads still racked up enough points for Shcherbakova that she beat a flawless Kostornaia in the free skate. And they gave Trusova a 20.71-point overall margin over fourth finisher Rika Kihira, 17, of Japan, who already had mastered triple Axels but has dropped so far from contention against the Troika that Kihira tried (and fell on) her first quad in competition.

And you have to feel a little sorry for reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova of Russia, at the technical cutting edge of her sport less than two years ago, now utterly overmatched – and still just 17 years old.

Zagitova’s free skate, an error-filled mess, dropped her from second after a fine short (less than six points behind Kostornaia) to sixth overall, more than 42 points behind Kostornaia and nearly 28 behind the third-place Trusova.

Even had she skated cleanly, having a long program with no quads or triple Axels meant the base value of Zagitova’s elements was more than 30 points less than Trusova’s, more than 20 less than Shcherbakova’s and about five less than Kostornaia’s. Zagitova would have needed otherworldly Grades of Execution marks and program component scores to compete for a medal.

Zagitova acknowledged the futility of her current situation by telling a Russian TV station Friday she was effectively putting her competitive career on hold by withdrawing from the Russian Championships and not asking to be considered for selection for either the European or world championships.

According to a Eurosport summary of the interview, Zagitova said she needed to find new motivation to continue competing. The story quoted her as saying she intended to do shows and keep training under her longtime coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who also coaches the Troika.

Zagitova also said she intended to learn new elements and ways to go into jumps.

“I need to find the desire to want to go into a competition,” she said, according to a translation. “The athletes who have gone down that road will understand me.”

Those who decry how much the quads have thrown the sport’s athletic-artistic balance out of whack found some satisfaction in Kostornaia’s having won with a performance and interpretive quality rare for a skater of her age.

Yet Kostornaia also accumulated some 21 free skate points for her triple Axels, about 13 more points than fifth-place finisher Bradie Tennell of the U.S. got for two clean double Axels. Even if Tennell had not made some relatively small mistakes, there was no way she could make up that difference.

And remember that if Trusova had cleanly landed the quad she doubled and the quad that resulted in a fall, she could have overcome not only her short program mistake but also the margin Kostornaia built in program components with clearly superior skating skills and artistry.

Tennell, 21, the top U.S. woman at the 2018 Olympics (ninth) and the last two World Championships (sixth and seventh), this season has displayed the best overall level of skating in her career. But a lack of quads and triple Axels has dropped her exponentially further behind the leaders.

Yet Tennell presses on.

“She may never catch them, but we keep pushing forward, trying to improve on both components and technical,” said Denise Myers, who coaches Tennell. “She is not settling for where she is now.”

About a month ago, I began to wonder if changing the factoring of the five Program Component Scores (PCS) so that they were the same for women as for men would level a playing field that has tilted so dramatically toward the jumpers.

Since the International Judging System was introduced in 2004, factors of .8 (short program) and 1.6 (long) have been applied to the raw total of each woman’s component score. They are 1.0 and 2.0 for men.

The logic behind the difference was until last season, a men’s free skate was 30 seconds longer with one more element. (Why it also applied to the short program is unclear, since the number of elements and time have been the same.)

“The idea of possible new factors for the program components for men was evaluated in the past season, because for the top skaters the technical score in the last years had considerably increased,” Italy’s Fabio Bianchetti, chair of the ISU technical committee for singles and pairs, said in an email.

“At the moment, for the majority of the [men], the [PCS] is still corresponding to about 50 percent of the total score. In some cases, the relation might not be exact, but a rule must consider all the skaters and not only the top five.

“Now we are dealing with the same situation for the ladies. This is something totally new, and we will study the problem during the season. But again, we cannot look at a couple of skaters only.”

In a recent interview with Nick Zaccardi of NBC Sports, Weir seconded the idea of giving the women’s PCS scores the same weight as the men’s.

“It would give them a little better chance,” Samuel Auxier, an international judge and former U.S. Figure Skating, said in a text message last month.

So much has changed on the jump front since then that it turns out using the men’s PCS factors would have had almost no impact on the women’s results at the Grand Prix Final.

With some computational help from skatingscores.com, I recalculated the PCS scores from the Final with the 1.0 and 2.0 factors, added them to the TES scores and found just one difference: Kostornaia would have moved from second to first in the free skate. The overall and short program finish order would have been the same.

Actual Grand Prix Final scores
One of these (factor .8 / 1.6) shows the actual scores. Skatingscores.com
A re-imagined scoring of the Grand Prix Final
The Refactored scores show what they would be with factors of 1.0 and 2.0. Skatingscores.com

So, the 20% adjustment of PCS factor gender equality is not enough to put women without the most difficult jumps into medal contention.

And as Bianchetti pointed out, making that change or a more substantial one in the women’s factoring must take into consideration not only a few exceptional new talents.

“I truly do not believe that anyone seriously thought a lady would deliver four quads so quickly and especially at such a young age,” Ted Barton of Canada, who was involved in the creation of IJS, said in a text message last month. “Alysa Liu is a good American example of what the present is and future might be.”

(And, yes, there is an elephant in the room: whether the young talents are getting exaggerated PCS scores from judges smitten by their jumping. That’s a question for another day – or lifetime.)

Yet there is every indication the Troika are only the leading edge of a blizzard of jumping phenoms, not only from Russia. After all, Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalist Liu, 14, last season became the youngest singles champion in U.S. history with three triple Axels, and she has added a quad Lutz this season.

“The factoring and [other] calculations were developed on what was being done at that point,” Barton said. “Now that skaters have shown new possibilities, the technical committees will look to see what adjustments can and should be made. Interesting times, indeed.”

For now, though, we are seeing in real time the unsettling effect revolutions can have.

And it seems surreal.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: What’s next for Nathan Chen after third consecutive Grand Prix Final win?

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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