Morgan Hurd, Simone Biles, Riley McCusker
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U.S. women’s gymnastics team named for world championships

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Simone Biles was joined on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team for the world championships in two weeks by all of the other big names, including the 2017 U.S. and world all-around champions during her break from the sport.

Morgan Hurd (2017 World all-around champ), Ragan Smith (2017 U.S. all-around champ), Riley McCuskerGrace McCallum and Kara Eaker were named to the worlds team on Friday by USA Gymnastics. Biles clinched a spot by winning the all-around at a selection camp in Sarasota, Fla., on Thursday.

USA Gymnastics must designate one of the six gymnasts as its alternate before world competition begins in Doha. The Americans are clear favorites to earn the team title, which they have done at the last two Olympics and last three world championships.

Four women can compete per apparatus in qualifying. In the team final, it’s the same three-up, three-count format as at the Olympics. No more than two gymnasts per nation qualify for individual finals.

If the U.S. team final roster went straight off best scores from Thursday’s selection camp all-around, it would look like this:

Vault — Biles, Hurd, McCallum
Uneven Bars — McCusker, Biles, Hurd
Balance Beam — Eaker, McCusker, Biles
Floor Exercise — Biles, McCallum, McCusker
Alternate: Smith

If it went off best average scores from the U.S. Championships and Thursday’s camp, it would be:

Vault — Biles, McCallum, Hurd
Uneven Bars — McCusker, Biles, Hurd
Balance Beam — Biles, Eaker, McCusker
Floor Exercise — Biles, McCallum, Hurd/McCusker (tie)
Alternate: Smith

A look at each of the six gymnasts:

Simone Biles
Four-time Olympic champion
Three-time world all-around champion
Undefeated for five years in the all-around

An overwhelming favorite for a fourth world all-around title, which would break her tie with Russian Svetlana Khorkina for the most titles by a woman. Biles has a chance to earn medals in every event after she swept the five golds at the U.S. Championships in August. The toughest is uneven bars, the only event Biles did not earn a medal in Rio (and has never done so at a worlds).

Morgan Hurd
2017 World all-around champion
2018 U.S. all-around silver medalist

The surprise world’s best gymnast in 2017. The Delaware resident went from fifth at 2016 junior nationals to sixth at 2017 senior nationals to winning the world all-around title in Montreal last October. She’s followed that with a strong season, winning the American Cup in March and placing second to Biles at nationals. However, McCusker beat Hurd at the U.S. Classic in July, and McCusker and McCallum outscored her at the selection camp.

Ragan Smith
2017 U.S. all-around champion
2016 Olympic alternate

Smith looked unlikely to make this team back at nationals in August. She placed 10th there, competing with broken toes and lingering pain from an ankle injury that knocked her out of the 2017 Worlds, where she was the favorite. She bounced back at the selection camp with a fifth-place finish. Smith is an all-arounder, but with Biles, Hurd and McCusker posting the top scores this season, it would be hard to get into all four events at worlds, assuming she isn’t named the alternate. Smith is coached by 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal.

Riley McCusker
2017, 2018 U.S. all-around bronze medalist

McCusker made her first world team after withdrawing before last year’s selection camp with an injury. She was second to Biles at the U.S. Classic in July and the selection camp Thursday, making a strong bid to join Biles in the all-around in Doha. It looks to come down to Hurd and McCusker for that second and last all-around spot in the world final. McCusker is coached by Maggie Haney, who guided Laurie Hernandez to the Rio Olympics.

Grace McCallum
2018 U.S. all-around, fourth place

With Eaker, one of two first-year seniors on the world team. Last year’s promising juniors were Maile O’Keefe and Emma Malabuyo, whose scores at 2017 Nationals would have placed second and third in the senior division. But neither O’Keefe nor Malabuyo were healthy for the whole selection season and didn’t make it to the camp. Enter McCallum, who was 11th at 2017 junior nationals before her senior breakout in August. She was third in the selection camp all-around and second to Biles on floor exercise.

Kara Eaker
2018 U.S. balance beam silver medalist

Eaker, 15 years old like McCallum, was third at 2017 junior nationals but has established herself within the U.S. senior team as one of its best beam workers. Only Biles outscored her there at nationals, and she had the highest score in the selection camp all-around on beam by 1.05 points. If neither is the alternate, Eaker and McCallum would be the first pair of 15-year-olds to compete at an Olympics or worlds for the U.S. since Gabby Douglas and McKayla Maroney in 2011.

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MORE: Why world medalist skipped USA Gymnastics selection camp

Wesenberg wins first U.S. skeleton World Cup medal in two years

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With a bronze medal in Lake Placid earlier today, Kendall Wesenberg became the first American to reach the World Cup podium in skeleton in two years.

Wesenberg, who finished 17th at her first Olympics in PyeongChang, had a combined time of 1:51.10 in Lake Placid. Prior to today, her last podium finish at the World Cup was in St. Moritz in January 2017.

“This has never been my strongest track, so we really broke it down piece by piece, and I think it paid off,” Wesenberg said, according to USA Bobsled and Skeleton. “The second run, I kind of tried to throw it away at the top there. By the time I made it to corner 10, I was just thinking ‘build speed, build speed.”

Wesenberg, 28, grew up in California’s Central Valley, but her interest in sliding sports piqued while watching the 2010 Vancouver Games. When the commentators discussed the athletic backgrounds of the athletes, Wesenberg realized she played some of the same sports growing up. A quick Google search brought her to the USA Bobsled and Skeleton page. She told her siblings she was thinking of trying skeleton. They said she’d never do it. Challenge accepted.

Wesenberg emailed a U.S. coach and signed up for a combine and driving training in January 2011. Seven years later, she was sliding on Olympic ice.

Sliding coverage continues today on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, with women’s bobsled live at 3:15 p.m. ET and men’s bobsled live at 4:15.

 

Mikaela Shiffrin could win historic world title, not that she’s keeping track

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Mikaela Shiffrin has spent her career breaking records.

When she claimed slalom gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, she became the youngest-ever Olympic champion in the discipline, as well as the youngest American to win gold in any alpine skiing event.

When she won the slalom at the 2017 World Championships, she became the first woman to win three consecutive world titles in the discipline in 78 years.

On Dec. 22, she notched her 50th World Cup victory, becoming the youngest skier – and also just the eighth all-time – to reach the mark.

One week later, she broke the women’s record for most career slalom wins on the World Cup circuit (she now owns 38).

So far at these 2019 World Championships, she has claimed super-G gold and giant slalom bronze.

For those who like discussing alpine skiing records, Shiffrin is a gift. With each win, we dig into the databases and comb through stats to find some new nugget of information, some fresh way of qualifying her level of success. It’s our way of providing historic context for the way a 23-year-old skier from Colorado carves turns down a snowy slope. Because while it seems obvious that what she is doing is historic, records are the result of asking the question, “Historic in what way?”

To discuss these records, we become fluent in qualifier words. Words like ‘youngest’ or ‘oldest.’ Phrases like ‘first woman’ or ‘first American.’ Qualifier words are what make records accurate, but if you add enough of them, anything can become a record.

Given Shiffrin’s age, the fact that the majority of her success has come in a single discipline (slalom), and that the United States does not boast the deepest alpine skiing team, most of her accolades and records are qualified by these terms.

But at the 2019 World Championships in Are, Sweden, there’s a different type of record on the line, a record that doesn’t have anything to do with age, gender, nationality, or discipline. That’s because no alpine skier has ever won four straight world championship titles in the same discipline.

Full stop.

Seven athletes, including Shiffrin, have won three straight world titles in the same discipline since the first world championships were held in 1931.

  • Christl Cranz of Germany won three straight in both the slalom and the combined in 1937, 1938, and 1939. Cranz won the combined again at the 1941 World Championships, but given that the competition only included Axis-friendly nations, the international ski federation cancelled the results three years later. The world alpine skiing championships then went on hiatus until 1948 due to World War II and Cranz wasn’t competing by the time they were held again.
  • France’s Marielle Goitschel also won three straight titles in the combined (1962, 1964, 1966), but she finished second behind Canadian Nancy Greene in 1968.
  • Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden claimed three straight slalom titles in 1978, 1980, and 1982. But in his attempt for a fourth straight, he instead placed fourth, 0.92 seconds behind the winner.
  • Switzerland’s Erika Hess won three straight combined titles in 1982, 1985, and 1987, but then retired from competition.
  • Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt claimed three straight in the combined (1997, 1999, 2001), but it was American Bode Miller who claimed gold in 2003, with Aamodt finishing third.
  • American Ted Ligety won three straight giant slalom titles between 2011 and 2015, but he didn’t have the chance to go for a fourth straight after injury caused him to miss the 2017 World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Finally, there’s Shiffrin, who has claimed the last three world titles in slalom.

She’ll step into the start house on Saturday with the opportunity to become the first athlete to win four straight world titles in the same discipline. Not the first woman or the first American or the first in slalom. The first athlete. It’s a simple record, unencumbered by qualifier words.

But while Shiffrin is a goal setter, she isn’t a record chaser. The Colorado native has always insisted that she puts more emphasis on the way she skis than the result that appears next to her name.

“High standards, but low expectations,” she said in a media call in January. “That sort of mentality is what allows me to ski my best. If I think about the results first, I tend to kind of tighten up, and it’s not as easy.”

She emphasized this in a long Instagram post last Saturday, writing, “From the outside, people see the records and stats. As I have said, those numbers dehumanize the sport and what every athlete is trying to achieve… My goal has never been to break records for most WC wins, points or most medals at World Champs. My goal is to be a true contender every time I step into the start…”

Needless to say, Shiffrin likely isn’t entering Saturday’s slalom thinking about the historic implications of winning a fourth straight slalom title, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a significant accomplishment.

Of all the ‘firsts’ that Shiffrin has added to her resume – whether consciously or not – this one would mean something different. It would solidify her status not only as one of the greatest female skiers or greatest slalom skiers or greatest American skiers, but instead underscore the fact that she is, simply, just one of the greatest.

 

Coverage of the Women’s Slalom at the 2019 World Alpine Skiing Championships: 

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 5:00 a.m. Women’s Slalom (Run 1) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
7:00 a.m. Women’s Slalom (Run 1)* NBCSN
8:00 a.m. Women’s Slalom (Run 2) NBCSN NBCSN/NBC Sports Gold
1:00 p.m. Women’s Slalom* NBC

*Same-day delay

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