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Jade Carey, star on U.S. gymnastics team, takes her own path to Olympics

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STUTTGART, Germany — Jade Carey, like many teens, was inspired by the 2012 Fierce Five, the first U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team to take gold since the Magnificent Seven. If everything works out, Carey will qualify for gymnastics events in Tokyo, but not necessarily the team competition.

Carey, competing with the U.S. team at the world championships this week, is well on her way to becoming an Olympian just like her role models.

But the path the 19-year-old is taking is different. It’s an individual one.

Carey can clinch an Olympic spot for herself as early as March, three months before a selection committee chooses gymnasts for the traditional Olympic team.

“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”

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Carey chose a new qualification route introduced for this Olympic cycle. The International Gymnastics Federation changed Olympic team event roster sizes from five gymnasts to four for Tokyo 2020, but also added other ways for individual gymnasts to qualify outside of the team.

Those individuals can compete on every apparatus at the Tokyo Olympics, but not the team competition. Carey said there’s a bit of regret if she misses out on a team gold, which is almost guaranteed these days. The U.S. has won every Olympic and world team title since 2011.

She got her likely one and only experience competing in a global team event last Tuesday, helping the U.S. earn a fifth straight world title with strong performances on vault and floor exercise.

“That was the No. 1 goal here,” above individual medals, said her dad, Brian, who is also her coach. “She wanted to make this team and then get the team gold. That was by far No. 1.”

The world team is five gymnasts. The cut to four for Tokyo hurts Carey’s chances of being selected for the U.S. Olympic team. A team of four will rely more on gymnasts who spread their talents across all four apparatuses, given three must be used on each apparatus in the team final.

Carey was seventh in the all-around at the U.S. Championships in August, but she was second on floor and vault behind Simone Biles.

Carey earned 2017 World silver medals on floor and vault, in her first year as an elite gymnast, at the only worlds in this Olympic cycle without a team event. Upon returning to Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, Ariz., they honored her at a school-wide assembly.

Carey would have been a candidate for the 2018 World team, but she had to bow out from consideration to keep her path open to qualify for the Olympics individually.

Here in Stuttgart, Carey qualified first into Saturday’s vault final, topping Olympic and world champion Biles in qualifying by .001, and was third in qualifying on floor.

However, the top two in floor qualifying were Americans Biles and Sunisa Lee. A maximum of two gymnasts per country can compete in any individual final, meaning Carey can only enter Sunday’s floor final if Biles or Lee withdraws.

After worlds, Carey will return home to Arizona. She’s taking a gap year before joining the Oregon State gymnastics team. “It has kind of been a little boring,” not having classes, she said.

She will then head to Melbourne, Australia, in February for a World Cup meet.

Carey, who leads the floor and vault standings in Olympic qualifying with one spot available per apparatus, can essentially wrap up her Olympic spot by winning either event in Melbourne. It can’t become mathematically official until a later World Cup in Azerbaijan in March. But all signs point to a satisfying end to a 15-month qualifying journey that’s already taken the Careys to Germany, Azerbaijan and Qatar.

The reaction to qualifying for Tokyo will probably be an exhale more than a celebration, Brian said.

“And then realizing that everything’s not set in stone yet,” he said, “because we still have a lot to think about and to consider.”

Then she has a decision to make — accept the individual Olympic spot or turn it down and go through the U.S. Olympic trials process, hoping to be selected for the four-woman team. But turning down the individual spot could preclude the U.S. from qualifying another individual in her place, dropping their total roster size from six gymnasts to five.

“We’re keeping all options open right now,” Brian said.

She will continue to train on all four apparatuses because 1) any gymnast who qualifies for the Olympics in one individual event can compete on all four apparatuses in qualifying and 2) to keep her in all-around shape in case she declines the individual spot in pursuit of the U.S. team.

“Looking at a bunch of options,” Brian said. “Just trying to figure out the [Olympic team] selection committee and how they feel about certain things.”

He said it’s hard to choose Carey’s perfect scenario. Certainly wrapping up the individual Olympic spot. “Then sit and wait and see what happens after that,” Brian said.

What’s clear is that Carey is excited about moving to Oregon a week after the Tokyo Games. Most gymnasts end their elite, Olympic or world championships-level careers when they join college teams.

“She wants to enjoy the college experience,” Brian said.

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Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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