Jade Carey
AP

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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Who is Italy’s greatest Olympian?

Alberto Tomba
Getty Images
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Italy ranks sixth on the total Olympic medal list, thanks in large part to its fencers. Italian fencers have won a leading 125 medals, more than double the nation’s total in any other sport. The Italians are known for their personalities, from La Bomba to the Cannibal, with six of their best detailed here …

Deborah Compagnoni
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only Alpine skier to earn gold at three straight Olympics. Compagnoni overcame a broken knee as a junior racer and life-saving surgery to remove 27 inches of her intestine in 1990 to win the Albertville 1992 super-G by 1.8 seconds. It remains the largest margin of victory in the discipline for either gender since 1968. The following day, Compagnoni tore knee ligaments in the giant slalom. She returned to win the GS at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Compagnoni ended her Olympic career with the biggest rout in a GS at a Winter Games, prevailing by 1.41 seconds in Nagano.

Klaus Dibiasi
Diving
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only diver to win the same individual event three times. The Austrian-born Dibiasi took platform silver in 1964 at age 17, then three straight golds through 1976. Dibiasi was coached by his father, who was 10th on platform at the 1936 Berlin Games. In his final Olympics, Dibiasi held off a 16-year-old Greg Louganis, who would go on to challenge, if not overtake, Dibiasi as the greatest male diver in history.

Eugenio Monti
Bobsled
Six Olympic Medals

Regarded by many as the greatest bobsled driver in history. Monti captured two silver medals in 1956, missed the 1960 Winter Games that didn’t include bobsled, then two bronzes in 1964 and a pair of golds at age 40 in 1968. On top of that, the nine-time world champion is remembered for an act of sportsmanship in 1964. In between runs, Monti lent a bolt off his own two-man sled to a British team whose sled was damaged. The Brits took gold, ahead of both Italian sleds.

Alberto Tomba
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

“La Bomba” dazzled by sweeping the giant slalom and slalom at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, after dubbing himself the “Messiah of Skiing“ beforehand. Known for his man-about-town ways, Tomba offered one of his gold medals to East German figure skater Katarina Witt should she fall short in her event. After Witt repeated as gold medalist, the story goes that Tomba showed up with a bouquet of roses and an autographed picture of himself, made out out to “Katerina.” “I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.,” Tomba once said. “Now I live it up with five women until 3 a.m,”

Valentina Vezzali
Fencing
Six Olympic Gold Medals

An 18-year-old Vezzali was an alternate for the 1992 Olympics, forced to watch on TV as the Italian women took team foil gold. Vezzali made the next five Olympics, winning medals in all nine of her events, including three straight individual titles, the last as a mom. Vezzali finished her career with nine total Olympic medals, 25 world championships medals, a flag bearer honor at the 2012 Opening Ceremony and as a member of Italy’s parliament.

Armin Zoeggeler
Luge
Six Olympic Medals

“The Cannibal” retired in 2014 as the first athlete to earn a medal in the same individual event at six straight Olympics. Zoeggeler earned silver and bronze medals in 1994 and 1998, then overtook German legend Georg Hackl for gold in 2002, followed by winning at home in Torino in 2006. He held on for bronze medals in 2010 and 2014, behind the new German luge star, Felix Loch, who would be coached by Hackl. Growing up on top of a steep hill, Zoeggeler began sledding at age 7 to catch the school bus at the bottom.

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Kurt Angle recalls devastation, exultation of Olympic wrestling gold medal

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Kurt Angle doesn’t remember much from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but he won’t forget that moment of deep emotional pain.

In the 100kg final, Angle and Iranian Abbas Jadidi were tied 1-1 after regulation and an overtime period.. Eight total minutes of wrestling. They also had the same number of passivity calls, forcing a judges’ decision to determine the gold medalist.

After deliberation, the referee stood between each wrestler in the middle of the mat. He held each’s wrist, ready to reveal the champion to the Georgia World Congress Center crowd — and to the athletes. Angle, now 51, has rarely watched video of the match. But he distinctly remembers, in his peripheral vision, Jadidi’s left arm rising.

“I thought I lost,” Angle said by phone this week. “So right away, I was like, s—, four more years.”

Turns out, the Iranian was raising his own arm. An instant later, the referee suppressed Jadidi. He lifted Angle’s right arm. The wrestler sobbed.

“I had so much emotion because I was devastated and then I was told that I won,” Angle said. “It was a very odd experience. I didn’t know how to handle it. It felt like my father died all over again. That’s how much grief I had. Then, all of a sudden, you won.”

Angle thought of two people immediately after he won, falling to his knees in prayer. First, his father, David, who died in a construction accident when Angle was 16. Second, the 1984 Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz, his coach who was murdered by John du Pont six months before the Games.

Angle went on to become one of the most famous U.S. gold medalists of the Atlanta Games, due largely to a two-decade career as a professional wrestler, including as a world heavyweight champion with the WWE.

It would have been different if the referee kept Jadidi’s arm in the air. Angle went into the Olympics knowing it would be his last competition, but only if he took gold. Anything less, and he would continue on, perhaps into his 30s and the 2000 Sydney Games. Despite everything Angle went through just to get to Atlanta.

In the year leading up to the Olympics, Angle lost Schultz, broke his neck at the U.S. Open and, five minutes before each match at the Olympic Trials, received 12 shots of novocaine to numb the pain long enough to advance to the next round. Angle later developed a painkiller addiction.

Angle, a Pennsylvania native, was part of the Foxcatcher club when du Pont shot and killed Schultz. Angle said he wasn’t consulted for the 2014 film “Foxcatcher,” but he thought it was well done save a few instances of dramatic license.

“Unfortunately, I hate to admit this, but if it weren’t for Team Foxcatcher, I probably wouldn’t have won my gold medal,” Angle said. “I probably wouldn’t have known Dave Schultz, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did. It sucks because, to have to thank John du Pont for the ability of allowing me to pay me to wrestle full time and win a world championship [in 1995] and Olympic gold medal, that was huge, but he killed Dave Schultz. The club would have thrived to this day. It just sucks it turned out the way it did, because it made me the best wrestler in the world. Dave Schultz had a lot to do with that, but a lot of wrestlers that followed could have not had to worry about money and could have trained and competed.”

Angle shared his gold medal with, he estimated, thousands of people before housing it in a safe.

“The gold was wearing off,” Angle said. “One kid, I remember, I was at an elementary school, and he grabbed my medal by the ribbon and started twirling it around real fast. He let go of it, and it hit the wall. There’s a big dent in my gold medal. That was the last time I brought it to an elementary school.”

Angle announced in 2011, at age 42, that he was training to come back for the 2012 Olympic Trials. He never made it, calling it off with a knee injury.

“But I trained hard for it,” Angle said, noting he still kept up appearances with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. “I will tell you this, I wouldn’t have made the team. My goal was to place in the top three. I just missed the [thrill of] competition.”

It meant that Angle’s last match remained that Olympic final. His last moment as a freestyle wrestler having his arm raised.

“All I wanted to do was win a world championship and an Olympic gold medal, and I did them both,” Angle said, sobbing, just off the mat that night in Atlanta. “If I died tonight, I’d be the happiest man in the world.”

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