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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Bianca Andreescu to miss U.S. Open

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Bianca Andreescu withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing “unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic” compromising her ability to prepare to defend her Grand Slam title.

“I have taken this step in order to focus on my match fitness and ensure that I return ready to play at my highest level,” Andreescu, a 20-year-old Canadian, posted on social media. “The US Open victory last year has been the high point of my career thus far and I will miss not being there. However, I realize that the unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic, have compromised my ability to prepare and compete to the degree necessary to play at my highest level.”

Andreescu’s absence means the U.S. Open, the first Grand Slam tournament since tennis resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic, will be without both 2019 male and female singles champions.

Rafael Nadal previously announced he would not defend his title, saying he would rather not travel given the global situation. Roger Federer is also out after knee surgery. Women’s No. 1 Ash Barty didn’t enter, either, citing travel concerns.

Last year, Andreescu made her U.S. Open title run as the 15th seed, sweeping Serena Williams in the final. Ranked 208th a year earlier, she became the first player born in the 2000s to win a Slam and the first teen Slam winner since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Andreescu then missed the Australian Open in January due to rehab from a knee injury that forced her to retire during a match at the WTA Finals on Oct. 30. She also missed the French Open and Wimbledon in 2019 following a rotator cuff tear.

MORE: Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis competition

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Noah, Josephus Lyles, after years of supporting each other, meet on track’s highest level

Noah Lyles, Josephus Lyles
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When Noah and Josephus Lyles first talked about turning professional out of high school — Josephus brought it up before their junior year — the goal was, of course, to sprint on the sport’s highest international level — together.

They will do that in Monaco on Friday (2 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold).

The Lyles brothers will compete in the same Diamond League meet for the first time, and in the same race to boot. Though Noah has long focused on the 200m and Josephus the 400m, they will both contest the shorter distance at Stade Louis II.

“This is going to be really special,” Noah said.

“It makes me more comfortable, just knowing me and my brother are in the same race,” said Josephus, at his first Diamond League meet since 2018.

Noah, when asked the significance of the race that’s coming more than four years after they turned pro, suggested a reporter ask their mom.

“She’s probably over the moon right now,” he said.

Josephus remembered their mom, Keisha Caine Bishop, screaming in excitement upon learning last week that he earned a lane in Monaco. Noah, the reigning world 200m champion, was already in the field.

“It is definitely harder to watch,” when they’re in the same race, Bishop said, “but not because you’re worried about who’s going to win and who’s going to lose, because I don’t look at track like that.

“My nervousness more comes from I just want them both to do their best, so that we can all celebrate as a family. Because if one has a great race and the other one doesn’t have a great race, then it’s kind of hard for everybody to celebrate. You have to compartmentalize your emotions a little more.”

Bishop, an NCAA 4x400m champion at Seton Hall in the 1990s, is familiar with the balance. Even though her two sons born one year and four days apart last raced against each other in January 2017 at their first professional meet.

“The only reason I run track is because of Noah, honestly,” Josephus, who is younger, said while sitting next to Noah in 2017, days before their pro debut. “When I first started track, I quit because I didn’t like it.”

Josephus, a 400m/800m runner before giving it up, returned to the sport in eighth grade. He had planned to try out for the basketball team. Noah, originally a high jumper, was still doing track and field at the time, so Josephus went out for it, too. This time, he focused on races one lap and shorter.

“Turns out I was really good,” Josephus said. (The Lyles’ sister, Abby, ran one track race around age 6 and didn’t care for it, later finding her passion in biochemistry.)

Throughout high school, the brothers tore up tracks while attending T.C. Williams in Alexandria, Va., best known for the film “Remember the Titans.”

Bishop recalled the times one brother supported the other through adversity. Such as when Noah prayed for Josephus’ success in 2014, when Josephus was on crutches with a twisted ankle. Josephus came back that season to win the 400m at the New Balance Nationals, where Lyles took second in the 200m.

“When they race, they are more concerned about the other person than they are themselves,” Bishop said.

Or in 2016. Josephus suffered a season-ending torn right hip flexor two months before the Olympic Trials. A year before, as a high school junior, Josephus ran a 400m time that would have made the Olympic Trials final, where the top six of eight men would qualify for the Olympics.

Josephus still watched his brother race at trials, in the 200m, from the Hayward Field stands.

“He was trying to be strong,” Bishop said, “but I knew, as a mom, that it was very painful.”

Josephus excitedly detailed the experience on camera after Noah broke the national high school record and nearly pulled off the incredible, coming .09 shy of the Olympic 200m team of three men.

“Sometimes it can get a little hard. If one of us is doing well and the other one is not doing well, it can be rough,” Josephus said. “On the other hand, it can be really good because it’s a lot of support. It’s almost like an accountabili-buddy.”

The brothers achieved their goal by signing with Adidas shortly after trials.

Then in 2017, Noah strained his right hamstring and withdrew from the USATF Outdoor Championships before the 200m final. The family gathered before leaving the stadium in Sacramento.

“I said, ‘OK guys, we have to walk out of this warm-up area, and we have to do it as a team,'” Bishop said. “‘At the end of the day, the only people left will be the three of us. And it’s not just the end of today. It’s going to be the end of your careers. When all the newspapers are gone, television cameras, nobody’s writing about us, we are still a family, and that is all that matters.”

Josephus continued to battle the hip injury, yet lowered his 400m personal best in 2017 (making his Diamond League debut during Noah’s absence) and 2018. At the 2018 USATF Outdoors, Noah won the 100m and Josephus placed sixth in the 400m.

If it had been an Olympic or world championships year, both would have made the U.S. team. Instead, they looked to qualify for their first biennial world outdoor championships in 2019.

That spring, Josephus began throwing up every time he ate. He left a European swing after just one race. He saw several doctors leading into nationals, where he was eliminated in the semifinals. He got an endoscopy and learned his diaphragm was restricted, affecting his eating and breathing. It was fixed after the meet.

“A rough year,” Josephus said.

Noah won the U.S. 200m title two days after Josephus’ 400m semifinal. Noah took gold at the world championships in Doha, after which his most meaningful interaction came by phone with his brother, who was back home in the States after dealing with those chest problems.

Support flowed from both ends of the line — congratulations from an inspired Josephus and excitement from Noah, amped for the upcoming Olympic year and the prospect of a Lyles in every flat sprint and men’s relay in Tokyo.

“I never try to forget that I can be in that same position of being injured, and he could be the one doing well,” Noah said last fall. “So I want to always be able to bring good support to him.”

Noah and Josephus live together in a house near their training base in Clermont, Fla.

The pandemic relegated them to grass fields when tracks were closed for nearly two months. When they returned to more normal training, their coach, Lance Brauman, started putting Josephus in groups with 100m and 200m sprinters, including his brother, regularly for the first time.

Josephus, who beat Noah and world 110m hurdles champion Grant Holloway for a Virginia high school indoor 55m title in 2016, raced a pair of 200m in July. He lowered a five-year-old personal best from 20.74 to 20.41 and then 20.24, which helped book the spot in Monaco.

“When I run 19 [seconds], that’ll be that next level,” said Josephus, while noting the 400m remains his primary event. “I still have a little bit ways to go. Hopefully, this weekend will be a game-changer.”

Here they are, the week after what would have been their first Olympics this summer. Noah and Josephus Lyles are in the same race at the most anticipated track meet of the year.

The Olympic cycle has been bittersweet, said Bishop, reminded of what she stressed to her sons through the ups and downs.

“Life comes in seasons, and your season might not come when you wanted it to come,” she said. “The lesson might not be the lesson you thought it would be, but your season will come.”

MORE: Four years later, life changes for runners who shared Olympic moment

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