Kayla DiCello
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Kayla DiCello, debuting at American Cup, eyes junior-to-Olympics gymnastics jump

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The last 10 U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics teams included an athlete who turned 16 or younger in the Olympic year. Kayla DiCello looks like the best hope to extend that streak this summer.

On Saturday, DiCello will become the first U.S. woman to make her senior-level debut at the prestigious American Cup in an Olympic year since 2004 (Courtney McCool). Coverage airs at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

“My next thing is to try and make a run for Tokyo 2020,” DiCello said after winning the U.S. junior all-around title last summer. “There will be some pressure.”

USA Gymnastics can enter two gymnasts per gender at the American Cup, its biggest annual international meet.

That DiCello will even suit up in Milwaukee is already a victory given the depth of the U.S. program. The other American in the field is 2017 World all-around champion Morgan Hurd, plus Sam Mikulak and Shane Wiskus in the men’s competition (5 p.m., NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app).

“It should give you a sense of confidence just to be selected,” said NBC Sports analyst Nastia Liukin, who competed at the 2005 American Cup in her first year as a senior. “Let that give you the confidence to think, OK, I totally belong here. And she totally does.”

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DiCello (pronounced Duh-SELL-o), a high school sophomore from Boyds, Md., won the 2019 U.S. junior title with a score that would have placed third in the senior division behind Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee.

In 2016, Laurie Hernandez entered the Olympic year as the reigning junior champ. In 2012, Kyla Ross was the top rising junior. Each made the Olympic team before earning her driver’s license.

DiCello’s skills — her favorite event is uneven bars — remind Liukin of Ross, who is retired from Olympic-level gymnastics and is in her last season competing for UCLA.

“[DiCello] is powerful. She’s got great form, graceful,” Liukin said. “She does definitely have a little bit of everything.”

DiCello began tumbling at Hill’s Gymnastics Training Center in Gaithersburg, Md., around her second birthday, when her parents enrolled her in a mommy- and daddy-and-me class.

“At one point, one of the coaches tapped us on the shoulder and basically said, hey, you should put her in baby angels,” said her father, Matt.

“Angels” is described as an invitation-only class for ages 4-5 that leads into competitive programs at Hill’s.

“From that point, she just continued to love the sport and really get a good knack for it,” Matt said.

DiCello, who has three siblings (including two younger sisters in gymnastics), tried other sports such as swimming and ballet.

“If you ask her, she would say she enjoyed flying through the air,” Matt said. “Soccer — she was afraid of the soccer ball, so that sport didn’t last very long.”

Neither Matt nor wife Kecia had any gymnastics experience. But they found themselves fortunate to raise four kids seven miles from one of the most prestigious gymnastics centers in the country.

They began realizing this when toting their daughters to the gym and seeing photos of Dominique Dawes on the walls or the Magnificent Seven in the lobby.

“We never applied that to our kids,” Matt said. “We never knew what the potential could be.”

Now, DiCello is the backdrop of the Hill’s homepage with the slogan, “Teaching toddlers to Olympians for over 30 years.”

Kelli Hill coached the three-time Olympian Dawes, 2000 Olympian Elise Ray and 2004 Olympian Courtney Kupets.

“A first-year senior in an Olympic year is a very difficult position to be in,” Hill said after DiCello won the junior title. “We have talked about it. We know what’s ahead. We’re looking at what start values [routine difficulty] we’ll need. She knows we’re working on skills for senior.”

The U.S. Olympic team event size was cut from five to four for the Tokyo Games, but the U.S. should qualify two extra spots for gymnasts in individual events only. Jade Carey has all but locked up one of those two.

While team selectors will certainly be watching DiCello and Hurd on Saturday, the most important meets are the nationals and trials in June.

“Olympic trials is going to be more difficult than Olympics,” said DiCello, whose first Olympic memory was watching the 2012 Fierce Five take gold in London. “Ever since I started gymnastics, it’s always been a dream of mine to make it to the Olympics.”

The career span of an elite U.S. female gymnast rarely includes multiple Olympic runs. While Ross and Hernandez each made the quick jump to the Olympics, the other top juniors from those years (Katelyn OhashiJazmyn Foberg) suffered injuries, stepped away from elite competition and went the NCAA route.

DiCello, who has battled back and ankle injuries, is already committed to the University of Florida after she graduates high school in two years. What happens in the next few months could change all that. Success in an Olympic year leads to gymnasts turning pro (like Hernandez) or extending elite careers and deferring college (like Ross).

“Following the U.S. [Junior] Championships and the success she had there, then it started to become, not a realization, but an opportunity that sort of presented itself, saying, hey, you might have a shot,” at the Tokyo Olympics, Matt said. “It might be small, or it could be big, but you at least have a shot at it.

“It’s one of those things you can’t control. You have to look at it from a standpoint of this is your opportunity, take your best shot at this thing.”

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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