In a change, Olympic gymnasts go to college and plan return to elite competition

Suni Lee, Jade Carey
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No U.S. female gymnast has competed at an Olympics, then done NCAA gymnastics and come back to compete in another Olympics. That may change in 2024.

Suni LeeJade CareyJordan Chiles and Grace McCallum, four of the six members of the Tokyo Olympic team, participate in their first NCAA Championships next week. All could return to elite-level gymnastics at some point before the 2024 Paris Games.

Lee, the Olympic all-around gold medalist, repeated over the last eight months an unspecified desire to get back into international competition.

“I don’t think I’ve reached my full potential yet. I have so much more in me,” she recently told her coach at Auburn, Jeff Graba, according to ESPN.com.

Carey, the Olympic floor exercise champion, shared on social media on Wednesday that she accepted an invitation to a USA Gymnastics national team camp after NCAAs, a signal that she intends to compete at the U.S. Championships in August, “while remaining dedicated” to her Oregon State program.

ON HER TURF: More on Carey’s return to elite gymnastics

Chiles, who matriculated at UCLA, said in post-Tokyo interviews that a 2024 Olympic run was a possibility. She went farther last week, saying she will try to make this fall’s world championships team, according to Olympics.com.

“I keep telling everybody, I’m not done,” Chiles said, according to the report, noting there was still something left to accomplish after a team silver in Tokyo.

McCallum, a Utah freshman, said Thursday that she hasn’t decided yet whether she will return to elite-level gymnastics, a Utah spokesperson said.

Traditionally, but not always, a star gymnast going the college route has meant retirement from elite.

The NCAA format differs from elite. Routines are generally easier — more emphasis is on execution than difficulty — and the scoring system is still out of a 10.0, which international gymnastics did away with after the 2004 Olympics.

But the new name, image and likeness opportunities made NCAA gymnastics more appealing to Olympic medalists and future Olympic hopefuls who otherwise may have turned professional and become ineligible for college competition.

The only previous time that four U.S. female gymnasts from a single Olympic team later performed collegiately was after the 2000 Sydney Games.

Olympic all-around gold medalists Carly PattersonNastia LiukinGabby Douglas and Simone Biles all turned professional as teenagers. Biles, who committed to UCLA before turning pro in 2015, hasn’t ruled out a run for a third Olympics in 2024, but has not announced any specific comeback plans.

Some recent U.S. Olympians stayed amateur and competed in college, but did not return to elite. Most recently, 2012 gold medalist Kyla Ross and 2016 gold medalist Madison Kocian, both for UCLA.

Women also successfully transitioned from NCAA to their first Olympics. Mohini Bhardwaj was 10th at the 1996 Olympic Trials, then went to UCLA and returned to elite to make the 2004 Olympic team. Alicia Sacramone, after missing the 2004 Olympics, competed for Brown and then made the 2008 team.

MyKayla Skinner was an alternate at the 2016 Rio Games, then competed for Utah for three seasons, moved back to elite and made the Tokyo team at age 24, becoming the oldest U.S. Olympic female gymnast since 2004.

Before women’s gymnastics became an NCAA championship sport in 1982, Linda Mulvihill competed collegiately while at the University of Illinois among her three Olympic appearances in 1964, 1968 and 1972.

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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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