At gymnastics nationals, Olympians give it the college try

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TAMPA — For many star college athletes, August means easing back into campus life. But gymnasts Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles have unprecedented business ahead over the next two and a half months, starting with the U.S. Championships this week.

Carey and Chiles are the first U.S. Olympic female gymnasts to return to elite competition after a college season since NCAA gymnastics began in 1982. Leanne Wong, an Olympic alternate also coming off her freshman campaign, is another headliner this week.

The Tokyo veterans plan to vie for national titles on Friday and Sunday (broadcast schedule here), then bid at an October selection camp for a spot on the five-woman team for the world championships. Worlds are in late October and early November in Liverpool, England.

They would then have two months until the start of their sophomore NCAA seasons, should they keep the whirlwind going.

Some Olympians retire after the Games, or at least take a break. Others go compete in college, but never return to the more demanding elite level. Carey and Chiles want it all.

“I was pretty sure that, after the Olympics, I was going to be done [with Olympic-level gymnastics] and move on to college,” said Carey, the Olympic floor exercise gold medalist who attends Oregon State. “But I think just that whole [Tokyo] experience in general, I really just wanted to be able to experience it again.”

Chiles, who matriculated at UCLA after winning team silver in Tokyo, also has eyes on the 2024 Paris Games. Even though she’s had exhausting days at Westwood where she wondered what she got herself into.

“It’s hard being able to do online [classes], and then you have to be in person [for class] and then doing NCAA [gymnastics] and making sure you’re there with your team,” said Chiles, who said she didn’t take a break after April’s NCAA Championships. “I like challenges.”

For some Olympic sports, the NCAA can be a feeding system for the Olympics. Not women’s gymnastics, which looks very different in college than it does at the Games.

NCAA scoring is capped at 10.0 (similar to what the Olympics had through 2004), rather than the more open-ended international system. College places a greater emphasis on clean routines than the skill difficulty that might be necessary for international medals. It can be overkill to perform the most demanding elite skills in college when you’re competing weekly for most of the winter, a contrast from peaking for two or three meets a year as an elite. So gymnasts may switch to completely different routines than they performed in elite.

The last several U.S. Olympic men’s gymnastics teams included athletes who previously competed in college, and many who returned to school after the Games.

But it has been different for women. Before Tokyo, most Olympic female gymnasts were teenagers. For a collegian considering a return to elite training, that meant her primary competition for national team spots were athletes who weren’t balancing the two different types of gymnastics training, let alone competing every week in NCAA.

Up until last year, every U.S. Olympic female gymnastics star had to choose between NCAA eligibility and cashing in on professional opportunities. Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and Nastia Liukin all turned pro in that era, forgoing college competition.

Name, image and likeness changed all that. Four of the six women on the Tokyo Olympic team competed collegiately last season, a record. Olympic all-around champion Suni Lee, a rising Auburn sophomore, plans to follow Carey and Chiles and return to elite competition in 2023. It has been more than a half-century since the only U.S. woman to compete at the Olympics, then compete in college and then compete in another Olympics.

Since, many women had to decide if and when to phase out of elite and into NCAA gymnastics. Some tried both at the same time.

In 2004, a 16-year-old Alicia Quinn did not make the Olympic team and signed a letter of intent to compete for UCLA. But before enrolling, she won the 2005 World title on floor exercise and decided to stick with elite gymnastics for a 2008 Olympic bid. That meant staying at home in Massachusetts and working with her elite coaches.

Quinn still wanted a college experience, so she joined the team down the road at Brown University, sometimes training at her elite gym in the morning and then driving to campus for Ivy League classes and practice.

“My [elite] coach [Mihai Brestyan] was like, look, just don’t let her do anything where she’s going to hurt herself,” Quinn said. “Mihai’s whole thing was education is really important. Put that first because, obviously, gymnastics doesn’t last forever. So he was on board with me going to school.”

A year after her one college season, Quinn made the Beijing Olympics and earned a team silver medal. She’s now one of three directors for the U.S. women’s national team program.

“Physically, it’s a toll,” Quinn said of doing college and elite. “I would tell [younger gymnasts], that’s great. Just know that it takes a lot of work and a lot of dedication.”

In 2015, Brenna Dowell placed second on floor exercise at the NCAA Championships as an Oklahoma freshman. She then chose not to renew her accommodation lease in Norman, deferred her sophomore season, went to the U.S. Championships that summer and competed at the world championships that fall despite not training elite skills during the January-to-April college season.

“I had nothing to lose because I got to keep my eligibility, and I could go back to college after taking my year off,” she said. “My bar routine was going to be twice as long [in elite], I’d have to add an extra floor pass, add an extra full twist on vault. Everything came back so easily.

“Leanne, Jade and Jordan and all the girls that are coming back, they’ve been doing elite gymnastics for so long, so this season of college gymnastics could actually be something that’s really good for them, because their bodies have had time off [from elite]. Retrain a skill, try to get rid of bad habits as you’re starting fresh.”

Elizabeth Price, a 2012 Olympic alternate, won the all-around at the 2014 American Cup and the 2014 Pacific Rim Championships. She looked like a contender for the 2016 Olympics. But she never had designs on Rio, nor second thoughts after enrolling at Stanford later in 2014.

“I was looking forward to that different phase of life,” said Price, who earned a biomechanical engineering degree, then got her master’s from Harvard in design engineering. “Even if my school hours were cut in half, I still don’t think it would have made much of a difference because for me personally at that time, I don’t think my body could have handled doing elite gymnastics on top of college gymnastics.”

Last year, MyKayla Skinner became the first American woman with college experience to make an Olympic team since Quinn. She retired after Tokyo.

This past April, Trinity Thomas of the University of Florida won the NCAA Championships all-around over the Olympic champion Lee.

Thomas did college and elite gymnastics back-to-back in 2019 and planned to do it again in 2020 before the pandemic shut down sports. She thought she would bid for the Olympic team in 2021, but sprained both ankles that NCAA season and announced her retirement from elite.

Thomas is now leaving the door open to a return to elite after deciding to come back for one more college season in 2023. Her motivation stems in part from seeing Carey, Chiles and her Gators teammate Wong try both.

“It does give me that extra kick in the butt, maybe that little bit more confidence that I can do it, too,” she said.

In Tampa this weekend, Carey and Chiles will experience what Price called “fighting from a different perspective.”

“You have to get back the skills that you hadn’t been training, also build up the endurance and strength that it requires to go to these competitions and compete significantly harder routines like you never left elite gymnastics,” Price said. “They’re fighting an uphill battle, but it’s been done before.”

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Faith Kipyegon breaks second world record in eight days; three WRs fall in Paris


Kenyan Faith Kipyegon broke her second world record in as many Fridays as three world records fell at a Diamond League meet in Paris.

Kipyegon, a 29-year-old mom, followed her 1500m record from last week by running the fastest 5000m in history.

She clocked 14 minutes, 5.20 seconds, pulling away from now former world record holder Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia, who ran 14:07.94 for the third-fastest time in history. Gidey’s world record was 14:06.62.

“When I saw that it was a world record, I was so surprised,” Kipyegon said, according to meet organizers. “The world record was not my plan. I just ran after Gidey.”

Kipyegon, a two-time Olympic 1500m champion, ran her first 5000m in eight years. In the 1500m, her primary event, she broke an eight-year-old world record at the last Diamond League meet in Italy last Friday.

Kipyegon said she will have to talk with her team to decide if she will add the 5000m to her slate for August’s world championships in Budapest.

Next year in the 1500m, she can bid to become the second person to win the same individual Olympic track and field event three times (joining Usain Bolt). After that, she has said she may move up to the 5000m full-time en route to the marathon.

Kipyegon is the first woman to break world records in both the 1500m and the 5000m since Italian Paola Pigni, who reset them in the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m over a nine-month stretch in 1969 and 1970.

Full Paris meet results are here. The Diamond League moves to Oslo next Thursday, live on Peacock.

Also Friday, Ethiopian Lamecha Girma broke the men’s 3000m steeplechase world record by 1.52 seconds, running 7:52.11. Qatar’s Saif Saaeed Shaheen set the previous record in 2004. Girma is the Olympic and world silver medalist.

Olympic 1500m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway ran the fastest two-mile race in history, clocking 7:54.10. Kenyan Daniel Komen previously had the fastest time of 7:58.61 from 1997 in an event that’s not on the Olympic program and is rarely contested at top meets. Ingebrigtsen, 22, is sixth-fastest in history in the mile and eighth-fastest in the 1500m.

Olympic and world silver medalist Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic won the 400m in 49.12 seconds, chasing down Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who ran her first serious flat 400m in four years. McLaughlin-Levrone clocked a personal best 49.71 seconds, a time that would have earned bronze at last year’s world championships.

“I’m really happy with the season opener, PR, obviously things to clean up,” said McLaughlin-Levrone, who went out faster than world record pace through 150 meters. “My coach wanted me to take it out and see how I felt. I can’t complain with that first 200m.”

And the end of the race?

“Not enough racing,” she said. “Obviously, after a few races, you kind of get the feel for that lactic acid. So, first race, I knew it was to be expected.”

McLaughlin-Levrone is expected to race the flat 400m at July’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, where the top three are in line to make the world team in the individual 400m. She also has a bye into August’s worlds in the 400m hurdles and is expected to announce after USATF Outdoors which race she will contest at worlds.

Noah Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 100m in 9.97 seconds into a headwind. Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy was seventh in 10.21 in his first 100m since August after struggling through health issues since the Tokyo Games.

Lyles wants to race both the 100m and the 200m at August’s worlds. He has a bye into the 200m. The top three at USATF Outdoors join reigning world champion Fred Kerley on the world championships team. Lyles is the fifth-fastest American in the 100m this year, not counting Kerley, who is undefeated in three meets at 100m in 2023.

Olympic and world silver medalist Keely Hodgkinson won the 800m in 1:55.77, a British record. American Athing Mu, the Olympic and world champion with a personal best of 1:55.04, is expected to make her season debut later this month.

World champion Grant Holloway won the 110m hurdles in 12.98 seconds, becoming the first man to break 13 seconds this year. Holloway has the world’s four best times in 2023.

American Valarie Allman won the discus over Czech Sandra Perkovic in a meeting of the last two Olympic champions. Allman threw 69.04 meters and has the world’s 12 best throws this year.

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Iga Swiatek sweeps into French Open final, where she faces a surprise


Iga Swiatek marched into the French Open final without dropping a set in six matches. All that stands between her and a third Roland Garros title is an unseeded foe.

Swiatek plays 43rd-ranked Czech Karolina Muchova in the women’s singles final, live Saturday at 9 a.m. ET on NBC,, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

Swiatek, the top-ranked Pole, swept 14th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 6-2, 7-6 (7) in Thursday’s semifinal in her toughest test all tournament. Haddad Maia squandered three break points at 4-all in the second set.

Swiatek dropped just 23 games thus far, matching her total en route to her first French Open final in 2020 (which she won for her first WTA Tour title of any kind). After her semifinal, she signed a courtside camera with the hashtag #stepbystep.

“For sure I feel like I’m a better player,” than in 2020, she said. “Mentally, tactically, physically, just having the experience, everything. So, yeah, my whole life basically.”

Swiatek can become the third woman since 2000 to win three French Opens after Serena Williams and Justine Henin and, at 22, the youngest woman to win four total majors since Williams in 2002.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Muchova upset No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to reach her first major final.

Muchova, a 26-year-old into the second week of the French Open for the first time, became the first player to take a set off the powerful Belarusian all tournament, then rallied from down 5-2 in the third set to prevail 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5.

Sabalenka, who overcame previous erratic serving to win the Australian Open in January, had back-to-back double faults in her last service game.

“Lost my rhythm,” she said. “I wasn’t there.”

Muchova broke up what many expected would be a Sabalenka-Swiatek final, which would have been the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 match at the French Open since Williams beat Maria Sharapova in the 2013 final.

Muchova is unseeded, but was considered dangerous going into the tournament.

In 2021, she beat then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make the Australian Open semifinals, then reached a career-high ranking of 19. She dropped out of the top 200 last year while struggling through injuries.

“Some doctors told me maybe you’ll not do sport anymore,” Muchova said. “It’s up and downs in life all the time. Now I’m enjoying that I’m on the upper part now.”

Muchova has won all five of her matches against players ranked in the top three. She also beat Swiatek in their lone head-to-head, but that was back in 2019 when both players were unaccomplished young pros. They have since practiced together many times.

“I really like her game, honestly,” Swiatek said. “I really respect her, and she’s I feel like a player who can do anything. She has great touch. She can also speed up the game. She plays with that kind of freedom in her movements. And she has a great technique. So I watched her matches, and I feel like I know her game pretty well.”

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