It’s Shilese Jones’ time at U.S. Gymnastics Championships

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TAMPA — A year ago, Shilese Jones placed 10th at the Olympic Trials, poured her heart out on Instagram and decided she was done with elite gymnastics.

After conversations with loved ones, notably her father, she changed her mind. Jones deferred University of Florida enrollment until 2024 because she has designs on the Paris Games.

The 20-year-old is off to a tremendous start in this abbreviated Olympic cycle. She leads the all-around after the first of two nights of competition at the U.S. Championships.

“I’ve been dreaming about it,” she said. “It was beautiful.”

Jones, who has never been to an Olympics or world championships, topped a field of global medalists. She tallied 57.2 points, distancing 17-year-old Konnor McClain by eight tenths going into Sunday, when national champions will be crowned.

Tokyo Olympic medalists Jordan Chiles and Jade Carey are third and fifth, respectively, returning solidly to elite competition for the first time since the Games. Like Jones and McClain, they hope to be part of the five-woman team for the world championships this fall. That roster will be named after an October selection camp.

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Jones, who had the top scores on balance beam and floor exercise, called it the best performance of her career. The lone all-around title on her USA Gymnastics bio came four years ago in a small meet in her senior debut.

Now, she is in position to become the oldest first-time U.S. women’s all-around champion in more than 50 years. She can join Simone Biles as the only non-teens to win nationals in that span.

Biles is on an indefinite break from competition. Suni Lee, the Tokyo all-around gold medalist, is competing collegiately and plans to return to the elite level next year.

Few U.S. female gymnasts get a second chance to make their first Olympic team. A bit on Jones’ journey:

Before last year’s Olympic Trials, she needed a three-to-four month recovery from a car accident. While driving around a traffic circle, Jones said somebody hit the front of her car. She suffered a fractured back and fractured foot.

She came back from that to place 10th at Olympic Trials. USA Gymnastics sent the top nine women to Tokyo — five team members and four alternates — plus Carey, who previously qualified. Jones was the highest finisher to be left home.

“My heart has been torn apart in such a way that it rejects to heal itself,” Jones shared in a since-deleted Instagram post. “I’ve given up everything to be where I’m at today.”

Five months later, Jones’ father, Sylvester, died after a long kidney disease battle. In a GoFundMe to help with funeral and travel expenses, Jones wrote that it was her dad’s “dream to see me on the Olympic stage one day and he devoted anything and everything to my gymnastics. Beat tired after a long day of dialysis to drive and pick me up from practices. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to support my gymnastics.”

Six months after his death, she shared on Instagram an image of a tattoo over her shoulder that read, “Dad Your name echoes in my heartbeat.”

“These last 6 months have been the hardest months in my life,” she wrote.

Jones’ family relocated about eight years ago from Seattle to Ohio to support her gymnastics career. They moved back to Washington in January to be closer to extended family. On Friday, she wore a leotard with the Roman numerals XII XX MMXXI written in pink down her sleeve, marking the day Sylvester died.

“Just to be here and have the opportunity to do that,” she said of her performances, three days after suffering a left big toe injury that stunted her prep, “especially for my dad and my sister and my mom and the audience, it feels amazing.”

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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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