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U.S. Olympic team qualifying, selection races to watch in 2020

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A look at some intriguing races for U.S. Olympic team spots as the final six months of qualifying begin …

Basketball
Men’s Guards

The last four seasons, every guard on every All-NBA team was an American. Thirteen different players combined to take up those spots. All 13 are part of USA Basketball’s national team pool. Maybe five will go to Tokyo. The group to choose from includes those with Olympic experience such as James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Russell Westbrook. And those without, like Stephen CurryDamian Lillard and Kemba Walker.

Beach Volleyball
Kerri Walsh Jennings/Brooke Sweat vs. Kelly Claes/Sarah Sponcil

Two U.S. women’s beach teams will qualify for Tokyo. April Ross and Alix Klineman are comfortably in first place in the standings. The triple Olympic champion Walsh Jennings and new partner Sweat are second in Olympic qualifying more than halfway through, but third-place Claes and Sponcil are within striking distance. The race likely will not be decided before the last stretch of four- and five-star tournaments in late May and early June.

Equestrian
Women’s Jumping

Could this be Jessica Springsteen‘s year? The daughter of rocker Bruce Springsteen recently cracked the top four of the U.S. rider rankings for the first time in at least two and a half years, though she is seventh among Americans in the international rankings. The U.S. Olympic team of three riders (plus an alternate) will be chosen in June. The usual suspects — Kent Farrington, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward, all at least 10 years older than the 28-year-old Springsteen — remain at or near the top of the rankings.

Fencing
Men’s Foil

The U.S. boasts four of the world’s top 10 — Race Imboden (2), Gerek Meinhardt (6), Alexander Massialas (7) and Nick Itkin (10) — plus 2012 and 2016 Olympian Miles Chamley-Watson. But only three per nation can compete individually at the Olympics. The top three in national team point standings come April go to Tokyo. The U.S. is looking for its first men’s Olympic fencing title since 1904.

Golf
Tiger Woods vs. Dustin Johnson vs. Justin Thomas vs. Gary Woodland vs. Brooks Koepka vs. Others

The U.S. will qualify the maximum four men’s golfers for Tokyo, but the names are unknown to start 2020. The Official World Golf Ranking after the U.S. Open in June determines the Olympic field. The current OWGR (which includes results that aren’t part of Olympic qualification) has the top four as Koepka, Thomas, Johnson and Woods. But golf rankings guru @VC606’s projection, which excludes results before the Olympic qualifying window, has Woods in fifth place and Johnson in sixth, replaced by Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Every result could be critical this winter and spring, making Woods’ decision to skip this week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions (with its limited field and guaranteed ranking points with no cut) even more noteworthy.

Gymnastics
Laurie Hernandez vs. Newcomers

Assuming Simone Biles leads the four-woman U.S. team (plus two women in individual events), there is one other returning Olympian hoping to join her. Hernandez hasn’t competed since taking balance beam silver in Rio but plans to make a late Tokyo run. Four years ago, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas became the first women to make back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000, but each of them came back a year earlier than Hernandez. Gymnasts in Hernandez’s way include members of the last two world championships teams (like Morgan Hurd and Sunisa Lee) and first-year seniors like Kayla DiCello, looking to repeat Hernandez’s feat in 2016 of making an Olympic team at age 16.

Shooting
Women’s Skeet

Four different U.S. women won the four world titles in this event between 2014-18, including a medals sweep in 2018. Five Americans make up the top 14 in the world right now, and a sixth, 18-year-old Austen Smith, won the first stage of the Olympic trials in September. Two women will qualify for Tokyo by the end of the trials process this spring. The biggest name is 40-year-old Kim Rhode, looking to become the first person to earn a medal at seven straight Olympics in any sport.

Soccer
Women’s Forwards

World Cup rosters are 23 players. Olympic rosters are 18. The U.S. must cut from its world champion team of last summer, putting stalwart goal-scorers at risk. Chief among them is Alex Morgan, who hopes to return from an April due date for a third Olympics. Then there’s Carli Lloyd, who at 37 is trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic soccer player in history. Other thirtysomethings in the mix: Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press, plus Mallory Pugh, who made the Rio Olympics at age 18. The last two Olympic teams each had four forwards.

Swimming
Chase Kalisz vs. Ryan Lochte vs. Carson Foster

Lochte wants to make a fifth Olympic team, at age 35, in his patented 200m individual medley. To do that, he must take down either the 2017 World champion Kalisz or the 18-year-old Foster, who has been breaking Michael Phelps‘ national age-group records since he was 10. Two swimmers per individual event make the Olympic team at June’s trials. There are other potential spoilers in the 200m IM, including 2018 breakout star Michael Andrew and Abrahm Devine, who made the last two world teams. One thing’s for certain: There will be a new Olympic champion with the retirement of Michael Phelps, who won this event in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Tennis
Madison Keys vs. Coco Gauff vs. Venus Williams vs. Sloane Stephens vs. Others

The U.S. gets four singles spots per gender at the Olympics. Qualifying is via ATP and WTA rankings with the cutoff after the French Open. More than halfway through, Serena Williams comfortably leads via Wimbledon and U.S. Open runners-up (3,185 points). She’s followed by Sofia Kenin (1,941), Alison Riske (1,713) and Madison Keys (1,537). Then comes another drop-off to the current alternates, led by Coco Gauff (709). Venus Williams, eyeing a fifth Olympics when she will be 40, is in ninth place (and just withdrew from her 2020 season opener). Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 11th. Any player who doesn’t make singles could still be chosen for doubles, where Venus is an intriguing option.

Track and Field
Women’s Marathon

One of the hardest U.S. Olympic track and field event teams to make will be one of the first to be decided. Six of the nine fastest Americans in history are expected to start the marathon trials on Feb. 29 in Atlanta. Headliners include 2018 Boston Marathon winner Des Linden and American 10,000m record holder Molly Huddle. Only three get to go to Tokyo, while the rest likely crowd the 10,000m field at the track trials four months later in Oregon.

Wrestling
Jordan Burroughs vs. Kyle Dake

Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, and Dake, the 2018 and 2019 World champion at the non-Olympic 79kg weight class, are expected to make up the most intense final of the Olympic wrestling trials from April 4-5 at Penn State. Only one wrestler per weight class qualifies for Tokyo. Burroughs has made every Olympic and world team at 74kg since 2011. But Dake, who avoided Burroughs by moving up in weight in 2016, represents his toughest challenger yet.

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Laurie Hernandez begins gymnastics comeback at national team camp

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Laurie Hernandez‘s comeback will become official in two weeks when she participates in a USA Gymnastics national team camp for the first time since she last competed at the Rio Olympics.

Hernandez’s agent, plus USA Gymnastics high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster confirmed this week that Hernandez accepted an invitation to the camp in Sarasota, Fla.

Hernandez, a Rio Olympic team gold medalist and balance beam silver medalist, said in August that she hoped to attend the November camp and return to competition in early 2020. She alluded to the November camp in a tweet last week. She has said she hopes to make the Tokyo Olympic team.

“If she can do what she did then [in 2016], she would be in the mix,” Forster said.

Forster described the camp as an offseason, working camp. Gymnasts won’t have to demonstrate full routines. Rather, their hardest tumbling pass, a vault and a couple of skill sequences on balance beam and uneven bars.

“Coaches share with us plans on skills and routines for next year, and we help them,” Forster said. “That’s part of the camp, and that’s why Laurie wants to be there. It gets her and her coaches exposed to current rules and trends.”

Forster said he did not request Hernandez to submit training videos to show readiness to be invited to camp. Her showing up to the U.S. Championships in August as a spectator, and conversing with him, and being an Olympic medalist, was enough. Hernandez said then that she hoped to compete in early 2020, but Forster said nothing has been set yet.

She is not a national team member (yet), and Simone Biles and others from last month’s world championships team are excused from this camp.

“She’s very aware of what the skill level is that she’s going to be competing against,” Forster said. “If she says she’s ready to come to camp, I know she knows what she’s up against as far as what skills people are doing.”

Hernandez, a 19-year-old New Jersey native, returned to training about one year ago at a new California gym with new coaches after two years off.

In the last Olympic cycle, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman took breaks, but they returned earlier than Hernandez, competing again more than a year before the Rio Games. They both made the five-woman team for Rio.

But previous comebacks did not work out. 2008 Olympians Nastia LiukinShawn JohnsonAlicia SacramoneChellsie Memmel and Bridget Sloan all attempted to make the 2012 team but, for various reasons, did not make the cut.

Hernandez faces this different situation: Olympic team-event sizes drop from five gymnasts in 2012 and 2016 to four in 2020, putting a greater emphasis on gymnasts who can perform well on all four apparatuses.

The U.S. can also qualify up to two more gymnasts for individual Olympic events only. Jade Carey appears on her way to locking up one of those spots. The other spot, which would be up to a USA Gymnastics committee to dole out, will likely go to a gymnast who is strong on multiple events in case she needs to be called up for the four-woman team event in case of an injury.

VIDEO: Oksana Chusovitina says 8th Olympics will be her final Games

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Laurie Hernandez hopeful to return to gymnastics national team camp

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Laurie Hernandez, who still plans to return to gymnastics competition in early 2020, is hopeful to start that process in November by attending her first national team camp in three years.

Hernandez, a Rio Olympic team champion and balance beam silver medalist, returned to training 10 months ago at a new gym with new coaches after two years off.

“I’m really proud of the progress we’ve made,” Hernandez said Saturday while attending the U.S. Championships as a spectator, noting she’s training five hours per day and six days per week. “I do think it’s realistic to be able to compete next year and do well. … Making the Olympic team, that’s definitely why I’m coming back.”

Hernandez is not guaranteed to be part of the November national team camp even if she wants to. Hernandez has not spoken with U.S. high-performance coordinator Tom Forster, but said her coaches have.

Gymnasts not on the national team must request an invite to a camp, usually through a process that involves submitting training videos of routines for review.

Hernandez’s Olympic bid would be an Everest-like climb. She would be returning a year later than Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas did in the last Olympic cycle, when they successfully returned from breaks to become the first U.S. female gymnasts to make multiple Olympic teams since 2000.

Moreover, the Olympic team-event size drops from five gymnasts in 2012 and 2016 to four in 2020, putting a greater emphasis on gymnasts who can perform well on all four apparatuses.

VIDEO: Gymnast saves high bar routine with one-handed catch

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