Olympic stars remember Muhammad Ali; Raisman wins at Secret Classic
Opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are scheduled for Aug. 5. Each week, as the countdown continues, we will bring you a roundup of the latest results, news items and storylines in Olympic sports. Here’s a look at what happened over the last seven days on the road to Rio:
World champion Simone Biles and Olympic champion Gabby Douglas saw limited action at this weekend’s Secret Classic, so Aly Raisman stole the show as she captured her first all-around title of the year with a 59.25 point total in Hartford, Conn.
Raisman, a member of the Fierce Five from 2012, finished just one point ahead of 18-year-old Rachel Gowey. Raisman and Douglas have made strong cases thus far to become the first female gymnasts to compete in back-to-back Olympics since Amy Chow and Dominique Dawes in 1996 and 2000. Despite the victory, it may take a tall order for Raisman to knock off Biles and Douglas as the U.S. representatives in the all-around final, which she competed in at the 2012 Olympics and placed fourth. At last year’s world championships, the U.S. took gold and silver with Biles and Douglas.
In what was just a tune-up for the national championship and the trials, Biles, the winner of the last two Secret Classics, won the beam and finished fifth on the uneven bars. Douglas took third on the uneven bars and was tied for sixth on the balance beam.
Up next is the U.S. national championship, where U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi expects to see Maggie Nichols, a member of the U.S. team from last year’s world championships, back in action after arthroscopic knee surgery. Nichols will not compete in all events. The U.S. Olympic Trials are five weeks away and will be held in San Jose, California from July 8-10.
The men’s team raised a lot of question marks for its Olympic selection.
Sam Mikulak captured his fourth consecutive all-around national title as he looks to make his second Olympic team. He is the first American man to win four straight titles since Blaine Wilson did so from 1996 to 2000.
Eighteen men will be selected to compete at the trials in St. Louis on June 23 and 25. Only five will be chosen from there. The tricky part for the U.S. comes in choosing the men behind Mikulak. Jake Dalton, who was a member of the 2012 Olympic team but missed last year’s world championships due to a shoulder injury, may be assured the second spot for Rio behind Mikulak. That leaves three places for grabs. Donnell Whittenberg led the competition after the first day but crashed in the high bar and pommel horse which caused him to finish fifth. 2012 Olympic alternate Chris Brooks was just 1.65 points back of Mikulak on the weekend and took second.
Other notable names to consider include 2012 Olympian John Orozco of the Bronx, who is coming back from a second torn Achilles injury. Orozco finished 10th at the Secret Classic. Daniel Levya was the top American in the all-around in London and brought home a bronze medal but finished way back in 16th and was not assured a spot at the trials until later on.
It’s not about who are the best overall athletes but who can be a part of a team that can collectively score better across individual events. The trials will be just as interesting as this past weekend or equally confusing for men’s national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika.
Other gymnastics news
Across the world, Japan named its Olympic team over the weekend and is headlined by seven-time Olympic and world-champion Kohei Uchimura. Japan will return four of five members of the 2012 Olympic squad that took silver behind China. Japan has not claimed gold since 2004.
Uchimura will try to become the first man to repeat as Olympic all-around champion since Japan’s Kawao Sato accomplished the feat in 1968 and ‘72.
Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin had their respective shares of victories and imperfections at the Longhorn Invitational in Austin, Tx., over the weekend.
Franklin took the victory in the 200 backstroke in 2:09.45 but lost to Olympic champion Allison Schmitt in the 200. Phelps scratched the 200-meter individual medley final after swimming 2:05.89 for fifth place in the prelims. He finished his weekend with a win in 100 freestyle Friday, fourth place in the 200 free and second place in the 100 butterfly.
Katie Ledecky took the weekend off. If you haven’t already read S.L. Price’s profile on her, be sure to check it out here.
The Olympic trials near as they will be held in Omaha, Nebraska from June 26 to July 3.
Track and Field
Jamaican sprinter Nesta Carter reportedly failed a drug test among the re-testing of samples from the 2008 Olympics. His B-sample is being tested and if it comes back positive, there is a risk that Usain Bolt and the other Jamaican teammates could lose their gold medals from the 4x100-meter relay in Beijing and London. Carter is the sixth fastest man of all-time at 100 meters with a personal best of 9.78. If he were to be suspended, only one man that has run faster than 9.78 has never tested positive for a banned substance—Bolt.
Australian race walker Jarred Tallent may be one of the biggest victims of drug cheats in track and field. He will finally receive his Olympic gold medal, which was originally awarded to Russian Sergey Kirdyapkin before it was uncovered that he was doping, at a ceremony in Melbourne. The celebration is expected to be much bigger than the one he held in his backyard a few weeks ago.
Few Americans competed at the Rome and Birmingham Diamond League meets last week. Keni Harrison, the new 100-meter hurdle champion, defeated Olympic champion Sally Pearson in Birmingham. Trayvon Bromell, last year’s 100-meter world championship bronze medalist, scratched from the men’s 100 due to a minor injury during warm-ups. In Rome’s 100, Justin Gatlin won in 9.93—just barely holding off Ameer Webb by .01 second. Webb could make his first Olympic team at next month’s trials.
I put together a report card assessment of the state of American track and field stars just one month away from the 2016 U.S. Olympics Trials in Eugene, Ore.
The U.S. men’s basketball team suffered a blow to star power as Golden State Warriors star and two-time MVP Stephen Curry has opted to skip the Olympics in order to rest his knee. The U.S. will also be without San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge as he recovers from a finger injury.
If you’re keeping track at home, here are the injured stars that will not be in the red, white and blue in Rio: Stephen Curry (knee); Anthony Davis (knee and shoulder); Blake Griffin (knee); Chris Paul (hand) and John Wall (knee).
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo urges that no basketball player has withdrawn from consideration due to fears of Zika or political unrest in Brazil.
LeBron James will make his decision on playing in the Olympics after the finals. James played for Team USA after the Cavaliers lost in the 2008 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals and in 2012 after the Miami Heat won the NBA Finals. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant says that he still plans to play for USA. Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol may miss the Olympics for Spain as he recovers from a broken foot that underwent surgery in February. His brother, Pau, already made his decision to skip the Olympics public as he cited the Zika virus as a cause for concern.
Novak Djokovic won his first-ever French Open to complete his career Grand Slam. Next up, Wimbledon, where he has won three times. Then, the Olympics remain a possibility. Could he be the first man to pull off the Golden Slam? Hope remains alive for now.
One person that will not be in the running for a medal will be Australia’s Nick Kyrgios after he decided to pull out of the Olympics due to the Australian Olympic Committee's “unfair and unjust treatment.”
The recent re-testing of doping samples from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics have yielded 55 positive tests (32 from Beijing; 23 from London). Of those tests, 20 have come back positive for performance enhancing drugs by weightlifters and that includes several medalists. The International Weightlifting Federation announced the findings on Monday but did not reveal any names yet.
Six Russian weightlifters have been banned for doping violations. Russia continues to try and clean up its act as we are two weeks before a vote by the IAAF will determine whether or not to allow Russia's track and field team to compete at the Olympics.
Former San Francisco 49ers player Jarryd Hayne has been named to the provisional Fiji Olympic rugby sevens squad. He made his sevens debut in London last month and played just 11 minutes total.
USA Boxing has decided not to send any professional boxers to Rio de Janeiro despite the AIBA, the organization that oversees amateur boxing, decision to allow pros at the Olympics for the first time.
Six remaining American champions from the U.S. Olympic trials will try to secure their places in Rio at the next qualifying event on June 14-26 in Baku, Azerbaijan. Another chance would still be on the table for July in Venezuela.
Amir Khan said that he would like to represent Pakistan in Rio, which drew a little bit of blowback from his British fans.
Refugees in Rio
The International Olympic Committee named its 10-member team for the 2016 Olympics and it includes athletes from Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya that will compete in track and field, swimming and judo.
U.S. cyclist Tejay van Garderen, who was a member of the 2012 Olympic team in London, is the first American athlete to back out of the Summer Games due to concern regarding the Zika virus. He finished 104th overall and last in the individual road race among the Americans in London.
U.S. cycling will announce its roster for road, BMX and mountain biking on June 24.
U.S. men's volleyball coach John Speraw inked a contract extension and will remain at the helm through the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The World Health Organization formed a committee to examine Zika risk in Rio de Janeiro. This week’s extreme measures to prevent Zika come from...Spain. The country plans to bring 3,000 bottles of insect repellent to the Olympics.
New Olympic sports for 2020?
Baseball/softball, surfing, karate, skateboarding and sport climbing are all one step closer to being included in the program for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo as the IOC executive board backed the proposal for those five sports. The recommendation now heads to a vote by the full IOC in a meeting the night before the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Quick trivia: Name the two U.S. Olympians on the Chicago Cubs?
Excited about baseball at the Olympics? Some of MLB’s stars may not play in the Summer Games, if it means taking a break from their team in the regular season.
Trivia answer: Trevor Cahill and Dexter Fowler
The tram that will play a big role in transportation during the Summer Games broke down in its first day of operation.
Remembering Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali, the 1960 Olympic gold medalist, died at the age of 74 on Friday and was honored in the days that followed by sports stars around the world. Below is a round-up of several tributes by Olympic stars: