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Olympic sports questions that were answered in 2023

At the start of 2023, we posed the biggest questions in Olympic sports going into the year. All of them were answered, to some extent. Here’s what we learned ...

Gymnastics: How many Olympic all-around gold medalists will return?
Answer: Two (so far).
The year began with Suni Lee competing collegiately (and expected to return to elite meets), Gabby Douglas back in training and Simone Biles on an indefinite break from the sport.

Lee’s second and final season at Auburn ended prematurely in February due to kidney issues. The Tokyo all-around gold medalist competed in a limited capacity at summer elite meets. Lee said last month that she was going into remission and still taking medication as she gears up for a second Olympic bid.

Douglas, the 2012 Olympic all-around champ who last competed in 2016, announced in July that she was training for a 2024 Olympic bid. In November, she participated in her first USA Gymnastics camp in seven years. Douglas has not announced her comeback meet.

Biles announced in June that she would compete in August for her first meet since the Tokyo Games. She entered three meets in 2023, plus a USA Gymnastics selection camp competition, and won the all-around in all of them.

Track and Field: What will Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone race?
Answer: The flat 400m.
McLaughlin-Levrone had options going into 2023. As reigning world champion in the 400m hurdles, she had a bye into the world championships in that event. Sprinters with byes into worlds often compete in different events at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. McLaughlin-Levrone also said in fall 2022 that she wanted to add the flat 400m to her program while not giving up the hurdles.

McLaughlin-Levrone competed strictly in the flat 400m outdoors in 2023 and ran the world’s best time for the year, which was four hundredths off the American record. Then she shut down her season before August’s world championships due to a small left PCL tear that led to patella issues and tendonitis.

“Coming back from nationals, I think it was just a little irritated,” she said last month. “Getting ready for worlds, it just wasn’t quite right, and we didn’t want to risk anything. So just decided to play it safe.”

McLaughlin-Levrone has not announced yet if she will race the flat 400m, 400m hurdles or both at June’s Olympic Trials, where the top three per event are in line to make the team individually for Paris.

Swimming: Will Caeleb Dressel compete in 2023, and if so, when?
Answer: Yes. His comeback meet was in May.
The five-time Tokyo gold medalist took months off from swimming after withdrawing from the June 2022 World Championships on unspecified medical grounds. He returned to training at the University of Florida last winter, ramped back up to a full workload by May and had a best finish of third at nationals later in the spring.

Two weeks ago, Dressel notched his first race victory since 2022 Worlds at the Toyota U.S. Open. Coming off a lack of training, he ranks fifth, 10th and 20th in the country in his three primary events (100m butterfly and 50m and 100m freestyles) by best times this year. He’s expected to have more substantial training this winter.

The top two in the 50m free and 100m fly and likely the top six in the 100m free (when including the relay pool) at June’s Olympic Trials are in line to make the team for Paris.

Swimming: Is Katie Ledecky headed for a Race of the Century?
Answer: Not quite, but it produced a world record.
The women’s 400m free final at July’s worlds featured the three fastest women in history: Ledecky, Australian Ariarne Titmus and Canadian Summer McIntosh.

The anticipation included comparisons to the 2004 Olympic men’s 200m free, which included the four fastest men in history and was dubbed the “Race of the Century.” Australian Ian Thorpe won by 55 hundredths over Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband, with 19-year-old American Michael Phelps nearly running both down en route to shattering his American record by 1.28 seconds.

July’s race was not as close. Titmus distanced Ledecky by 3.35 seconds and took the world record back from McIntosh, who finished fourth. Ledecky later won the 800m and 1500m frees at worlds. McIntosh later won the 200m fly and 400m individual medley. All three are expected to line up again in the 400m free in Paris on the first night of competition.

Alpine Skiing: Will Mikaela Shiffrin break one of Alpine skiing’s historic records?
Answer: Yes.
Shiffrin entered 2023 with 80 career World Cup victories, having won her last four races of 2022. She was six shy of the Alpine skiing record held by Ingemar Stenmark, a Swedish legend of the 1970s and ‘80s.

Shiffrin blew past the record in 2023, breaking it in March and upping her tally to 91 as of last week. She is expected to race a few more times before the end of the year. The question for 2024 may be whether she can get to 100 victories, a milestone only one athlete has reached in World Cup history across all Winter Olympic events: Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen, who won 114 times.

All Sports: What happens with Russian athletes?
Answer: Some returned in an individual neutral capacity.
At the start of 2023, athletes from Russia and Belarus were barred from competing internationally in most Olympic sports due to the war in Ukraine.

In March, the IOC recommended that, should a sport decide to lift a ban, athletes should compete as neutrals (without the Russian flag, anthem or colors) in individual events only. Furthermore, athletes who support the war in Ukraine or are contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies should not be allowed to compete.

Those recommendations and conditions were later carried over to form the IOC’s policy on allowing some athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete at the Paris Games, should they qualify.

Some international sports federations took steps to lift bans under those conditions, including World Aquatics (swimming, diving) and United World Wrestling. The International Gymnastics Federation announced in July that some gymnasts from Russia and Belarus could be readmitted starting Jan. 1 if conditions were met. World Athletics (track and field) has not lifted its ban. No sports have lifted bans on athletes from Russia and Belarus in team events.

Beach Volleyball: Will any U.S. Olympic gold medalist return?
Answer: Yes, two.
The year began with no public word from reigning Olympic champions Alix Klineman and April Ross on whether either would bid for Paris. Both Klineman and Ross later announced pregnancies, with Klineman returning to competition in September, three months after childbirth.

Kerri Walsh Jennings, a gold medalist in 2004, 2008 and 2012, returned to competition in March for the first time in nearly two years. She underwent ankle surgery a month later and has not competed since.

Meanwhile, the two U.S. Olympic women’s beach volleyball spots were all but secured by Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, who won December’s world tour finals, and Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, who won October’s world championships. They’re ranked Nos. 2 and 3 in the world behind Brazilians Ana Patricia and Duda. The Americans can mathematically clinch Olympic spots early in 2024.

Basketball: Which NBA superstars will play for the U.S. at the FIBA World Cup?
Answer: None.
The U.S. roster for a men’s World Cup included zero players with prior Olympic or World Cup experience for the first time in the Dream Team era (since the Olympics began allowing NBAers in 1992). It was also the first time in this era the roster had zero players who previously made an All-NBA team. (If excluding the 1998 World Championship roster, which ended up having zero active NBA players due to the lockout. The original team did have players with Olympic and All-NBA accolades.)

The U.S., which did have 2023 All-Stars Anthony Edwards, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Tyrese Haliburton, finished fourth after losing three games at a global championship for the first time since the 2004 Athens Games, the last Olympics where the U.S. did not take gold.

The U.S. roster for the Paris Olympics is expected to be very different. Kevin Durant, the U.S. leading scorer at the last three Olympics, led the charge by saying he will be on the team, which isn’t expected to be named for several months.

Basketball: Which country will Joel Embiid play for?
Answer: The U.S., if he plays.
The U.S. men’s basketball program’s biggest victory in 2023 was arguably securing a commitment from the reigning NBA MVP, who is eligible to play internationally for his native Cameroon, the U.S. or France.

In 2022, Embiid gained French nationality and U.S. citizenship. Then in October, the 7-footer announced that if he plays at the Olympics, it will be for the U.S., saying it was a family decision and that his son is American.

Embiid’s decision could tip the scales for the Paris Games. In Tokyo, France handed the U.S. men their first defeat in Olympic play since 2004. That was in the group stage. The U.S. later beat France 87-82 in the final, its closest gold-medal game at an Olympics since it controversially lost to the Soviet Union in 1972.

Aside from Embiid, Anthony Davis is the lone American to make an All-NBA first, second or third team at center in the last six seasons, but he last played at a major international tournament in 2014.

Surfing: Can Kelly Slater qualify for the Olympics at age 51?
Answer: No.
Slater didn’t reach the quarterfinals of any World Surf League contest for the first time in more than 30 years. The record 11-time world champion finished the season ranked sixth among Americans and needed to be in the top three to keep Olympic hopes alive.

Olympic Bidding: Will the 2030 Winter Games host be decided?
Answer: We’re almost there.
The IOC announced in November that a French Alps-based bid and Salt Lake City were recommended for “targeted dialogue” about hosting the Winter Games in 2030 and 2034, respectively. The IOC Future Host Commission recommended awarding the 2030 Games to France and the 2034 Games to Salt Lake City next summer, should talks be successful.

It could yield a second “double award” of the Games to France and the U.S. In 2017, the IOC announced that Paris would host the 2024 Games and Los Angeles would host the 2028 Games, both summer editions.

Before that, Olympic and Paralympic hosts were decided by IOC members vote seven years out. Under recent Olympic bidding reforms, the IOC can enter targeted dialogue with what it deems a “preferred host” candidate rather than holding a traditional bid race with multiple candidates all the way through a final IOC members vote.

Salt Lake City hosted the last Winter Games in the U.S. in 2002 and plans to use many of the same venues in 2034.

The next Winter Games in 2026 will be in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy.