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Say hello to America's newest Olympic treasure

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Say hello to America's newest Olympic treasure

From Comcast SportsNet
LONDON (AP) -- Gabby Douglas believed two years ago, when she convinced her mother to let her move halfway across the country. Martha Karolyi became a convert over the winter, when the bubbly teenager with the electric smile developed the tenacity required to be a champion. Under the brightest lights, on the biggest stage, that belief shattered a glass ceiling. Even if the first African-American to win an Olympic all-around title didn't quite realize it. "I kind of forgot about that," Douglas said with a laugh. Don't worry, Gabby, the world is going to have fun reminding you. Douglas soared her way into history Thursday night, leading the whole way to climb a mountain paved by Ron Galimore, Dominique Dawes and a handful of others who showed the sport isn't just for the white or the privileged. "How inspiring is that?" said Natalie Hawkins, the woman who allowed her then 14-year-old "baby" daughter to move from Virginia to Iowa in 2010 after Douglas convinced her that she was good enough to compete at the top. She didn't have to wait long to find out. Douglas was still trying to get used to the feeling of having her second gold medal in three days around her neck when Oprah chimed in. "OMG I'm so THRILLED for Gabby. Flowing happy tears!!" Winfrey posted on Twitter. Karolyi, the U.S. women's team coordinator called it "history made" while Liang Chow, the coach who channeled Douglas' precocious talent, believes his star pupil is "ready to move onto higher things." She certainly looked like it on a flawless night in which Douglas grabbed the gold during her first event and never let silver medalist Viktoria Komova of Russia come close to wrenching it from her hands. Explosive on vault and exquisite on uneven bars, Douglas never trailed. Though she sealed the third straight women's all-around title for an American with a floor routine that delighted the O2 Arena crowd, it was her pretty set on beam that provided the difference. The event is a 90-second test of nerves, a twisting, turning ballet on a 4-inch slab of wood 4 feet off the ground. And for months, Douglas struggled to find a rhythm on it. She led the national championships after the first day, only to hop off the beam moments into her first rotation of the finals, opening the door for world champion and friendly rival Jordyn Wieber to claim the title. Wieber watched the Olympic finals from 20 rows up in the stands with the rest of Team USA after failing to make it out of qualifying. Teammate Aly Raisman never really recovered from a workmanlike set on bars and an uncharacteristic wobble on beam. Raisman ended up tying with Russia's Aliya Mustafina for third, but the steely Russian earned the bronze on a tiebreaker, a wrenching setback for the American captain, an integral part of the group that won the first U.S. team gold in 16 years on Tuesday. There were no such technicalities involved with Douglas, not even on the beam. She dazzled with a sparkling 15.5, never wavering, never wobbling, never losing focus. This was the same girl who was so out of sorts when the team arrived in London a couple of weeks ago that Karolyi ordered Chow to give her a little pep talk? Chow's message that day wasn't complicated. He urged Douglas to ignore the pain in her leg from a minor muscle strain and get down to business. "He just said that everyone has pain, so just go out there and you know, why are you focused on that?" Douglas said. "He said, 'You're at the Olympics, and put that behind you, and, if you don't push it now you don't have a chance, you'll regret it.'" She didn't. Not after winning her mother over with the idea her future lay in Iowa with Chow instead of her family's home in Virginia Beach. Not after those long days in the gym when she would ask herself, "Why do I have to do this?" only to go and do it anyway. And not after a little boost from Karolyi. The legendary coach made Douglas a surprising choice for the American Cup in New York in March. At the time, Karolyi said she just wanted Douglas to get some needed experience against a talented field. But she knew. She'd known for months. She'd seen it during the training camps at the Karolyi Ranch north of Houston, where Douglas started to showcase the world-class talent Chow had spent a year unlocking. Douglas went and won the whole thing that day at Madison Square Garden as an alternate, the asterisk next to her name officially making her ineligible for the title actually won by Wieber. Still, the message had been sent. Douglas was ready. "I foresee it," Karolyi said. "She charged every single competition she did better and better." By then, Douglas' mom was won over. She raised four kids largely on her own, and tearfully made the decision to let her youngest train with Chow. She doubted herself but looked at the list of "pros" and "cons" her eldest daughter wrote up, and understood go she had to let go. Just a little. Even if it hurt. "I must have lost my marbles," Hawkins said. "But she wanted this more than anything." And Douglas worked like it. Chow believes she just needed time to grow up. She's just 16. Funny, she certainly looked all grown up on Thursday night. On a night that would turn most girls her age to tears, Douglas smiled. She laughed. She acted as if she expected to be here all along. "She demonstrated she is an Olympic champion," Chow said. One that could have a major influence on her sport. Unlike some of her peers, Douglas looks like she's having fun out there. There is no drama when she competes, just joy. She has an energy that will make advertising executives swoon and likely turn her into a millionaire in the near future. But this was never about money. It wasn't even about breaking down barriers. It was simply about challenging herself. She never doubted she could be the best. Even when she was the only one who thought so. "I wanted to seize the moment," she said. History was just a bonus.

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Alex Ovechkin goes for gold before a needed break from hockey

Alex Ovechkin goes for gold before a needed break from hockey

The Capitals’ season ended a month ago, but Alex Ovechkin has yet to take his break.

That will happen soon enough, but for now Washington’s captain is leading Russia at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Slovakia. After that, he gets his first real rest since the end of the 2016-17 season. He has played in 194 NHL games, including the postseason, in 18 months.  

Ovechkin will turn 34 on Sept. 17 and the questions now start in earnest: How long can one of the world’s greatest goal scorers keep up his pace? Ovechkin recorded his eighth 50-goal season this past season. And while it ended in disappointment with a first-round loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Ovechkin deserved little blame after adding four goals and five assists in the series.

“As a captain and as a leader, I thought he took another step this year from how he showed up to training camp to how he played all year long two-way hockey, commitment and when the games mattered the most,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said last month. “He scored big goals and showed fantastic playmaking ability. A physical force. I'm excited to see what he comes back with now after a little extended time away because he was tremendous this year.”

Washington won the Stanley Cup on June 7 in Las Vegas last year and after a hectic summer of celebrating and, eventually, training, players were back less than three months later for another grind of a season that ended after 89 more regular-season and playoff games. Ovechkin missed just one of them. 

Next year could be another one filled with milestones for Ovechkin. He doesn’t even need 50 to reach them. With 42 goals he reaches 700 for his career. Only seven players have ever hit that mark.  

Ovechkin passes Mario Lemieux (690) with 32 goals and moves into the top 10 all time. He has a reasonable chance to catch Brett Hull for second-most power-play goals (265) in NHL history. Ovechkin has 247 right now and has averaged 17 per year each of the past four seasons.     

At some point, even for Ovechkin, scoring 50 goals will be too much. Only Johnny Bucyk (36) and Jaromir Jagr (34) have ever topped 50 goals at an older age. But if he could just do it one more time he would tie Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for most 50-goal seasons ever (nine). We’re at the point where nothing should surprise, but we’ve gone off the known map. 

“That's the best I've seen him play in my three years here,” teammate Lars Eller said. “He just took some games over. It was impressive. He was our best player. Him and Nick, but especially O, he just took it to another level. Physicality-wise, he enforced his will out there and when he decides to do that, he's almost unstoppable. That was exciting to see."

Almost everything Ovechkin does now is unprecedented. In the past 20 NHL seasons dating to 1998-99, there have been 28 different 50-goal seasons as scoring has become harder thanks to better goalie play, equipment and more tactical defensive systems. And yet Ovechkin owns 29 percent of those 50-goal seasons. His 89 points (51 goals, 38 assists) were his most since 2009-10.  

For now, Ovechkin will settle for another IIHF World Championship. He has helped Russia win gold at the event three times (2008, 2010 and 2014). 

But Russia was 6-0 heading into the matchup with Sweden on Tuesday night and had outscored its opponents 29-3 in Group B despite just a goal and an assist from Ovechkin. 

There can be wild fluctuations in the competition level during the group stage at Worlds. The Russians beat Italy 10-0 last week. And the United States, Canada and Finland are all formidable opponents in Group A. 

Russia will likely play one of those teams in the quarterfinals on Thursday so nothing is guaranteed. The semifinals would be Saturday if they do win and then the gold-medal game - or the bronze-medal game - would be Sunday. Then, finally, Ovechkin can rest and get ready for his 15th NHL season with two years left on his contract with the Capitals. 

“[Ovechkin] elevated his game in the first round. He's just got a hunger to him to contribute and to score goals,” teammate Brett Connolly said. “You could tell that he was committed and that he was going to give everything he had to win it again. He was great last year and arguably even better this year….This fan base is very lucky to watch what he does on a consistent basis. You're not going to see that ever again. So, enjoy it while it's here.” 

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Tim Connelly explains his interview with Wizards, decision to stay with Nuggets

Tim Connelly explains his interview with Wizards, decision to stay with Nuggets

Tim Connelly sat down with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis about the head front-office opening on Friday.

On Monday, NBC Sports Washington confirmed that he decided to stick with his role as president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets

A day later, he spoke to the media at a press conference and answered questions about his meeting with Washington.

Clear in Connelly's comments were his respect for Leonsis, but commitment to continuity in Denver. 

"I had a really nice conversation with Mr. Leonsis and his staff. He's a fantastic owner, I think a real visionary. I was really impressed by who he was and his thoughts for the team. That team's going to be special quickly under his leadership. We just had a conversation and not much more than that."

As for the reason for the discussion with Leonsis, Connelly said it came down to his love for the franchise. 

"I spent 14 years there. Certainly it's where I'm from, it's where my wife's from, so I just wanted to have the conversation because I care about the organization," he said.

"I'd never had an audience with [Leonsis], so to have that conversation and exchange of ideas, you know, it's flattering." 

Ultimately, however, the Baltimore native emphasized that Washington couldn't entice him away from the franchise he'd spent the last six years building. 

"Loyalty and patience is such a rarity in professional sports and that's here in spades. Those things matter to me," he said. "I had a hard time envisioning myself elsewhere."

With Connelly out of the picture, the list of candidates for the Wizards front-office opening is narrowing. Currently, Tommy Sheppard, Danny Ferry and Troy Weaver remain in the conversation. 

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