NEW WAVERLY, Texas -- The finishing school for world-beating female gymnasts that America has been churning out for two decades now, bucking all precedent and prevailing skepticism that Bela and Martha Karolyi encountered when they first arrived in the U.S., sits on their isolated Texas ranch that lies three miles down a single-lane gravel road running deep into Sam Houston National Forest. A staffer often meets visitors at the nearest interstate exit about 20 minutes away, because neither GPS nor cellphones reliably help much way out here.Little hurricanes of dust swirl up behind your car as you drive down the lane passing nothing but acre after acre of trees until, finally, some rustic wood cabins, two large blockish gyms, a dining hall and a sprawl of low-slung bunkhouses bearing signs such as The Beijing Motel to evoke past Summer Olympics all pop into view. Next, some startled peacocks unexpectedly come high-stepping across the lawn of the Karolyis log cabin home with their tail feathers fanned out.Then, somewhere in the distance, a few goats begin to bleat.When we first came here from Houston in 1982 and 83, Martha says to me, Why do you bring me out here to the boonies? says 73-year-old Bela, who often tears around their spread on a dusty, four-wheel cart with a roll bar. I says, Martha, I know its the boonies, but its beautiful boonies! Its our boonies. I love the boonies!Thirty-four years after their arrival, a whiff of mystery still surrounds exactly what happens once elite gymnasts disappear into training on the Karolyi Ranch. But often the short answer is magic.The U.S. Olympic womens team, which convened there for nine days of fine-tuning just before departing for the Summer Games in Rio, is a prohibitive favorite to win Americas second straight team gold medal when the competition begins Sunday. It could be a rout.Each member of the five-woman squad -- extraordinary three-time world champ Simone Biles; returning Olympic gold medalists Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman; electric 16-year-old newcomer Laurie Hernandez; and reigning world uneven bars champion Madison Kocian -- is a legitimate threat to medal in at least one event, maybe more.The big-picture creation story of how the overhauled U.S. program first went from international also-ran to the preeminent world power, eclipsing China, Russia and the crumbling programs of traditional powers such as Romania and the Ukraine along the way, traces back to a vision the Karolyis had for developing the womens team into a perennial champion.Either Bela or Martha have served as the U.S. programs national team coordinator since 1999, after they stopped being private coaches who churned out Americas first Olympic and world all-around champions: Mary Lou Retton (1984) and Kim Zmeskal (91); Kerri Strug, the 96 hero of Americas first Olympic team gold medal win; and a half-dozen other stars.Before that, the Karolyis developed 1976 Olympic all-around champion Nadia Comaneci in their native Romania.The systematic changes theyve pushed through to create a semi-centralized training program for USA Gymnastics have been vital. They insisted on having the ranch serve as an important gathering spot for team-building unity and refining the work the gymnasts do back home the rest of the year.It was key to have private coaches around the country become a selection committee that evaluates the gymnasts year-round. That involves coming to the ranch once a month for training sessions that amount to pressure-packed recitals for the coaches athletes, as well as brainstorming sessions and master classes.You see, not everyone in American gymnastics always backed the Karolyis. Especially not at first.Some folks bridled at their demanding methods and mandated treks to the ranch, which is as quirky as Bela himself. And the history of how the Karolyis jumpstarted USA Gymnastics after defecting from Cold War Romania in 1981 is an extraordinary, increasingly forgotten story.The Karolyis might have never landed in America if Bela hadnt been clashing with Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his sons following Comanecis sensational victory and perfect 10s at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Bela objected to how the Communist rulers would interfere or trot out their pride-and-joy gymnastics team for cash and propaganda purposes before sheiks, visiting politicians, you name it, Bela says.Still, it wasnt until a 1981 U.S. tour with Comaneci and the Romanian national team that the Karolyis worries darkened. They heard rumors during their last stop in New York that they might be detained when they returned home. So Bela, Martha and a team choreographer walked out of their Lexington Avenue hotel in Manhattan with nothing but a single gym bag of clothes and $360 among them.Looking back, it was a stupid decision we made, Bela says, even though Ceausescu ran a brutal regime and would later be executed by firing squad following the 89 Romanian revolution for crimes including genocide.What Bela stresses instead is how seeking asylum separated him and Martha for years from their daughter, Andrea, who was then only 7. Defecting also meant parting with Comaneci, then 20, though she begged the Karolyis to take her with them.Bela refused, telling her there was too much uncertainty.We had no plans, no money, nothing, he says. I spoke five languages -- Russian, French, Italian, Romanian, Hungarian -- but, back then, not a word of English. It was very hard here at the start. Very hard. Very, very many frustrations.The Karolyis found their international success meant little here at first. People doubted theyd thrive outside an autocratic government system or relate to American athletes. They spent some painful, uncertain months bouncing from New York to Los Angeles, where they lived for a time in a $7-a-night motel while Bela, then in his late 30s, worked as a stevedore during the day and swept floors in a restaurant at night. They eventually landed coaching gigs in Oklahoma and moved to Houston when a few investors offered them a chance to run a modest gym. By then, two years had passed.The place became theirs when the backers ran out of money.One day, a parent of one of the gymnasts asked a downcast Bela what he could do to cheer him up, and Karolyi shrugged and suggested something he used to do in the Carpathian Mountains back home: a hunting trip.So off they went to Sam Houston National Forest, and -- Bela laughs -- they promptly got lost down that same, barely traveled dirt road where the ranch sits today.Karolyi says he was captivated by the land, though it was nothing but pines and brush-choked fields then. No electricity, no running water, buildings, nothing, he says. He persuaded the owner of the ranchs original 51-acre plot to let him clear the fields, throw up some fences and build a simple cabin and barn, no strings attached. In time, when the old man finally consented to sell, the Karolyis converted that first barn into a gym for weekend training sessions with six or eight gymnasts he and Martha would bring out from the city.One of those girls was Mary Lou Retton.She had joined them in Houston less than two years before the 84 Los Angeles Olympics. But once at the Games, Bela didnt have a credential to be on the competition floor because of the way USA Gymnastics ran things back then. He cadged one from a sympathetic equipment worker, and thats how much of America was first introduced to this demonstrative, bearish man with the thick accent, bushy mustache and sideburns and a habit of calling gymnasts little suckers! and firecrackers! The TV cameras caught him exhorting Retton just before she tore down the runway of her last event, the vault, and dramatically became Americas first Olympic all-around champ by nailing a perfect 10.Bela couldnt believe what happened next.When we flew back from Los Angeles to Houston next day, outside our little city gym, there were people lined up around the block, wanting to sign up to train with us! he says. People lined up around the block! To train with us!After all the Karolyis had been through, their lives rebooted again.Bela kept adding and swapping parcels of land to expand the ranch site until it reached todays total of 2,000 acres. He cleared the fields himself. He built the log home in which he and Martha still live and most of the other buildings. He taught himself to drive a bulldozer and carved out a large pond. He stocked it with catfish and constructed skeet-shooting stalls on a deck overlooking the water. Today, he and visiting coaches often convene there for fun after training is done. At night, they might play cards, and the Karolyis often cook. Bela often serves homemade Hungarian moonshine, made from fruit trees he planted, and the wild boar and elk bratwursts he makes.USA Gymnastics eventually made the ranch an official national team training site, partly because, Martha says, Bela and I feel having a training center thats not in a busy city is best. When you come here, theres one reason you come: to train. Its not to be entertained dining out, going shopping.When the elite gymnasts are in residence, they work in a cavernous, state-of-the-art gym that is used only by them. No visitors are permitted except their personal coaches.The rest of the time, the ranch frequently hosts gymnastics camps for all ages and skill levels that can draw nearly 300 girls at a time. The facility also includes a pool and play areas for everyone to use and a menagerie of animals that Bela chose: camels, cows, goats, llamas, horses, miniature donkeys, a herd of red deer, rabbits, assorted fowl and a coterie of 11 dogs.Other acquisitions didnt work out so well. A minivan-sized bison escaped and had to be captured with lassos. (Big sucker, Bela says. Never again.) An ostrich once leaped up and kicked Bela to the ground with both feet. (Bad. No notice whatsoever!) Getting a zebra seemed like a good idea at the time. (Let me tell you, the most vicious bastard on earth. Biting. Mean. Aggressive. Wow.)Asked now if a black-and-white hide pillow sitting on a sofa in his taxidermy-filled cabin is all that remains of that particular zebra, Bela, a prodigious hunter, chuckles guiltily and says, Maybe.One reason Bela and Martha wanted the elite team to gather at the ranch: America trained its female gymnasts but didnt prepare them to take on the world.Everybody was doing their own thing, Martha says. The national team pretty much wasnt training together at all back then. Basically, the whole gymnastics was based on the individual effort of the private clubs. And the clubs had big competition between each other. The thinking was that is how we can make the team strong and then go compete against the world. There was a selection committee, but it didnt know the gymnasts well enough.In short, it felt like a closed, stunted system. Bart Conner is a former U.S. Olympian who is now married to Comaneci and runs a gymnastics school for 1,400 kids in Oklahoma. He says, The national team always seemed to come from the same five or six [well-connected] clubs.Bela says the gymnasts rarely had any idea how they stacked up.All these guys were doing was creating queens of their own gyms, Bela says. Then the girls got out of their own gyms, and they collapsed. They had no idea how to handle pressure of competition, no proper preparation.The Karolyis set out to change that when the U.S. Federation came calling after the womens program slumped in the late 90s. Bela served his short but stormy stint as team coordinator first from 1999-2001 and did a lot of the initial spade work. He preached a need for unity while ordering changes and butting heads when his cajoling didnt persuade folks to accept the master plan.It was Marthas selection as Belas successor that ushered in a greater era of détente and sent the program slingshotting forward even more.Theyre both brilliant coaches and tacticians, says USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny. They also have very different personalities.Im a little more diplomatic, Martha says.But no less demanding.Bela still contributes thoughts here or there, but since 2001, Martha has been fully in charge of the national team. Everything about the well-oiled program she runs is geared toward identifying, developing and honing the best, most pressure-tested gymnasts and coaches to take to competition.No detail goes overlooked.During their five- to six-day monthly stays at the ranch, the elite gymnasts know theyll have to do verifications and present all four of their routines to Martha, the team selection committee and sometimes a couple of judges. The gymnasts are constantly evaluated year-round. Before the biggest competitions, mock in-house meets are held; the gymnasts do everything as if they were at a real event, right down to marching in as a team. Their choreography, music, degree of difficulty, tilt of their head, arch of their back, execution and overall composition of their routines are constantly critiqued.The gymnasts personal coaches work in the gym and sometimes convene again later at night at the Karolyis private residence to brainstorm, swap ideas and hear out whatever tweaks Martha might suggest.The approach is meant to make training so mentally and physically complete, Martha says, that once we get to the competition, we say, Its showtime. The idea is they wont have to think. Theyre fit. Theyre prepared. Theyre confident. Theyve done it so many times they know deep down, I can do this, and ignore the stress. They perform just like theyve trained to perform.Kocian, the uneven bars champion, says, It works. Its almost like you become a robot and just do what youre supposed to do.After bobbling her beam routine twice at the Olympic trials, Biles still had enough jaunty confidence to shrug it off with a joke: Beam 2, Simone 0.The Karolyis do produce winners. But their methods have been criticized over the years as too demanding, even abusive. (You can read some of those articles here and here.)Dominique Moceanu, who trained with the Karolyis before the 96 Games, remains a detractor.I think there are a lot of good things about the training camps, Moceanu said?last month. [But] its just too taxing on the gymnasts. ... When they go there, they are basically doing pressure sets from the moment they get there, under scrutiny. Thats a level of stress on your mind and on your body. And some gymnasts break down from that.Even Retton, a Bela and Martha fan, says, Its hard, in that the girls can never go, Ahhh, and relax a bit. Then she echoes what Conner, Comaneci, Hernandez and Douglas mother all say about the Karolyi Way: It works.Retton adds, I really dont foresee it changing a lot.Douglas mom, Natalie Hawkins, says, I dont know what it is, but when Gabby gets to that ranch, she improves. Martha is always able to make her believe in herself.Martha was asked last week in a conference call, before the gymnastics contingent left the ranch for the Rio Games, how the repair work had gone with Douglas after her so-so Olympic trials performance. Martha brightly said, Very well. Referring to a move Douglas does in her floor exercise routine, Martha said, Shes doing the Ferrari better than Ferrari herself.Martha is 73 years old now, same as Bela. She has announced she will join him in retirement after Rio. USA Gymnastics announced last week it is buying a 31-acre parcel that the national team training center occupies on the ranch to keep the program running as is. The Karolyis plan is to keep their private residence there. Thinking back to how everything in America pivoted for the Karolyis when Retton landed that landscape-changing vault, Martha laughs now and says, After that, people looked at us and went, Hmm. Maybe they do know a little bit about what they are doing after all. Wholesale Minnesota Vikings Jerseys 2019 . Numbers Game examines the deal that sees Michael Del Zotto and Kevin Klein switch places. The Predators Get: D Michael Del Zotto. Cheap Nike Vikings Jerseys . PETERSBURG, Fla. http://www.cheapvikingsjerseys.us/ . -- Kyrie Irvings last-minute 3-pointer helped seal another victory for Cleveland -- and the Cavaliers longest winning streak since LeBron James left. Minnesota Vikings Brian ONeill Jersey . Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee? Green had bounced around the NBA when he wasnt playing overseas. The Pacers gave up on Plumlee after just one season. Now Green and Plumlee are key cogs in the Suns surprising breakout season. Minnesota Vikings Jalyn Holmes Jersey .S District Court against Major League Baseball, the Office of the Commissioner and his own union, the MLBPA. Mercedes has gone from celebrating another dominant F1 season to assessing candidates for the most coveted seat in motorsport. Nico Rosbergs decision to walk away from F1 just five days after securing the world championship caught the team by surprise and sent shockwaves through the sport.A host of names have been linked with the vacant seat in the week since that announcement and there is still no clear choice for the seat. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff promised the team would not shy away from a brave decision for next year and will consider all options available.?In the same interview with Sky Sports, Wolff set out the criteria he and the Mercedes team is looking for in Lewis Hamiltons next teammate:It is about out and out pace. Mistakes are a different topic. Only on very few occasions have we seen Lewis or Nico making a mistake or colliding. More than 90 per cent of the races weve been able to score maximum points, so that is a consideration.Then the out and out pace in order to challenge Lewis and grow the general performance within the team. We need somebody that goes lightning fast. To combine all those three factors is what Nico has been able to do over the years.We will not change the philosophy. We want to have two drivers with equal opportunities that can race each other, because I think we owe that to the fans and ourselves. Its the way we want racing to happen.We now know Mercedes will not make a decision until January 3 at the earliest, giving the team and media a chance to enjoy Christmas without the worry of an announcement. Heres what we know about each of the candidates:?Valtteri BottasBottas links to Toto Wolff have led to speculation he will get the nod, with Williams Mercedes relationship meaning they could likely be compensated with Wehrlein if the Finn was to jump ship. However, there has been limited news about the quiet Finn since, with Wolff himself playing down the chance he will be driving in silver next year.Wolff told Sky Sports: Besides the personal relationship, where hes a very likeable and intelligent driver, hes also somebody who is very, very fast. But hes with Williams now, the lead driver, and is very important for the combination with Lance Stroll. Claire [Williams] and her team very much rely on him.However, his chances appear to have risen in recent days, with BBC and Sky reporting Mercedes have approached Williams about releasing the Finn from his contract. When contacted by ESPN about those reports Williams pointed to the fact it has Bottas and Lance Stroll contracted to 2017.The Bottas reports follow a Motorsport.com report that Mercedes technical chief Paddy Lowe is set for a shock move to Williams when his contract expires at the end of December.Pascal WehrleinMercedes junior Wehrlein still appears to be the easiest pick. Last week the German-Mauritian driver said he feels hes ready to step up to Mercedes. There has obviously been no update on his discussions with Sauber, which were ongoing during the Abu Dhabi weekend, as Mercedes works out how to solve its own driver dilemma. The fact Wehrlein had not yet signed a 2017 deal with another team -- something fellow Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon had done -- also makes him a simple pick for next year.?Speaking at the Autosport Awards, Wehrlein was asked if he felt ready for a spot at Mercedes, and replied: Definitely. One season in F1 is not a lot, but I feel ready for the job, I feel confident enough.Now the decision is on the bosses. I guess Totos phone must be overheating since Friday, because many drivers have called him, but I respect that process and I want them to go for the best option. One season in F1 is not a lot, but I feel ready for the job, I feel confident enough.He also pointed out that he accumulated more miles on the 2017 Pirellis than Hamilton and Rosberg, including at the post-Abu Dhabi GP test where he replaced the former after lunch for reasons that have since become abundantly clear.The fact Wehrlein has been a steady hand for Mercedes and has tested on frequent occasions adds to his chances, though the world champions may be wary of promoting a man whose race experience is limited to 21 races with Manor at the back end of the grid. Question marks still linger for other reasons: Force Indias decision to sign Ocon over Wehrlein was hardly a ringing endorsement.Sebastian VettelSebastian Vettel is the only driver to have publicly distanced himself from the vacant Mercedes seat. A German with multiple world championships growing frustrated at a Ferrari team seemingly in freefall, Vettel appeared to be a natural candidate when Rosberg made his shock announcement.Speaking during a Ferrari event in Daytona just two days later, Vettel told Reuters: I think its not a big secret that both myself and Kimi [Raikkonen] have a contract [with Ferrari] for next year. So it should be clear.So case closed, right? Well, not necessarily. Unlike many other drivers, Vettel is his own manager and is known to be a shrewd negotiator when it comes to contracts. His exit from Red Bull in 2014 came when he realised he was able to trigger a performance-related clause in contract, paving the way for a move to Ferrari. It is not beyond the realms of possibility Vettel pushed hard for similar clauses for, say, a winless season for Ferrari....Fernando AlonsoIn an ideal world, Fernando Alonso would already have tied up the other Silver Arrow for next season, finally giving him the car hiis talent deserves after so many years away from the top step of the podium.dddddddddddd Toto Wolff added fuel to the fire this week when he admitted Alonso is on his list of candidates. But a shocking switch from Woking to Brackley looks increasingly unlikely.Earlier this week, new McLaren executive director Zak Brown said he has no fears of losing Alonso to the world champions. Brown told Sky Sports: We have a contract with Fernando and hes very happy. Obviously, he wants to be winning races, as do we, but I am not worried about that scenario. We are very comfortable where we are at.Brown was not the only one to quell the speculation. Alonsos long-serving manager Flavio Briatore did not mince his words in an interview with Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport, saying flatly: Fernando Alonso will not be in a Mercedes in 2017.He added: Granted, people always think of Fernando when a top car is free. But we have a contract and we will respect that.Alonso is heading into the third and final year of what is believed to be a fairly watertight contract, which he signed with McLaren ahead of the 2015 season. However, Alonso is not one to shy away from the internal politics of Formula One and was reprimanded by Ferrari at the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix for saying he wanted a different car after publicly courting Red Bull in the paddock, while he also lobbied for a Mercedes drive the following season.With one of Wolffs requirements being that drivers understand both sides of the garage will remain equal, a move for Alonso could threaten to upset the harmony at the team. However, Alonso is still widely regarded as the most complete driver on the current grid and until we see another man wearing silver overalls at the driver announcement, the Spaniard is very much a viable candidate.Jenson ButtonButtons comments in Abu Dhabi led many to question whether he was truly committed to walking away from Formula One. The 2009 world champion admitted he had been hasty in deciding to step back into an ambassadorial role at McLaren, which many saw as a retirement rather than one year out of the sport. He still remains an incredibly long shot but would be a popular choice for the world champions, a one-year stop-gap which would allow them to focus on Alonso and Vettel when their contracts expire at the end of 2017.Weve heard nothing from the Button camp since Rosbergs announcement, other than a festive Christmas message from McLaren HQ...Nico HulkenbergGiven his newly-signed deal with Renault, Hulkenberg has always appeared to be a long shot. However, the gasps had barely subsided from last Fridays announcement when German publication Bild reported that Wolff had contacted Renault about Hulkenbergs contract when Rosberg told him he planned to retire.The report said Renault received a call from Wolff on that Friday and that his enquiries were immediately rebuffed by the French manufacturer. Reports of Mercedes supposed interest have since gone quiet. Unless Mercedes is absolutely determined the replacement must be Hulkenberg, it seems like there are one too many hoops for the world champions to jump through just to come close to making this happen.Renault clearly believes Hulkenberg is the man to return them to past glories.Team boss Frederic Vasseur said: Our driver line-up for 2017 shows our intent and aspirations. Nico comes to the team at a perfect time for both us and him. He has experience of working with different teams, including those we expect to be our rivals next season.As well as a significant amount of experience, he has youth and hunger on his side. He has been a driver hungry for the right opportunity to help build a team and we are that team. Its a perfect match.Esteban OconOcon still seems like a fairly long shot. A highly-rated Mercedes junior with a newly-signed contract with Force India, an upgrade to the world champions is not beyond the realms of possibility, though Wolff may be wary of promoting the Frenchman too early. Since Rosbergs announcement there has been almost nothing linking Ocon to the vacant seat, meaning he looks likely to start his first full F1 season as a Force India driver next year.Carlos SainzSainz is an interesting candidate. A hot commodity after a stellar season with Toro Rosso, Sainz seems to be caught in limbo at Red Bulls junior team -- good enough to earn promotion to the main outfit but blocked by arguably the strongest pairing on the grid, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Red Bull fought hard to keep him signed to the programme this year when Renault came sniffing but it might be a different story with Mercedes. As with Ocon, Sainzs name has barely been mentioned in the days since Rosbergs announcement so he is still a massive outsider.Any move for Sainz would require Red Bull agreeing to release him from his Toro Rosso deal -- something Christian Horner emphatically stated the team would not do.?Horner told the BBC: Why would we do that [let him go to Mercedes]? Carlos has done a great job. He is a Red Bull driver.We have invested in him to get him into F1 and they are all on long-term contracts so it wouldnt make any sense to feed one of your main opponents with one of your assets. 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