Danell Leyva

What to watch at USA Gymnastics National Championships men’s competition

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HARTFORD, Conn. — The men’s gymnastics team that walked into the O2 Arena for the 2012 Olympics was arguably the best team the U.S. had fielded at a Games since 1984, the last time it had won gold. Expectations were high, and for the first time since ’84, a gold medal was a legitimate hope.

The U.S., atop the leaderboard after qualifying, stumbled to fifth in the team final.

There’s no way around it for Danell LeyvaJohn OrozcoJonathan HortonSam Mikulak and Jake Dalton. London was a disappointment. The U.S. men left with one medal overall, Leyva’s all-around bronze.

So it comes as no surprise that they’re all back for another Olympic cycle. Orozco, Leyva, Dalton and Mikulak are competing at the National Championships beginning Friday (8 p.m. Eastern time, NBC Sports Network and online here) and concluding Sunday (1 p.m. ET, NBC and online here).

Horton, 27, the only two-time Olympian from that group, is not ready to return competitively from shoulder surgery but is training for 2014.

Comebacks in gymnastics are not generally met with ease, but the men from 2012 have one major factor on their side: age. All but Horton are younger than 22, in a sport where men tend to peak in early-to-mid 20s.

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The Olympians are at nationals hoping to earn spots on the six-man squad for the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, Sept. 30-Oct. 6, where there will only be individual events, no team title.

Podium training for the men Wednesday was business as usual: camaraderie, high-flying skills and fresh Olympic rings tattoos. but there were also key takeaways, new gymnasts to watch and a preview of who will star this weekend.

This year has marked a breakout for Dalton, who took the American Cup title over Levya in March. He looked solid in training and ready to take aim at his first national all-around title. Barring major mistakes, it will be the others all chasing Dalton.

Levya and Orozco have been the most visible Americans the last few years, on and off the mats. Leyva, profiled by mainstream magazines such as GQ and Men’s Fitness is the 2011 U.S. champion with a trademark towel and boisterous stepfather. Orozco, the Bronx, N.Y., native who starred in the Gym Class Heroes music video for “The Fighter,” is the defending U.S. champion.

They’ve also got international clout with judges. Leyva is the reigning world champion on parallel bars, and Orozco was fifth in the all-around at the 2011 World Championships. Leyva is already looking ahead to Antwerp.

“I want to keep the p-bars title and win the all-around title and make finals on other events that people haven’t seen me make finals on before,” he said.

So far this year, things haven’t gone Leyva’s way. He wasn’t feeling well at the American Cup and finished sixth. He remains among the most talented, but podium training in Hartford wasn’t his best showing. Not surprising for the Cuban-born Floridian, who tends to bring it in high-pressure situations.

Orozco had his own frustrations since the Olympics and will not compete on all six events (no vault or floor exercise). After climbing back from a devastating Achilles injury to take the national title last year, he tore an ACL during the a post-Games tour. He’s once again on the comeback trail, but he doesn’t seem phased, nor is he worried about not being 100 percent.

“It’s a whole new competition and it’s a whole new year and my circumstances are a little different than usual, so I think that this championships will be really interesting,” he said. “So, I’m gonna take it slow and try to focus on the things that I can control.”

Sporting an American flag patterned knee brace, Orozco made it through training looking calm, unphased and on track to be at full strength soon. He’s not necessarily focused on the World Championships but the next three years leading to the Rio Games.

This could also prove to be a breakout year for Mikulak of the University of Michigan, the surprise member of the 2012 Olympic team. He turned in some seriously aggressive routines during training. When he landed his parallel bars routine with a gigantic stuck cold double pike dismount, you could hear his feet hitting the mat throughout the arena. He’s ready.

Keep an eye on Josh Dixon, 23, who boasts one of the highest start values on high bar, as well as clean lines and good form. He’s now more experienced after placing sixth in the event at Olympic trials.

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Eliud Kipchoge wins Berlin Marathon; no world record

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Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge won the Berlin Marathon but missed the world record by 35 seconds, slowed by rain and humidity.

The Kenyan clocked 2:03:32, just missing the three-year-old record of 2:02:57. Countryman Dennis Kimetto set that mark at the 2014 Berlin Marathon.

Kipchoge, who has won nine of his 10 career marathons, said Sunday marked the toughest conditions under which he has run 26.2 miles.

“My mind was to run at least a world record,” the 32-year-old said. “Next time. Tomorrow is a [new] day. … I still have a world record in my legs.”

The two other men chasing the record — Kenenisa Bekele and Wilson Kipsang — dropped out after 18 miles.

Instead, the runner-up was surprise Ethiopian Guye Adola, who ran the fastest debut marathon ever on a record-eligible course in an unofficial 2:03:46.

Adola stuck with Kipchoge until the last mile as both men trailed off Kimetto’s world-record pace.

Kenyan Gladys Cherono won the women’s race by 18 seconds in 2:00:23. It’s her second Berlin win in three years.

Many expected to see a men’s world record Sunday. Kipchoge, Bekele and Kipsang had all run within 16 seconds of the mark in the last two years but had never raced together in the German capital.

Berlin is the world’s fastest marathon. The men’s world record has been lowered six times since 2003, each time in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate.

Kipchoge was the pre-race favorite.

On May 6, he ran 2:00:25 in Nike’s staged sub-two-hour marathon attempt on an Italian Formula One track. It was contested under special conditions that made it ineligible for record purposes with pacers entering mid-race.

Kipchoge won Berlin in 2015 in 2:04:00 despite insoles flopping out the back of his shoes the last half of the race.

Bekele and Kipsang teased the world record in a memorable Berlin duel last year, with Bekele winning six seconds shy of it.

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MORE: Top Americans set for major marathon next month

Yuzuru Hanyu falters as Javier Fernández wins opener

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Even Yuzuru Hanyu can struggle in September.

The Olympic and world champion singled his first jump, doubled a few more and fell in the free skate of his opening event of the Olympic season on Saturday. Video is here.

He squandered an 11.52-point lead over two-time world champion Javier Fernández from Friday’s short program at the Autumn Classic in Montreal.

Hanyu ended up 10.83 points behind Fernández overall, even though the Spaniard also fell in his free skate.

Full scores are here.

It’s a familiar feeling for Hanyu, who saw Fernández pass him in the free skate at the 2015 and 2016 Worlds.

The Japanese megastar also been known to have clunker programs at fall events in past seasons. In every one of his senior seasons, Hanyu has been beaten in one of his first two competitions.

Hanyu came to Montreal with a sore knee, which reportedly led him to take the quadruple loop out of his repertoire for one weekend.

Still, Hanyu was marvelous in the short program. His score was the second-highest under the 13-year-old judging system.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November. The Autumn Classic is a lower-level event.

Hanyu, 22, next skates at the Rostelecom Cup in four weeks. He will face 18-year-old U.S. champion Nathan Chen, who beat Hanyu at the Four Continents Championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue in February.

The figure skating season continues next weekend with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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