Sam Mikulak

Sam Mikulak takes national gymnastics title; will Danell Leyva, John Orozco make worlds team?

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Sam Mikulak, Big 10 all-around champion, NCAA all-around champion, is now United States all-around champion. The University of Michigan star cruised at the U.S. gymnastics championship, winning the the two-day event comfortably Sunday.

Mikulak seemed on auto-pilot early, turning in near carbon copies of his dominating performances from Friday’s opening night at the XL Center. Mikulak, 20, led the entire way and only stumbled on his final event, falling twice on the pommel horse. He totaled 181.4 points, beating second-place Alex Naddour by 2.9 points (full results below).

“It was a little bit of nerves (on the pommel horse),” Mikulak said.

Mikulak is a lock to lead the World Championships team in Antwerp, Belgium, from Sept. 30-Oct. 6. USA Gymnastics is expected to name the squad of up to six men by the end of Monday.

“I definitely think people should start watching out for me,” Mikulak said, according to The Associated Press.

He’ll look to challenge Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, the three-time defending world all-around champion and 2012 Olympic champion.

The next seven men in the U.S. all-around standings, Naddour, Olympians Jake Dalton and John Orozco, Brandon Wynn, Steven Legendre, Olympic bronze medalist Danell Leyva and Paul Ruggeri are seemingly in the running for the remaining five spots.

Naddour, who just missed the 2012 Olympic team, proved to be the only confident pommel horse worker in the country, but he also showed up big in the all-around, hitting 11 of his 12 routines over two days. He actually outscored Mikulak (and everyone else) Sunday. This time when the team announcement is made, it’s doubtful the world “alternate” will be anywhere near his name.

Jake Dalton should also make plans for Belgium. He faltered on a few events through the two days but survived for third place after winning the American Cup in March. His case is boosted by his international experience from the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics.

Orozco left his struggles from night one in the chalk dust and with it put to rest lingering doubts about his return from a torn ACL and meniscus. Orozco was strong and steady from start to finish Sunday, including hitting pommel horse and parallel bars routines that could push him onto the worlds team.

Leyva’s struggles continued. He was shaky at best on pommel horse, fell on vault and had uncharacteristic form errors in his high bar routine. When it came down to his final event, parallel bars, where he holds the world title, Leyva needed to hit, or in all likelihood any shot at a place on the worlds team would be gone. He did and let out a big sigh of relief on the shoulder of his animated coach and stepfather, Yin Alvarez.

That sixth and final spot on the world team will likely be between Orozco and Leyva because Mikulak will be one of the two U.S. all-arounders in Antwerp and because of a trio of event specialists in the running for spots.

Wynn, who made the worlds team in 2010, appears to be living up to his potential, winning his signature event, still rings.

Also in contention is 2012 Olympic team alternate Steven Legendre, who topped the floor exercise standings.

Then there’s Ruggeri, a longtime national team member who won silver on floor and bronze on vault.

Back to Mikulak, who wore a camera during training to show just what it’s like competing on high bar.

Results

All-Around
1. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 181.400
2. Alexander Naddour, Queen Creek, Ariz., 178.500
3. Jake Dalton, Norman, Okla., 177.650
4. John Orozco, Colorado Springs, Colo., 177.050
5. Brandon Wynn, Columbus, Ohio, 175.250
6. Steven Legendre, Norman, Okla., 175.100
7. Danell Leyva, Homestead, Fla., 174.450
8. Akash Modi, Morganville, N.J., 173.450
8. Paul Ruggeri III, Manlius, N.Y., 173.450
10. Joshua Dixon, Colorado Springs, Colo., 172.950

Floor exercise
1. Steven Legendre, Norman, Okla., 31.600
2. Paul Ruggeri III, Manlius, N.Y., 31.450
3. Jake Dalton, Norman, Okla., 31.400
4. Stacey Ervin, Ann Arbor, Mich., 31.150
5. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 30.850

Pommel horse
1. Alexander Naddour, Queen Creek, Ariz., 31.050
2. Luke Stannard, Urbana, Ill., 30.300
3. Michael Newburger, Columbus, Ohio, 28.750
4. Chris Turner, Stanford, Calif., 28.450
5. Donothan Bailey, Berkeley, Calif., 28.400
5. Akash Modi, Morganville, N.J., 28.400

Still rings
1. Brandon Wynn, Columbus, Ohio, 31.500
2. Alexander Naddour, Queen Creek, Ariz., 30.800
3. Michael Squires, Edmond, Okla., 30.400
4. Jake Dalton, Norman, Okla., 30.150
5. Steven Lacombe, Sunnyvale, Calif., 30.050

Vault
1. Sean Senters, Stanford, Calif., 30.750
1. Eddie Penev, Penfield, N.Y., 30.750
3. Paul Ruggeri III, Manlius, N.Y., 30.550
4. Neal Courter, Baton Rouge, La., 30.500
5. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 30.350

Parallel bars
1. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 30.900
2. John Orozco, Colorado Springs, Colo., 30.100
3. Akash Modi, Morganville, N.J., 29.900
4. Brandon Wynn, Columbus, Ohio, 29.800
5. Stacey Ervin, Ann Arbor, Mich., 29.400
5. Danell Leyva, Homestead, Fla., 29.400

High bar
1. Sam Mikulak, Ann Arbor, Mich., 31.350
2. John Orozco, Colorado Springs, Colo., 31.300
3. Danell Leyva, Homestead, Fla., 30.900
4. Jake Dalton, Norman, Okla., 30.300
5. Brandon Wynn, Columbus, Ohio, 30.000

Men’s Senior National Team
Jake Dalton, Reno, Nev./Team Hilton HHonors (University of Oklahoma)
Stacey Ervin, Taylor, Mich./University of Michigan
Steven Legendre, Port Jefferson, N.Y./Team Hilton HHonors (Oklahoma)
Danell Leyva, Miami/Team Hilton HHonors (Universal Gymnastics)
Sam Mikulak, Newport Coast, Calif./University of Michigan
Alexander Naddour, Queen Creek, Ariz./Team Hilton HHonors (USA Youth Fitness Center)
John Orozco, Bronx, N.Y./Team Hilton HHonors (U.S. Olympic Training Center)
Eddie Penev, Penfield, N.Y./Team Hilton HHonors (Stanford University)
Paul Ruggeri, Manlius, N.Y./Team Hilton Honors (U.S. Gymnastics Developmental Center II)
Brandon Wynn, Voorhees, N.J./Team Hilton HHonors (Ohio State University)

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Several women’s players spurn worlds inquiry from USA Hockey

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As sports organizations and notable hockey figures express support of the U.S. women’s team, several players say they rejected overtures from USA Hockey to serve as replacements for the upcoming world championships.

Two players told The Associated Press on Friday that USA Hockey reached out to them to gauge their interest for the worlds, which begin next week in Plymouth, Michigan.

Brittany Ott, a goaltender for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League, and Annie Pankowski, a junior forward at the University of Wisconsin, said the email from USA Hockey was not an invitation but rather an inquiry about their availability.

“I responded to that email and I said I’m not willing,” Pankowski said.

A third player, goalie Lauren Dahm, told the AP on Saturday she also turned down an invitation. Dahm plays for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Boston Blades.

The U.S. team has said it plans to boycott the worlds over a wage dispute with USA Hockey, which confirmed Thursday it would begin reaching out to potential replacement players. Several players posted messages on social media saying they support the national team and would decline or have declined any outreach from USA Hockey.

“From a personal standpoint I have never been invited to a USA Hockey series or camp or anything like that and I would honestly love to be invited to something like that,” Ott said by phone. “However at the current time, this is a fight that I believe in and I’m definitely going to stand up and help fight as much as I can.”

Many players posted a version of a Jerry Rice quote on Twitter on Friday: “Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t. I said no to USAH & will not play in the 2017WC.” Not all players who tweeted that message were asked by USA Hockey if they could play.

On Saturday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith joined the chorus of support for the players, saying on Twitter the organization stands behind their pursuit of fairness and equality.

“These women understand inequality when they see it and are expressing their right to be treated fairly as athletes and workers,” Smith tweeted. “Of course, they have the NFLPA’s support in daring to withhold their services until a fair agreement is reached.”

Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol posted his support on Twitter, calling players competitors and role models.

On Friday, the NHL Players’ Association and Major League Baseball players posted messages of support. The NHLPA posted on Twitter that it supports players and panned USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements, adding that the decision “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

The MLBPA encouraged all female hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period. The sides met for 10-plus hours Monday, but players have called USA Hockey’s counterproposal “disappointing.”

USA Hockey said Thursday its priority was to have all the players selected for the national team on the ice March 31 when the tournament begins. But the organization added that it informed players’ representatives it would begin reaching out to potential replacements with the tournament coming up.

Star national team forward Hilary Knight said last week she wished USA Hockey luck putting together a suitable team of replacements to defend the gold medal because the player pool was united in the dispute. Ott and Pankowski said they had not heard from any players expressing a willingness to play in worlds.

“It’s a very unified front,” Ott said. “It’s a tight-knit community that we have in women’s hockey here. This is definitely a big opportunity for us to make a big change and have a big impact on our sport and have it grow. We’re all standing together.”

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World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.