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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Haven Denney, Brandon Frazier win U.S. pairs title after year off

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KANSAS CITY — Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier returned from a year off to win their first U.S. pairs title on Saturday, despite an error-prone free skate and against a field lacking any previous U.S. champion teams.

Denney and Frazier jumped from second after the short program to total 188.32 points and win by 2.04 over Sochi Olympian Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran. Denney and Frazier’s total score was 23.33 points fewer than last year’s winning score.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, who led by 3.96 after the short program, had a strong free skate going until a fall on their throw triple Lutz and finished third Saturday.

Full results are here.

Denney and Frazier were the top U.S. pair in the fall international season by 16 points, taking a silver medal at Skate America.

But Denney struggled on landings in the short program, her right leg wrapped after blowing out her right knee in spring 2015 that caused them to miss the entire 2015-16 season. They also had multiple jumping errors in their free skate, but, unlike the rest of the top five, stayed on their feet Saturday.

“We’re trying harder elements, harder jumps, bigger throws, bigger twists,” Frazier said. “What you see is a couple of ups and downs. This is all building for the next season.”

The U.S. will send two pairs to the world championships in Helsinki in two months, but not definitively the top two finishers from Saturday. The world championships pairs teams will be named Sunday.

Denney and Frazier finished 12th at the 2015 Worlds, after placing second at that year’s U.S. Championships. Castelli and Tran, in their second year as a pair, have no worlds experience together and are ineligible for the 2018 Olympics. Tran, born in Canada, is not a U.S. citizen.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. pair to earn an Olympic or world medal was Kyoka Ina and John Zimmerman at the 2002 Worlds. Eight different pairs have won the last nine U.S. titles.

In 2016, the U.S. pairs finished ninth and 13th at worlds, but both of those teams are out due to injuries.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, the top U.S. pair in international competition in recent seasons, has been out of competition all season due to her September stomach surgery. They have returned to full training.

The Knierims filed a petition to be named to the world championships team, which is selected on a discretionary basis on results from the U.S. Championships and other recent competitions.

“Whatever they decide,” Tran said of a U.S. Figure Skating selection committee, “we’re all for that.”

The 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea withdrew before the free skate Saturday after Kayne suffered a concussion in a short-program fall. They placed fifth in the short program.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Pairs
GOLD: Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier — 188.32
SILVER: Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran — 186.28
BRONZE: Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 184.41

4. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 173.50
5. Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan — 168.90

Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

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Tara Lipinski says she can remember everything about the 1997 U.S. Championships, when she became the youngest national champion at age 14.

The victory 20 years ago helped catapult her to become the youngest individual Winter Olympic champion of all time a year later.

“It changed my life in that moment [in 1997],” said Lipinski, now an NBC Olympics analyst. “That was when you talk about peaking at the right time. I knew when I stepped off the ice as a national champion, I can be Olympic champion.”

In 1996, Lipinski finished third at age 13 at the U.S. Championships behind Michelle Kwan, who won the first of her nine U.S. titles. Lipinski then struggled at the world championships, taking 15th, while Kwan won.

So Lipinski was certainly not the favorite going into the 1997 U.S. Championships in Nashville.

But she delivered an unforgettable performance, landing seven triple jumps in her free skate, including the first triple loop-triple loop combination, to surpass the short program leader Kwan, who fell twice in her free skate.

“I always got very nervous,” Lipinski said. “Now to be a broadcaster on live television, I always wonder, why do I pick these professions where there’s a lot of pressure? It’s because I love it, and I thrive under it. Looking back then, it was interesting to look back and remember how nervous I was and then that relief and that pure joy. Then realizing what happened in the next year, and how I was able to get to the point that I did still gives me chills. I have to sort of pinch myself.”

For perspective on how long ago that victory was, check out this story from the Chicago Tribune:

Within an hour of Tara Lipinski’s victory at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Saturday night, a “media alert” was on the information table in the press room at the Nashville Arena to announce Lipinski’s site on the Internet.

“Visit America’s hottest sensation at `www.TaraLipinski.com’ ” said the press release from the skater’s agency, Edge Marketing. “Visitors can dive inside Tara’s life by checking out her biography, famiily life stories and other fun facts about Tara (i.e., which of Tara’s talents might pose a threat to Martha Stewart?).”

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