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)

Will Fierce Five be back for Rio 2016? (video)

Tony Azevedo retires after 5 Olympics in water polo

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Tony Azevedo of the USA in action during the USA vs Italy Waterpolo group match at Julio de Lamare Aquatics Centre on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
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Tony Azevedo is ending one of the greatest water polo careers in U.S. history, retiring after a record five Olympics at age 35.

Azevedo, the first American to play in five Olympic water polo tournaments, said it was a tough decision but a necessary one to spend time with his family — wife Sara and two kids, according to the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram.

“The traveling and everything for them would be too much,” said Azevedo, who has a 3-year-old boy and a girl born after the Rio Olympics. “It’s time.”

Azevedo was a teenage prodigy dubbed the “Kobe Bryant of water polo.” A ball boy at the 1996 Olympics, Azevedo made a list of about 13 goals as a “slow, fat, chubby kid” who wanted to start on his high school team.

He reached all of those goals except for one — a gold medal. Azevedo made his Olympic debut out of high school in 2000 and then helped lead the U.S. to silver at Beijing 2008, his lone Olympic or world championships medal in 13 combined appearances. He led the U.S. in goals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

“If anyone asks, am I going to miss the swimming? No. Am I going to miss the games? No. Are you going to miss the Olympics? No,” Azevedo said. “I’m going to miss those days of grinding with your teammates.”

Azevedo was one of the top U.S. stories of the Rio Olympics, since he was born in the Brazilian city and lived there for 23 days before moving to Southern California. Azevedo, whose father was a Brazilian national team member, played for a Sao Paulo club team for much of the past Olympic cycle.

The U.S. went 2-3 in Rio, failing to advance out of group play.

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MORE: PyeongChang 2018 daily schedule highlights

Five takeaways from World Alpine Skiing Championships

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Five thoughts after an unpredictable world alpine skiing championships, looking ahead to the Olympics … 

1. Expect Mikaela Shiffrin to be busier in PyeongChang

Shiffrin chose not to enter the super-G or super combined in the first week at worlds, in order to maximize her medal potential in the giant slalom and slalom in the final weekend. It paid off with silver and gold medals.

It seems unlikely that Shiffrin adopts the same, two-race slate in PyeongChang. The 2018 Olympic schedule has the giant slalom and slalom in the first week, followed by the speed events of super-G, downhill and super combined.

Consider also Shiffrin’s mindset going into St. Moritz.

“Right now, I’m going with [only giant slalom and slalom] because I just don’t think that I have quite enough experience in speed [events] to be able to count on winning a medal in those events yet,” she said. “But by the time we go to South Korea next year, maybe I could. I might be in a position where I can at least be in contention for medals in giant slalom, slalom, combined, super-G and maybe even downhill, only because nobody’s ever skied on that track before.”

The women get their first look at the 2018 Olympic venue with World Cup races in two weeks, a downhill and super-G. Shiffrin said before worlds that she planned to travel to South Korea for training but to leave before the races start. She wanted to prioritize the following week’s World Cup giant slalom and slalom in Squaw Valley, Calif.

What’s for sure is we can learn plenty about Shiffrin’s Olympic potential in speed events this weekend. She’s set to race at the World Cup stop in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, which is made up of two combineds and a super-G.

If Shiffrin enters all three events, it will bring her career World Cup start total in downhill, super-G and combined up to 10 races. Her best finish in her first seven starts was fourth in a super-G last month.

“I have a lot of goals there,” Shiffrin said of speed events after bagging her third straight slalom world title Saturday. “Hopefully, some day, I’d like to win in super-G and downhill, but I think it’ll take some time before I can do that consistently. It’s definitely a long road from here. I still feel like I just started.”

2. Lindsey Vonn must heal

Vonn made it clear at worlds that she wasn’t 100 percent recovered from breaking her right upper arm in a Nov. 10 training crash. Her right hand movement was so limited that she couldn’t put her hair in a ponytail, let alone comfortably grip a ski pole at 75 miles per hour.

After skiing out of the opening super-G, troubled by that hand, she duct-taped her glove to her ski pole, placed fifth in the super combined and third in the downhill. She said the bronze medal felt like gold given her latest injury comeback.

Vonn became the oldest woman to earn a world championships medal. In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest woman to earn an Olympic Alpine medal.

Vonn’s biggest hurdle is her own health. A smooth finish to the season, regardless of wins, and a normal offseason is key.

“I want to be in a position at the Olympics where I’m at my top form not just struggling to kind of make it back into the mix,” Vonn said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s a different ballgame when I’m prepared.”

3. U.S. lacks young stars

Worlds went about to form for the entire U.S. team. Shiffrin and Vonn were the only medalists. No man placed in the top 10 for the first time since 1997.

Injuries and, especially, aging are the concerns.

Four-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso, out since November 2015 hip surgery, was on the team but didn’t enter any events. The top U.S. men on the World Cup in recent seasons, Ted Ligety and Steven Nyman, went out with season-ending injuries in January. Bode Miller, who has trained but not raced this season, was in the NBC Sports commentary booth.

All of them are 32 years and older. Maybe some summon one last Olympic medal surge next year, but what about after that?

Shiffrin is the only American younger than age 28 who owns a World Cup victory. U.S. men earned Youth Olympic and junior worlds gold medals last year, but they look destined for 2022.

4. Marcel Hirscher approaches Austrian legends

Hirscher was the best skier in St. Moritz, despite reportedly spending days in bed before his first race. He earned two golds and missed a third by .01 in the super combined.

Only Tony Sailer owns more individual world titles among Austrian men. Hirscher is en route to his sixth straight World Cup overall title this season, which no man from any country has accomplished.

He’s at 43 World Cup wins, 11 shy of the Austrian men’s mark held by Hermann Maier. At 27 years old, Hirscher ought to eclipse it.

But Hirscher’s résumé has a gaping hole — no Olympic gold medal. He was upset in the Sochi Olympic slalom by countryman Mario Matt. And there’s no certainty Hirscher will be a favorite in PyeongChang.

For years, he was the world’s second-best giant slalom skier behind the now-injured Ligety, who could reclaim the throne next season, though that is a tall order.

In slalom, young Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen has been neck and neck with Hirscher but had a poor worlds.

The super combined is the most unpredictable event, but even there Frenchman Alexis Pinturault has won six of the 11 World Cup races since 2013.

5. Surprises in St. Moritz

Most races provided surprise medalists.

In all five men’s events, either the gold or silver medalist had not won a World Cup race in at least two years (or, in three cases, never made a World Cup podium). Women’s medalists in downhill, super-G, giant slalom and the super combined had never won a World Cup race.

New names were going to emerge regardless, considering the list of recent stars not racing (retired Tina Maze, Ligety, Miller, Aksel Lund Svindal) and those who did compete but were slowed or forced out by injury (Vonn, Anna Veith, Gut).

More surprises could be in store in PyeongChang given, as Shiffrin said, it’s a new track for everybody.

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