Simone Biles

Five things we learned from U.S. gymnastics National Championships

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Overarching storylines now that the U.S. gymnastics championships are over …

1. The women’s team doesn’t have legitimate replacements for the Fierce Five yet.

Good news for any 2012 Olympians looking to get back into the mix … Team USA still needs you. McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross put on a show at nationals, claiming all of the event gold medals (Ross: balance beam, uneven bars; Maroney: vault, floor exercise).

The only newcomer who set herself apart was all-around champion Simone Biles. With only a handful of juniors from this year’s competition moving to the senior ranks in 2014, there’s plenty of room, and plenty of need for the Fierce Five to return. Judging by this weekend’s performances — the USA could really use a Gabby Douglas uneven bars routine right about now.

2. The American men have some serious depth.

The U.S. men are finally getting a break after cycles of rebuilding after Olympics. The combination of a young Olympic team in 2012 and a great mix of specialists provides a luxury of depth for the first time in many years. In the past the men’s team has leaned heavily on one or two stars (Paul and Morgan Hamm, Blaine Wilson), but the World Championships team this year could be entirely made of men with Olympic and/or worlds experience.

It’s so deep that the 2012 U.S. all-around champion, John Orozco, didn’t make the World Championships team outright; he’s an alternate who could replace the injured Danell Leyva. Things are looking up for a program that has much to prove after their poor showing in London.

3. USA Gymnastics delivered big time for their audience.

USA Gymnastics gets a round of applause for their digital and social media efforts, especially by former University of Michigan gymnast Scott Bregman, who has changed the game for the 50-year-old institution. Up until last year there were few options to see junior portions of competitions, or even day one preliminary competitions for the sport’s most die-hard fans.

USA Gymnastics live streamed all major events this season. They also live streamed podium training, previously only open to the media, and added athlete interviews and vintage full broadcasts of domestic competitions dating to 1980. USA Gymnastics uploaded a staggering 1,200 videos from the weekend’s National Championships, totaling more than 72 hours of coverage. Their YouTube views totaled nearly 1.4 million during the five-day competition. The most watched video? Maroney’s night two vault.

4. Reputation still counts.

Gymnastics remains, in part, a subjective sport. In past decades and even under today’s revised scoring system, gymnasts have relied on reputation to get the benefit of the doubt, whether it’s from the team selection committee or from the judges.

Maroney has set the precedent of near perfect scores on vault. While she was great at nationals, the judges awarded a 9.7 execution score for a vault that was clearly inferior to her Olympic team final stunner that earned a similar 9.733. The good news? If she sticks the Amanar at the World Championships, we could see the first perfect 10.0 at a worlds under the new scoring system.

5. Mykayla Skinner to Worlds?

Three of four women’s spots on the World Championships team are already locked up: Biles, Maroney and Ross. There’s only one spot left and no standout specialists to fill it. Martha Karolyi has thrown surprises in the past, so don’t count out Mykayla Skinner.

Skinner, 16, lacks the polish of her teammates, but she boasts some of the most mind-blowing gymnastics out there, including a double twisting double layout on floor that if performed at the World Championships would bare her name in the Code of Points. She didn’t hit in night one, but she stuck the double twisting double cold Saturday, finishing third on the event behind Maroney and Biles. She can further her cause at the selection camp next month.

Bonus: Bats love gymnastics, too

During the first night of men’s competition a large bat frantically flew around the heads of the audience and commentators in the XL Center (video here). Nastia Liukin muted her mic a few times during the broadcast out of fear of the shrieking as the winged mammal flew by. The bat even got it’s own Twitter account (@PGChampsBat). The arena said it died of “natural causes” before the next day.

Leyva pulls out of worlds; Orozco could replace him

Wrong anthem at medal ceremony leads winner to leave

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Belarus triple jumper Violetta Skvartsova smirked and eventually left the podium as the wrong anthem was played during her medal ceremony at the European U20 Track and Field Championships on Friday.

Skvartsova heard the Bosnian and Herzegovina anthem instead. Video is here.

Skvartosova said it was insulting, according to the Belarus track and field federation, which reported that organizers offered to hold the medal ceremony again.

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Katie Ledecky needs help to win 2 golds to open swimming worlds

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Katie Ledecky dominated to win her first gold of the world championships. She needed help for her second one.

Ledecky, possibly en route to a record-tying six gold medals at a single worlds, won the 400m freestyle in the second-fastest time in history in Budapest on Sunday.

An hour later, Ledecky swam the third leg of the U.S.’ 4x100m free relay that took gold by .29 over rival Australia. But Ledecky had the slowest split of the U.S. quartet by .67 (and 1.04 seconds slower than her split on the Rio Olympic silver-medal-winning team).

She needed help and got it from Mallory Comerford, who broke the American 100m free record leading off, and Kelsi Worrell and Olympic 100m free co-champion Simone Manuel. The U.S. women broke the American record in the event.

Five American records fell overall Sunday, including Caeleb Dressel breaking the men’s 100m free mark leading off the 4x100m free en route to gold (video here).

One world record came down, too. Sarah Sjostrom shattered the 100m free world record by .35 leading off the Swedish 4x100m free quartet that ultimately finished fifth.

WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Schedule/Results

Earlier, Ledecky clocked 3:58.34 in the 400m free to win by 3.2 seconds over countrywoman Leah Smith. China’s Li Bingjie earned the bronze. Ledecky holds the nine fastest times ever, including the world record of 3:56.46 from Rio.

“There’s no disappointment,” Ledecky said of missing her world record by 1.88 seconds. “It’s a world championship gold medal. There’s nothing to complain about there.”

Ledecky, the quadruple 2016 Olympic champion, won her third straight world title in the 400m free and is now up to 11 world titles overall. She has four more races this week and is favored for gold in all of them.

She can tie Missy Franklin‘s female record of six golds from the 2013 Worlds. Michael Phelps won seven golds at the 2007 Worlds.

In other races Sunday, China’s Sun Yang won his third straight world 400m freestyle title, whooping Australian rival and Rio gold medalist Mack Horton by 2.47 seconds (video here).

Sun, 25, bagged his eighth individual world title, trailing only Ryan Lochte (10) and Phelps (15) on the all-time list.

In semifinals, Sjostrom was the top qualifier into Monday’s 100m butterfly final. While Sjostrom is the heavy favorite, Worrell qualified third into the final as she seeks a first individual major international meet medal.

Kevin Cordes broke his month-old American record in the 100m breaststroke semifinals with a 58.64. Olympic champion Adam Peaty was the fastest qualifier into Monday’s final in 57.75, followed by Cordes and Olympic bronze medalist Cody Miller (59.08).

Dressel broke the American record in the 50m butterfly semifinals, a non-Olympic event. Dressel took .15 off the old record by clocking 22.76 as the fastest qualifier into Monday’s final.

Rio gold medalist Katinka Hosszu began her quest to a possible four individual world titles by topping the 200m individual medley semifinals. Americans Melanie Margalis and Madisyn Cox join her in Monday’s final.

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