U.S. men’s gymnastics team hits reset at P&G Championships

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The sprawling sleeve of tattoos running down Alex Naddour‘s left arm is unmissable. The American flag on the shoulder. The Olympic rings running down the inside of his forearm. They serve as a testament to the Olympic bronze medalist’s passion and his longevity.

Oh and if they happen to send a message to the sea of new faces the national team captain finds himself surrounded by these days, all the better.

At 26, Naddour admits he’s “kind of the old guy,” and he’s not wrong. The core of the 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams are hurt, retired or both. Jonathan Horton. Jake Dalton. Danell Leyva. John Orozco. Chris Brooks. All have moved on.

Four-time national champion Sam Mikulak is recovering from his second major Achilles injury. Donnell Whittenburg is searching to regain the form that made him an all-around finalist at the 2015 World Championships.

Naddour isn’t exactly healthy, either, just six months removed from an arm issue he suffered at a meet in February that will limit him to just pommel horse and rings when the P&G Championships begin on Thursday night.

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That’s fine. Naddour still has time. He’s well aware that he’s a bridge of sorts between the old generation and the next one.

“I want these guys to feel what we felt [when we came up],” Naddour said. “We looked up to those guys [before us] and hopefully these guys look up to me because I’m team captain. Hopefully they take what I have to say seriously and take my experience seriously to help them get ready for what they need to get ready for.”

Namely, returning the U.S. to international prominence. While the women’s program has become a podium-hogging machine over the last decade, the men have struggled with inconsistency. They finished fifth in the team finals in both 2012 and 2016.

Though there have been flashes of individual success — like Leyva’s bronze in the all-around in London and Naddour’s bronze on pommel horse in Rio — the Americans have been on a treadmill, one that cost national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika his job last fall.

Enter Brett McClure. The 2004 Olympic team silver medalist was appointed the “high performance director” in February and charged with providing a needed jolt. Consider the message received.

“He’s the type of person that’s not going to beat around the bush,” Whittenburg said. “If something is bothering him, he’s going to let you know straight up. If there’s a problem, how do we fix it? I feel like the last couple [Olympic cycles] I felt we were missing that stern leadership. Sometimes you can’t be the nice guy all the time.”

The men have borrowed a page from former women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi‘s playbook. Training camps are now treated more like competitions, with members of the national team and world championship teams flown in to watch. The goal is creating a more competitive environment.

“You’re saluting, and it’s like you’re at championships, so you have to do your best,” Naddour said. “It’s going to help the national team grow a lot quicker and adjust in those pressure situations.”

Good, because they’re coming. Even if Naddour, Mikulak and Whittenburg all make the world championships roster when it’s released after Saturday night’s competition, it leaves three spots for newcomers. No pressure or anything.

Yul Moldauer captured the AT&T American Cup in March, beating a field that included Olympic silver medalist Oleg Verniaiev. Akash Modi served as an alternate on the 2016 Olympic team and won the NCAA all-around title for Stanford this spring. Allan Bower and Eddie Penev are also in the mix.

The lights will come on. It’s time to get a gauge on how the strategic plan put in place after an underwhelming team performance in the Olympics is working.

“If the whole world watches this competition and is like, `we’ve got them,’ then boo us,” said Mikulak, who will compete on pommel horse and high bar. “The world doesn’t know what’s going on with USA Gymnastics until we show ourselves in this competition. I hope everyone competing has a good performance to show the world that we’re not as weak as we look to them.”

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MORE: Two-time U.S. Olympian retires from gymnastics

French skiers to start in Lake Louise after David Poisson’s death

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PARIS (AP) — The French skiing federation says its athletes will compete in Lake Louise at the first World Cup speed events of the Alpine season despite the death of David Poisson earlier this week.

The 35-year-old Poisson died on Monday in a crash while training at the Canadian resort of Nakiska, which staged Alpine skiing races of the 1988 Olympics.

The federation said in a statement Sunday that it has provided psychological support to all members of the French squad who were present in Nakiska when Poisson died, and that “all athletes decided to start the first speed World Cup of the season on Nov. 25-26 in Lake Louise, Canada.”

Poisson, who won the downhill bronze medal at the 2013 world championships, was training for the upcoming World Cup races in North America.

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John Shuster, 30 pounds lighter, rallies for 4th Olympic curling berth

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John Shuster is going to a fourth Olympics. It’s one more chance to prove Urban Dictionary wrong.

Shuster, 30 pounds lighter since his second straight Olympic failure in Sochi, led a team that beat Heath McCormick‘s squad at the U.S. Olympic Trials finals in Omaha on Saturday night.

Shuster, Tyler GeorgeMatt Hamilton and John Landsteiner lost the opener of a best-of-three finals series on Thursday.

They came back to deliver in a pair of must-win games, 9-4 on Friday night and 7-5 on Saturday, after spending each day at the Omaha Zoo.

The new-look Shuster — leaner and, at least this weekend, clutch — would astonish those who know him by scenes at the last two Olympics.

After taking bronze in 2006 as a role player, he led the last two U.S. Olympic teams to 2-7 records in 2010 and in 2014. Last place in Vancouver, where he was benched after an 0-4 start. Next to last place in Sochi.

After the last Olympics, the former bartender from Chisholm, Minn., was left off USA Curling’s 10-man high performance team.

He took it as motivation to get in shape.

Shuster, a father of a 2- and a 4-year-old who once said, “If I don’t have pizza three or four times a week, I’m not happy,” now totes meal replacement shakes. He’s starting to enjoy Olympic lifting.

Shuster, George, Hamilton and Landsteiner, all absent from that USA Curling high performance list, formed their own team. They became Team USA in their first season together and represented the Stars and Stripes at worlds in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Their results — fourth, third and fifth —  marked the best string of U.S. men’s or women’s finishes at that level in a decade.

Shuster is set to join Debbie McCormick as the only Americans to curl at four Olympics. The sport was part of the first Winter Games in 1924, then absent as a medal sport until 1998.

“I don’t think it’s about the four Olympics for me,” Shuster said on NBCSN. “What this is about — and what I’m about — is getting my teammates to now. I have two new Olympians on this team, and I know how special that is.”

George, the 35-year-old vice skip for Shuster, led a team that lost to Shuster in the 2010 Olympic Trials final. The liquor store manager from Duluth, Minn., is going to his first Winter Games.

As is the 28-year-old Hamilton, whose younger sister qualified for PyeongChang earlier Saturday.

Landsteiner, a 27-year-old corrosion engineer, played with Shuster since 2011, including in Sochi.

Alternate Joe Polo can go 12 years between Olympic appearances after taking bronze on that Torino team.

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MORE: U.S. Winter Olympic Trials broadcast schedule