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.

P&G CHAMPS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
TV Schedule | Final Five Updates

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

PyeongChang late night roundup

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It was a terrific ending for the Olympic curling tournament. The U.S. men’s team defied all odds by upsetting Sweden in the final 10-7. Buoyed by John Shuster’s double take out in the eighth end, the United States all but assured gold at 10-5 up.

On the night that the United States won its ninth gold medal during these Olympic Games, Finland won its first. Cross-country skier Livo Niskanen outpaced the rest of the 50 man field in the 17th kilometer. OAR skier Alexander Bolushnov gave him a fight in the final kilometers, but he too was eventually left behind.


Curling: USA wins first-ever curling gold 

The USA men’s curling team’s improbable Olympic run has concluded in glory. John Shuster’s squad looked like they were in control from the very onset of the match, forcing Sweden to make errors. The highlight of the match: Shuster’s final stone in the eighth end to put the USA well out of reach with a 10-5 lead.

The United States started competition 2-4 and looked well out of contention to make the playoffs, but an incredible run of three wins saw them get into the playoffs on the final day.

Recap: USA men’s curling wins Olympic gold 

The USA weren’t the only surprise medal winners today. Japan won the country’s first-ever Olympic medal after defeating Great Britain.

It all came down to two steals from Japan in the final two ends, with Briton skip Eve Muirhead missing her final stone to give the victory to Japan.

Men’s Tournamenet

USA def. SWE 10-7

Women’s Tournament

JPN def. GBR 5-3

Cross-Country: Niskanen wins men’s 50km 

Finnish skier Livo Niskanen’s pace was too much for nearly the entire field on Friday night. The Finn broke from the pack, along with Alexey Poltoranen, in the 17th kilometer and continued to stay out front. After Poltoranen ran out of gas, it was OAR athlete Alexander Bolushnov who erased a 30 second gap to challenge the Finn.

It wasn’t until the last kilometre that a seemingly-fatigued Niskanen made his final move to brush of Bolushnov to cross the finish line.

It was a very disappointing day for the Norwegians, who’ve dominated the sport this year. Not one Norwegian landed on the podium, including gold medal favorite Martin Sundsby.

Full men’s 50km recap available here 

Speed Skating: Takagi, Lee win inaugural mass start 

Making its Olympic debut, the speed skating mass start proved to be an erratic event as several skaters collided and crashed out of the competition.

The final race is simple: first three skaters to cross the finish line win the medals.

Estonia’s Saskia Alusalu made the initial burst of energy in the race, but was caught up to in the final three laps. The women’s champion was decided by a final sprint, when Japan’s Nana Takagi beat world champion Kim Bo-Reum and Irene Schouten.

Women’s mass start recap available here 

Lee Song-Hoon won the men’s tournament, ensuring that the speed skating program would not have as sour an ending as the short track. Unlike the women’s race, the men’s skaters stuck together as a train for most of the race until the final three laps.

In the end, Lee came in with too much speed to be overtaken by any of the chasing competitors.

Men’s mass start recap available here 

USA wins gold in men’s curling

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For the first time in history, the United States won the Olympic gold medal in curling.

A week ago, it didn’t seem like that would happen. Sitting at 2-4 and with a game against behemoth Canada coming up, John Shuster captained the United States to three consecutive wins (over Canada, Switzerland, and Great Britain) to squeak into the semifinals. From there, they took down Great Britain before completing the run against Sweden in the gold medal game.

Tied at 5-5 in the eighth end, Shuster was able to hit both of Sweden’s rocks out of the house, giving the United States an incredible five points and a 10-5 lead heading into the ninth.

NBCOlympics.com: Watch: Team USA scores five points in eighth end

After that, it was all about protecting the lead. Just a few minutes later Swedish skip Niklas Edin conceded the game, and it was the United States standing on top of the podium for the first time ever in the sport of curling.

Click here to read the full recap from the gold medal game