Yul Moldauer out to early lead at P&G Championships

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Yul Moldauer always believed the time would come when he would be part of the group at the forefront of the U.S. men’s gymnastics program.

The irony is now that the time has finally arrived, Moldauer spends copious amounts of energy focusing on not thinking about the stage or the stakes. Standing on the podium Thursday night during the opening round of the P&G Championships, Moldauer did his best to clear his mind.

So he did what a lot of 20-year-old guys do. He took deep breaths. And he thought about cars.

“Just to get my mind off (the meet) real quick,” Moldauer said. “Then, when my hand raises, I trust my training.”

It’s working. Moldauer put together six steady routines to open up a sizable gap over reigning NCAA all-around champion Akash Modi and give him some serious momentum in his attempt to lock down a spot on the world championships team this fall.

Moldauer, who won the 2016 NCAA all-around title at Oklahoma and the AT&T American Cup earlier this year, posted a score of 86.650, nearly two points clear of Modi at 84.7.

“I’m ready to be one of the bigger guys that the young guys look up to,” Moldauer said. “Knowing that worlds is on the line, it’s a big deal. But you don’t want to let that get to your nerves.”

Moldauer hardly looked nervous while tying for the highest score on parallel bars (14.7) and finishing in the top five on each of the other five events to create some breathing room between himself and the rest of a wide-open field heading into Saturday night’s final round.

“I know I can clean up some things,” Moldauer said. “It’s good knowing I didn’t get my perfect routines tonight so I can focus on what I need to fix going into Day 2.”

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Modi, an alternate on the 2016 Olympic team, was every bit Moldauer’s equal save for a skittish performance on pommel horse. Racing through his routine, Modi hopped off in the middle. He regrouped on rings, showing the kind of mental toughness that can be a valuable commodity in high-pressure situations.

“When I’m doing gymnastics, everything stops,” Modi said. “It doesn’t matter. I’m just doing what I’m doing. When I was doing my routine on rings, I wasn’t thinking about my horse routine.”

Allan Bower, a teammate of Moldauer’s at Oklahoma, is third. Donnell Whittenburg, an Olympic alternate last summer searching to regain the form that made him an all-around finalist at the 2015 World Championships, struggled on pommel horse but finished with a flourish. His 15 on still rings, his final event, was the best of the night and moved him into fourth.

The men’s program is in the midst of a generational shift as most of the group that served as the core of the 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams has moved on into retirement. Moldauer, Modi and Bower are in the group leading the next wave, though the veterans still hanging around are hardly done.

Alex Naddour, the Rio Olympic pommel horse bronze medalist, scored 15.3 on his signature event, the best score of the night on any apparatus. Even more impressive? His 14.75 on still rings, a number he put up despite skipping the event for four months to let a strained muscle near his right elbow heal.

Four-time national champion Sam Mikulak, limited to competing on pommel horse and high bar as he works his way back from a torn Achilles, pumped his fist after putting together a solid set on pommels, fueling his hope that he’ll be able to contribute at worlds in Montreal in October.

There is no team competition at worlds, only individual events, giving recently named high performance director Brett McClure and the rest of the selection committee plenty of options as it tries to put together the six-man group that will be announced by the end of the weekend.

Naddour said he’s already putting the puzzle pieces together for how a world championship team might shake out. He certainly looks like he fits. Modi and Moldauer almost certainly do too. McClure’s directness also helps eliminate any sort of gray areas.

“Brett has made it about the numbers,” Modi said. “It doesn’t matter what you do anywhere else, you have to get the numbers.”

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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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