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World Gymnastics Championships takeaways

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Three takeaways from the world gymnastics championships in Montreal …

1. Morgan Hurd jumbles U.S. women’s team picture

Hurd was fifth at the 2016 junior nationals and sixth at this year’s senior nationals. Now that the 16-year-old is world all-around champion, where will she stand domestically in 2018? 2020?

Remember, all the focus this year was on Olympic alternate Ragan Smith until Smith injured an ankle in warm-up for the all-around final and withdrew. Smith’s all-around score in qualifying (where she was second overall) would have won gold by seven tenths of a point.

Before worlds, she swept the AT&T American Cup and P&G Championships titles, both quite convincingly. Though Hurd did beat Smith in the U.S. selection camp’s closed-door competition in September to earn a place on the world team.

OK, so Hurd vs. Smith in 2018? It’s not looking that simple.

The second- and third-highest scorers at the P&G Championships came from the junior division. Maile O’Keefe and Emma Malabuyo both move up to senior next year.

As for 2020, Simone BilesAly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez have all said they hope to come back at some point in this Olympic cycle. Only Biles has returned to the gym, but no competition return dates have been set.

Team sizes will be cut from five to four for the Olympics (though two extra gymnasts can compete in individual events).

Also consider the high injury risk.

Chellsie Memmel (2005) and Bridget Sloan (2009) both won world titles the year after an Olympics and then struggled to stay healthy the rest of the quad. Memmel made the 2008 Olympic team, but only competed on uneven bars due to a broken ankle. Sloan withdrew from the 20102 Olympic Trials with an elbow injury.

Two others who won world all-around medals the year after the Olympics — Rebecca Bross (2009, silver) and Kyla Ross (2013, silver) — both did not make it back for the Games three years later.

So, Hurd has a long, tough road ahead for somebody who became the world’s best gymnast in her first year in the senior division.

2. U.S. men have one all-arounder; they need more

National champion Yul Moldauer did well for himself at his first worlds, finishing seventh in the all-around. He did so with a full point fewer in difficulty than anybody else in the top eight.

He’ll go back to Oklahoma for his junior season and presumably continue to improve, adding tougher skills to challenge the Chinese and Japanese.

If the U.S. men are to become Olympic team medal threats again, they need another all-arounder given the roster cut to four.

Will it be Sam Mikulak? The four-time U.S. champion has never been a bigger question mark since he burst onto the scene to make the 2012 Olympic team.

He looked just as promising as Moldauer in 2013, when Mikulak would have won a world all-around medal if not for falling on his last event, high bar. The last four years brought plenty of domestic success, but more Achilles tears (two) than individual international medals (zero).

Mikulak was put on the world team for high bar only and fell in qualifying. He said afterward he will go back to the all-around next year, but as he turns 25 years old, time is not on his side.

3. The international picture isn’t clear, either

The medalists at next year’s worlds in Doha could be very different.

Not only is the U.S. women’s program set for changes, but some of the world’s best gymnasts weren’t able to compete for medals in Montreal.

Romanian Larisa Iordache, a two-time world all-around medalist behind Biles, suffered an Achilles injury in qualifying. Russian Aliya Mustafina, all-around bronze medalist in Rio behind Biles and Raisman, took the year off due to pregnancy but is expected to return in 2018.

There is uncertainty at the top of men’s gymnastics for the first time in eight years.

Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, the world’s top all-arounder from 2009 through 2016, also bowed out in qualifying due to injury. Combine that with Uchimura’s close win in Rio — by .099 over Ukrainian Oleg Verniaiev — and he will have a little bit to prove in 2018.

New world champion Xiao Ruoteng of China is seven years younger than Uchimura, who at 28 is past peak age for an all-arounder. Uchimura may trim his focus from the all-around to one or two events ahead of the Tokyo Games.

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VIDEO: Simone Biles explains returning to the gym

New generation of male figure skaters owns spotlight at worlds; preview

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Nobody in the men’s field at figure skating worlds owns an Olympic or world title for the first time since 1985. This could lead to the best U.S. men’s results in years.

Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan combined to win every gold medal since 2011, but all of them ended their seasons at the Olympics.

This week in Milan, the four leading men, who just competed in their first Olympics, are all 20 years or younger. And that includes two Americans.

Nathan Chen can become the first world singles champion from the U.S. since Evan Lysacek in 2009. Chen and Vincent Zhou could be the first U.S. men to finish in the top five together since Lysacek and Johnny Weir in 2005. Chen, Zhou and Max Aaron could make up the best U.S. trio at a worlds in more than 20 years.

Start with Chen. The 18-year-old said he planned to compete this week regardless of what happened at the Olympics, but after his struggles in the team event and individual short programs, the quad master nailed his free skate, came home to California and said he took maybe one day off of training before this event.

Chen is one of three men in the gold-medal hunt, along with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China. While Chen largely struggled at the 2017 Worlds and in PyeongChang, Uno and Jin each made the podium at both events. And each can come close to or equal Chen in quad numbers.

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Zhou, 17, has a chance to become the youngest man to earn a world medal since Hanyu in 2012. Or the first man to win the world junior title one season and make the world senior podium the next since Yevgeny Plushenko in 1997-98.

Zhou is riding momentum. He struggled in the fall and entered nationals in January ranked fifth among Americans for the season. He placed third to make the Olympic team and then landed three clean quads in his Olympic free skate to jump from 12th to sixth.

“I did better there than a lot of people thought I would,” Zhou told NBC Sports research last week. “I knew I was capable of that all season.

“I want to reach my ultimate goal of being Olympic champion, and my best chance is in 2022 … because by 2026 I will probably be old and creaky with four prosthetic limbs.”

Aaron made it to Milan after Olympian Adam Rippon gave up his spot, and the top two alternates (Jason Brown and Ross Miner) both declined. Still, Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, is seeded seventh in the men’s field based on top scores this season.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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Carolina Kostner the sentimental favorite at figure skating worlds

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova is without question the favorite at this week’s world figure skating championships, especially after the sprightly Russian’s training partner and rival Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrew because of injury.

She won’t be the sentimental favorite, though.

That would be Carolina Kostner, the ageless Italian star who could be competing at worlds for the last time on home soil. The 2012 champion and six-time world medalist seemed to indicate that retirement could be looming after she finished fifth at the PyeongChang Games, where she was chosen to carry the Italian flag at the Closing Ceremony.

Kostner will have a huge home crowd behind her when the event begins Wednesday in Milan.

“Decisions like that should never be taken in a hot moment. It will come naturally,” said Kostner, who no longer can compete with the sport’s high-fliers when it comes to technical marks, but whose elegant artistry and presentation often make up the difference.

“She is an example of perseverance, of a long-lasting athlete,” Medvedeva said. “I have trouble imagining how someone can stay in that shape for a very long time. When you see people like Carolina, you understand that if she can do something, then that something is possible. If you love what you do, you put all of yourself into it, like Carolina Kostner.”

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When asked about retirement, Kostner brought up her cousin, Isolde Kostner, who won three Olympic Alpine skiing medals before deciding to step away from competition.

“She stopped skiing shortly before the (2006) Olympics in Italy,” Caroline Kostner said. “Many did not understand why she wouldn’t pull through because it was her home country, and she said, ‘You will feel strongly when it is time to stop.’ And I haven’t felt it yet.”

The biggest story at the world championships in an Olympic year tends to be who is missing rather than who shows up. The grind of competing for an entire season builds toward the quadrennial event, and athletes who medal or intend to retire rarely press on to worlds. Then there are the injuries, which accumulate during the year.

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