Analyzing the U.S. gymnastics men’s World Championships team

Sam Mikulak, John Orozco, Jacob Dalton
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PITTSBURGH — The U.S. gymnastics roster for the World Championships includes four of the five men from the 2012 U.S. Olympic team who will be looking to make up for London disappointment.

Olympians Sam MikulakJohn OrozcoJacob Dalton and Danell Leyva were chosen for the team after the P&G Championships finished Sunday. The team also includes two-time World Championships veteran Alex Naddour and a rookie, Donnell Whittenburg.

The most notable omission was Jonathan Horton, a two-time 2008 Olympic medalist who came back from injury to compete for the first time since the London Olympics at the P&G Championships. Horton, 28 with a wife and baby boy, admitted he wasn’t at full strength this week, finishing eighth in the all-around, and made the Pan American Championships team.

The chosen men will head to Nanning, China, in about five weeks for the first World Championships with a team event since the London Olympics. Remember, the U.S. went into London with medal hopes and finished a forgettable fifth.

This quintet will be underdogs to host China and Japan, the reigning Olympic and World gold and silver medalists.

But the Americans regained confidence at last year’s World Championships, where only individual medals were at stake. Four different U.S. men won medals on four different events. Only Japan won more medals.

The best U.S. gymnast, Sam Mikulak, was not one of the four medal winners at last year’s Worlds. He rallied to win his second straight P&G Championships all-around title Sunday.

Mikulak’s comeback: ‘This was his toughest climb’

Mikulak will take aim at an all-around medal in Nanning after a high bar error cost him a place on the podium in Antwerp last year. Japan’s Kohei Uchimura is the overwhelming favorite to win his fifth straight World all-around title (he’s already the only male or female gymnast to win four).

Here’s a look at the U.S. team and each gymnast’s credentials:

Sam Mikulak: 2012 Olympian, 2013 Worlds veteran. Mikulak is the two-time reigning U.S. all-around champion who finished sixth in the all-around at the 2013 World Championships. He also finished fifth on vault at the Olympics and fourth on high bar at the World Championships. He’ll be counted on in several events in the team final.

John Orozco: 2012 Olympian, 2011/2013 Worlds veteran. Orozco, the 2012 U.S. all-around champion, finished second to Mikulak this year. In 2011, he was second to Uchimura in Worlds all-around qualifying and finished fifth. He qualified fourth in London and finished eighth. Orozco is also the 2013 World bronze medalist on parallel bars and made the 2011 Worlds high bar final.

Jacob Dalton: 2012 Olympian, 2011/2013 Worlds veteran. Dalton was third in the P&G Championships all-around. In Nanning, he’ll be counted on to deliver a big score on floor exercise. He’s the reigning World silver medalist there and finished fifth at the Olympics.

Donnell Whittenburg: The 20-year-old from Baltimore is the only member of the team with no Worlds experience as well as the youngest. He was fourth in the all-around at the P&G Championships. He also won vault and placed second on still rings, so he could be a medal threat in both in Nanning. Whittenburg outscored Orozco and Leyva in the all-around at both the 2014 Winter Cup and National Qualifier in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Danell Leyva: 2012 Olympian, 2011 Worlds veteran. Leyva has the top international credentials on the team, but the last two years have been a struggle. He was questionable to make last year’s Worlds team, then was named but pulled out with a shoulder injury. Leyva won the 2011 U.S. all-around title and Olympic all-around bronze in 2012, as well as World gold on parallel bars in 2011. He was fifth in the all-around this week and is an asset on high bar and parallel bars when at his best.

Alex Naddour: 2011/2013 Worlds veteran. Naddour, second in the all-around at last year’s P&G Championships, was sixth this year. But he earned his spot on the team, as he has before, with his pommel horse routine. The U.S. is historically weak on the apparatus, but Naddour has finished first or second on pommel horse at the last four U.S. Championships.

Simone Biles awes judges, U.S. legend to repeat at P&G Championships

Katie Ledecky talks swimming legacy and life in Gainesville

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OlympicTalk recently caught up with Katie Ledecky to discuss life since moving from Stanford to Florida 15 months ago, her meticulous mindset, and the legacy she continues to build.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can also catch an encore presentation of Ledecky’s performance at the 2022 U.S. Open this Saturday at 4:30 pm ET on NBC.

What does a typical day look like for you Gainesville? Walk me through a full day starting from the minute your alarm clock goes off.

Ledecky: A typical day would be waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning and swimming from 6 to 8. Then I have weights from 8 to 9:15. I get breakfast, have lunch and then take a nap. Then I have practice again at 2 or 3 in the afternoon for another two hours.

Wow, that sounds incredibly busy! Have you had a chance to find any new favorite places to eat in Gainesville?

Ledecky: I’m still kind of finding my spots. There is a breakfast spot pretty close to campus that a lot of the swimmers like, so I go there quite a bit, but I’m still looking. I haven’t gone to very many places more than once.

What are you doing in your free time? Are you coaching?

Ledecky: Yes, I’m volunteering with the [University of Florida] team, but I think of myself more as a teammate. I have a lot of other things going on with sponsorships, but aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a piano and enjoy playing that!

How often do you get to see your family?

Ledecky: My parents, David and Mary, still live in the D.C. area, and then my brother, Michael, lives in New York, so I’m a lot closer to home [than at Stanford]. I see them around the holidays, and they come to a lot of my swim meets.

I know how much you love to stay academically engaged. Are you taking any classes at the University of Florida?

Ledecky: I’m not taking any classes right now. I’m taking a break, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can just in other areas, reading a lot and watching the news, following different things that I’m interested in. I think at some point, I’ll probably go to grad school, but I’m still figuring out what area that would be in right now.

There’s a quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I feel like that only scratches the surface of describing your work ethic and mindset. You demand excellence in every area of your life, not just from yourself, but from others around you. Can you talk about where that mindset comes from?

Ledecky: I’ve always had that kind of a mindset. I’m very driven, and I’m always setting new goals for myself no matter what I’ve achieved in the past. I’m always looking forward, I don’t take very many breaks, and so it’s always on to the next goal and making sure I’m doing the little things right and doing the things I need to do to reach my goals.

To be able to perform at the level that you do every single day takes a lot of mental toughness. What do Katie Ledecky’s inner thoughts look like? What do you tell yourself? Any affirmations? 

Ledecky: I try to stay positive no matter how well or how poorly a practice or a race is going. When I’m swimming, I give myself positive mental pep talks along the way throughout a race. I’ll say “keep it up,” “hold pace” or “hit this turn.”

I just want to read you a few tweets… 

You idolized Michael Phelps when you were younger, and now you’re that person for a lot of people. You’re the GOAT. You’re Katie Ledecky. Someone’s idol. What does that feel like?

Ledecky: It’s an honor to have young swimmers look up to me, and I don’t take that lightly. I try to be a good role model and reach out to young kids and sign autographs and take photos if people approach me at swim meets. I hope that there are some young swimmers out there that will grow up to be champions or maybe they’ll just continue to love the sport or find other things that they’re passionate about, but it’s an honor.

Have you had any memorable interactions with young swimmers?

Ledecky:  Yeah, actually the World Cup in Indianapolis [in November]. We were given those giant checks at the end of the meet that you really can’t travel with, so I was able to sign it and give it to one of the basket carriers at the meet. They were thrilled, and it was fun to be able to put a smile on their face.

Give me just one word to describe each of these milestones in your life, starting with the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky: The first. It was my first international competition and my first gold medal, so that’s the one that’ll probably be the most special for me forever.

OLY-2012-SWIM

2016 Rio Olympics.

Ledecky: Consistency. I was swimming in multiple events at the Olympics for the first time and I just got into a really good rhythm and felt so comfortable in the pool deck. So confident. That was just a very unique feeling.

Tokyo Games.

Ledecky: Tokyo was different with all the COVID protocols. Nobody in the stands. No family there. But it was a lot of fun still, so a lot of great memories with my teammates there.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your career? What do you want to be remembered for?

Ledecky: I’d like to be remembered as somebody that worked really hard and gave my best effort every time I got up on the blocks and represented Team USA. Hopefully, I can continue to inspire young kids to work hard in whatever it is that they are passionate about, whether that’s something academic, athletic, or something else. If you find something that you really love, you should go all in on it and try to be the best you can be at it.

You’ve achieved so much in life already personally and professionally, I just want to ask: Are you genuinely happy? Are you satisfied in this season of life right now?

Ledecky: Oh yeah, I’m very happy. I love the sport more and more every year. I get a little sad thinking about the day I will eventually retire–which isn’t anytime soon. I love the sport. I’m trying to just enjoy every day of training and racing and trying to be the best that I can be.

I say this all the time, I never imagined I would even make it to one Olympics and so to be training now to try to qualify for a fourth Olympics is it’s all just icing on the cake at this point and something that I truly enjoy. I enjoy doing it with my teammates, striving for similar goals, and getting to do it with really great people.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self — the little Palisades Porpoise?

Ledecky: I don’t have very many regrets or anything in my career, so I think I would just continue to tell myself to have fun and enjoy every moment. Maybe, write down a little bit more early on. I’ve done a better job of journaling and writing down different things so that I can remember them down the road, but I didn’t do as good of a job in 2012 and 2013.

Rapid-fire questions. Race day hype song? 

Ledecky: “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meet without … 

Ledecky: My suit, cap and goggles.

Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name?

Ledecky: I didn’t. I didn’t even have a cell phone until before the London Olympics. I think I actually borrowed my brother’s phone for that, and then we went out and bought an iPad so that I could FaceTime my family from London. I didn’t have an email account either until high school.

Your life is on the line. You need to sing one karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

Ledecky: Well, USA Swimming did carpool karaoke in 2016 before the Olympics. My car did “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is a great karaoke song because it’s like 10 minutes long so maybe I would choose that just as a fun memory. We also did “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2012. Those are two fun songs with some fond memories.

Post-workout meal?

Ledecky: After morning practice, eggs and toast or veggies and eggs. I love breakfast. I could eat breakfast food for all three meals and I’d be satisfied.

Cheat meal? 

Ledecky: Either pizza or a burger.

If you had to choose another Olympic sport to compete in what would it be and why? 

Ledecky: Probably hockey. I’m not good on skates, but it’s my favorite sport to watch.

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Marie-Philip Poulin is first female hockey player to win Canada Athlete of the Year

Marie-Philip Poulin
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Marie-Philip Poulin became the first female hockey player to win Canada’s Athlete of the Year after captaining the national team at the Winter Olympics and winning her third gold medal.

Poulin, 31, scored twice and assisted once in Canada’s 3-2 win over the U.S. in the Olympic final on Feb. 17. She has scored seven of Canada’s 10 goals over the last four Olympic finals dating to the 2010 Vancouver Games — all against the U.S.

Nine different male hockey players won Canada Athlete of the Year — now called the Northern Star Award — since its inception in 1936, led by Wayne Gretzky‘s four titles. Sidney Crosby won it in 2007 and 2009, and Carey Price was the most recent in 2015.

Poulin is the fifth consecutive Olympic champion to win the award in an Olympic year after bobsledder Kaillie Humphries in 2014, swimmer Penny Oleksiak in 2016, moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury in 2018 and decathlete Damian Warner in 2021.

Canada’s other gold medalists at February’s Olympics were snowboarder Max Parrot in slopestyle, plus teams in speed skating’s women’s team pursuit and short track’s men’s 5000m relay.

In men’s hockey, Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in leading the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy as the season’s best defenseman.

The Northern Star Award is annually decided by Canadian sports journalists.

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