Sam Mikulak, John Orozco, Jacob Dalton

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

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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.

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French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

Karolina Pliskova
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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

Nathan Chen
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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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