Kaillie Humphries, Elana Meyers Taylor break gender barrier in bobsled World Cup

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Olympic gold and silver medalists Kaillie Humphries and Elana Meyers Taylor became the first women to drive four-man bobsleds in World Cup competition in Calgary on Saturday.

The Canadian Humphries and American Meyers Taylor piloted their sleds to 15th and 16th places, respectively, out of 17 total sleds at the 1988 Olympic venue.

“Everyone was so excited to see us race today and it really helped me realize the significance of the moment,” Meyers Taylor said, according to U.S. Bobsled. “There were some little girls at the track that were excited to watch women’s bobsled today, and hopefully what Kaillie and I are doing inspires them. I hope someday a woman racing in four-man isn’t news.”

Latvian Oskars Melbardis won in a two-run time of 1 minute, 47.84 seconds. The 14th-place Russian sled, just ahead of Humphries, was .96 behind. Humphries was 1.03 seconds behind. Meyers Taylor was 1.68 back.

The last-place sled, driven by Latvian Olympian Oskars Kibermanis, crashed in the first run, finished eight seconds slower than the field and did not start the second run.

World Cup four-man bobsled was made gender neutral beginning this season, a rule change that Humphries petitioned for before she won her second straight two-woman gold in Sochi in February.

Humphries and Meyers Taylor, friends who call their rivalry a “Battle Royale,” were driving with World Cup rookie crews in their nations’ No. 3 sleds.

Earlier Saturday, Meyers Taylor won the two-woman competition in Calgary. Humphries was third.

“It was more challenging than I expected to switch from a two-man sled to a four-man sled in one day, so I take it with a grain of salt and feel blessed to have the opportunity to be racing in both disciplines,” Meyers Taylor said. “It was fun, although I can’t say I’m too thrilled about my driving in the four-man sled.”

The bobsled World Cup continues in Altenberg, Germany, from Jan. 9-11. Meyers Taylor will not compete in four-man in Altenberg, according to U.S. Bobsled.

“I’m not sure why women racing four-man was ever a question,” said 2010 Olympic champion Steven Holcomb, who finished seventh Saturday. “Driving is a skill, it’s not gender biased. Elana and Kaillie did a great job today, and they proved women are capable of racing in four-man. Hopefully it increases interest.”

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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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