Sam Mikulak halfway to record romp at P&G Championships; Worlds team unclear

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INDIANAPOLIS — Sam Mikulak is clearly the best U.S. men’s gymnast for a third straight year. What’s left to be decided at the P&G Championships is which five men will join him on the World Championships team.

Mikulak, a 2012 Olympian, leads the P&G Championships all-around by a comfortable 2.35 points after six of 12 routines (full results here). He scored 92 points Friday night at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, bettering his first-day score from his 2013 and 2014 title runs.

“I would’ve liked a little more stuck landings, put the icing on the cake,” said Mikulak, whose only major error was putting his hands down on a faulty floor exercise tumbling pass. He could break the record for margin of victory — 3.4 points — under the Code of Points implemented in 2006 with a strong showing Sunday (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra, 3-4:30 p.m. ET).

Mikulak, who trailed by the same 2.35 points after the opening night last year, nailed his first five routines Friday, including a meet-record 16.25 on parallel bars. He’s en route to becoming the first man to win three straight U.S. all-around titles since Paul Hamm from 2002-04.

That Mikulak’s best score was on bars is notable because it was his lowest-scoring event at both the 2014 P&G Championships and the 2014 World Championships all-around. He scored in the 13s at those meets. He called the look of his new routine, which can be seen here, more international, polished and detail-oriented.

“It’s showing a level of professionalism,” said Mikulak, who was 12th in the all-around at the 2014 Worlds and is still looking for his first individual Olympic or Worlds medal. “I’m not just doing the skills; I’m showing off the skills to you. You want to make it look easy. That’s what gymnastics is all about.”

Mikulak’s coming from a different place as a professional gymnast. He stuffed his belongings in his car May 15 and drove from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Colorado Springs, Colo., moving into the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Mikulak, 22, won three NCAA all-around titles at Michigan, the first in 2011, but he had exhausted NCAA eligibility.

“I kind of needed to be training with guys who had a similar goal that wasn’t NCAA Championships,” he said.

The goal for everyone chasing Mikulak in the all-around standings is the same going into Sunday. Not so much to catch Mikulak, which may be impossible, but to impress a World Championships selection committee.

The six-man team for the World Championships, plus two replacement athletes, will be named within 24 hours of the meet ending and likely on Sunday night.

The biggest factor in deciding the roster will be maximizing the team final score at Worlds (three men on each apparatus for 18 total routines), U.S. national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika said after Friday’s competition. The U.S. men won team bronze medals at the last two Worlds in 2011 and 2014, behind China and Japan.

The top Worlds team contenders are Donnell Whittenburg, who is second to Mikulak at the halfway point and made last year’s Worlds team, and third-place Paul Ruggeri III. The tattooed Ruggeri has never made a Worlds or Olympic team, but he has been a Worlds alternate three times.

Then there’s Olympian Jacob Dalton, who made the last three Worlds teams. Dalton pulled out of the P&G Championships earlier Friday with a small labrum tear in a shoulder and said he planned to petition for a spot on the Worlds team.

Mazeika made no guarantees that Dalton would be chosen, even though Dalton could be picked and later withdraw if his injury isn’t healed by Worlds in the last week of October.

Perhaps even more intriguing is the case of two-time Olympian Jonathan Horton, who at 29 hopes to become the oldest man to make a U.S. Olympic or Worlds team since Blaine Wilson at the Athens 2004 Games.

Horton is in fourth place in the all-around despite a disastrous vault where momentum on his landing carried him past two mats, off the elevated competition floor and nearly into a camera stand (video here). He scored 14.0.

“I don’t know where I stand in the eyes of a lot of people at the moment,” said Horton, whose last global meet was the 2012 Olympics, two major surgeries ago. “I feel like I’ve kind of got a chip on my shoulder and a lot to prove. … I feel like I am close to being back in my old form. … I have a little bit of confidence [to make the Worlds team], not quite sure.”

Olympic all-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva is in fifth place, followed by past Worlds team members Chris Brooks (sixth), Brandon Wynn (seventh), Alex Naddour (eighth) and Steven Legendre (10th). All erred on at least one apparatus Friday, counting scores in the 13s.

Key will be filling spots on potential weak events at Worlds. Pommel horse has long been a struggle for the Americans, and the leader in that event after the first night is Alec Yoder, the 18-year-old Youth Olympic all-around bronze medalist.

But Yoder is 20th in the all-around standings, just adding to the dilemma facing the Worlds team selectors.

The P&G Championships continue Saturday with the final night of women’s competition (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra, 8-10 p.m. ET). Simone Biles leads by 1.4 points with Olympic champions Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman in third and fourth place, respectively.

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Tokyo Paralympic triathlon test event cancels swim due to water bacteria

AP
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TOKYO (AP) — High levels of bacteria forced the swimming portion of a triathlon test event for the Tokyo Paralympics to be canceled Saturday.

It’s the second setback in the triathlon for organizers of next year’s Olympics and Paralympics. An Olympic triathlon running event was shortened from 10km to 5km on Thursday because of what the International Triathlon Union (ITU) called “extreme levels” of heat.

Tokyo’s hot and humid summers are a major worry for Olympic organizers. The water issues are a reminder of the Rio Games, when high bacteria and virus levels were found in waters for sailing, rowing and open-water swimming.

In a statement, the ITU said E-coli levels were “more than two times over the ITU limits.” It said the water was at Level 4, the highest risk level.

E-coli bacteria, which normally live in the intestines of animals and people, can produce intestinal pain, diarrhea and a fever.

The venue in Tokyo Bay, called Odaiba, has been a concern for organizers, who have experimented with different measures to clean the water in the area, located in an urban part of central Tokyo.

The ITU is scheduled to hold it final test event on Sunday “depending on the latest water quality tests”, it said in a statement.

A few days ago the ITU described water quality conditions at the venue as “very good.” However, swimmers at a recent distance swimming event at the same venue complained of foul-smelling water.

The water temperature at the venue on Saturday was 84 degrees Fahrenheit, with the air temperature hovering above 90.

Tokyo spokesman Masa Takaya said “we are set to conduct a comprehensive review with the international federation.”

He said a triple-layer underwater screen will be installed for next year’s Olympics, replacing a single-layer.

“Based on the results of multiple research in the past, we believe that the multiple layer screen will assure the successful delivery of the competitions,” he said.

Filthy water plagued the Rio Olympics. The South American city lacks a functioning sanitation system for much of its population. Open water there tested high for bacteria and viruses, which confronted athletes in rowing, sailing and triathlon.

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MORE: Double DQ caps bizarre Tokyo Olympic triathlon test event

Women’s hurdlers take center stage as Diamond League hits crunch time; how to watch

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A showdown between world record holder Kendra Harrison (U.S.), reigning Olympic champion Brianna McNeal (U.S.) and 2019 world leader Danielle Williams (Jamaica) in the women’s 100-meter hurdles is the marquee event of the Diamond League meet Sunday in Birmingham, England.

With the track and field world championships not starting this year until Sept. 28, the Diamond League gets an uninterrupted run to its season finales Aug. 29 in Zurich and Sept. 6 in Brussels. The 32 Diamond League events are split between the two finales, with a $50,000 prize awaiting the winner of each final.

The last two meets before those finales — Sunday’s meet and the Aug. 24 meet in Paris — are all about qualifying for a shot at those final jackpots.

Birmingham will be the last chance to win points in the men’s 400m, women’s long jump, women’s 1,500m/mile, men’s javelin, women’s 100m hurdles, men’s 100m and women’s 200m. It’s the second-to-last chance in the women’s discus, women’s pole vault, men’s 400m hurdles, men’s high jump, women’s 3000m steeplechase and women’s 800m.

NBC Sports Gold streams live and commercial-free on Sunday, starting with field events at 7:15 a.m. Eastern and track events kicking off at 9 a.m. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs coverage Monday at 4 p.m.

The women’s 100m hurdles also features two Americans who need points to reach the final — Nia Ali and Queen Claye.

Other American athletes aiming to improve solid chances of qualifying include Raevyn Rogers (women’s 800m), Jenn Suhr (women’s pole vault), Mike Rodgers (men’s 100m), Valarie Allman (women’s discus), Michael Cherry (men’s 400m), Kahmari Montgomery (men’s 400m), Vernon Norwood (men’s 400m), David Kendziera (men’s 400m hurdles), Jeron Robinson (men’s high jump) and Courtney Frerichs (women’s 3,000m steeplechase)

Americans who have already qualified in these events include Ajee Wilson (women’s 800m) and Brittney Reese (women’s long jump), both of whom will be competing in Birmingham,

U.S. qualifiers Jenna Prandini (women’s 200m), Emma Coburn (women’s 3,000m steeplechase) and Sandi Morris (women’s pole vault) will not be in Birmingham. Christian Coleman (100m) withdrew from the meet on Friday, spoiling a showdown with Canada’s Andre De Graase and leaving the potential qualification of Jamaica’s Yohan Blake as the most interesting question.

Americans who may qualify in absentia, pending other results, include Justin Gatlin (100m), Noah Lyles (100m), Jenny Simpson (1,500m), Rai Benjamin (400m hurdles), TJ Holmes (400m hurdles), Michael Norman (men’s 400m), Nathan Strother (men’s 400m) and Fred Kerley (men’s 400m).

In a non-Diamond League event, U.S. champion Craig Engels brings his famous mullet to Birmingham in the 1,500 meters.

Here are the Birmingham entry lists and the current Diamond League standings. The schedule (all times Eastern, x-event not counted toward Diamond League standings):

7:45 a.m. — Women’s Discus
8:02 a.m. — Women’s 100m Hurdles Heat A
8:07 a.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
8:14 a.m. — Women’s 100m Hurdles Heat B
8:26 a.m. — x-Men’s 110m Hurdles
8:46 a.m. — Men’s 100m Heat A
8:55 a.m. — Men’s 100m Heat B
9:03 a.m. — Men’s 400m
9:10 a.m. — Women’s Long Jump
9:13 a.m. — Men’s 400m Hurdles
9:19 a.m. — Men’s High Jump
9:23 a.m. — Women’s Mile
9:33 a.m. — x-Women’s 100m
9:38 a.m. — Men’s Javelin
9:43 a.m. — x-Men’s 1,500m
9:55 a.m. — Women’s 3,000m Steeplechase
10:12 a.m. — x-Men’s 800m
10:22 a.m. — Women’s 100m Hurdles Final
10:32 a.m. — Men’s 100m Final
10:41 a.m. — Women’s 800m
10:52 a.m. — Women’s 200m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 8:07 a.m.
Suhr has no Diamond League points but has the world lead at 4.91 meters. Perennial contenders Katerina Stefanidi (Greece) and Yarisley Silva (Cuba) are also competing.

Men’s 400m — 9:03 a.m.
No one has clinched qualification yet, but Cherry is set to compete in Birmingham and should get through. Americans have the top four spots in the standings — Norman, Cherry, Strother and Kerley.

Women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase — 9:55 a.m.
World record holder Beatrice Chepkoech and three fellow Kenyans who have all qualified alongside Coburn will have their eyes on records.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — 10:22 a.m. final; 8:02 a.m. heats
Most of the top 12 on the world list this year and most of the hurdles who have clinched spots in the final will be here, including Williams and the American trio of Harrison, Sharika Nelvis and Christina Clemons. McNeal, who will run in the world championships with Harrison and Ali, will not qualify.

Women’s 200m — 10:52 a.m.
Dutch sprinter Dafne Schippers, who’s aiming for her third straight world championship, has qualified but will race in Birmingham against equally accomplished sprinters Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bahamas), who has won the last two Diamond League titles at this distance and the 2016 Olympic 400-meter gold, and Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, whose list of international honors is lengthy.

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