Sam Mikulak three-peats at P&G Championships on fall-filled day

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INDIANAPOLIS — Sam Mikulak spoke for the entire U.S. men’s gymnastics program shortly after clinching his third straight national all-around title Sunday afternoon.

“We’ve got things we can fix,” he said.

The Olympian Mikulak became the first man in 11 years to three-peat at the P&G Championships, but his winning margin of 4.35 points (a record under the nine-year-old scoring system) was more due to the struggles of others than his own execution over two days of competition.

The top five men in the all-around standings going into Sunday all crashed to the mat on high bar, Mikulak included.

There were more mishaps, particularly on the U.S.’ longtime Achilles’ heel event, pommel horse. From form breaks to messy dismounts to scary falls, such as 18-year-old Alec Yoder going head first to the floor.

“Every one of us made a stupid mistake,” said two-time Olympian Jonathan Horton, who dropped off high bar and pommel horse, from fourth to ninth place overall, and out of the World Championships team picture. “Cost me top three in the all-around.”

Mikulak and second-place Donnell Whittenburg clinched two spots on the six-man team for the World Championships. The other four men, including Olympic all-aroud bronze medalist Danell Leyva, were announced later Sunday.

The U.S. will be without Olympians John Orozco and Jacob Dalton at the World Championships. Orozco re-tore an Achilles in June and is out until 2016. Dalton withdrew before the P&G Championships with small shoulder labrum tear.

Orozco and Dalton finished second and third behind Mikulak at the 2014 P&G Championships.

Watch Mikulak’s routines: Parallel Bars | Still Rings

The U.S. earned bronze medals at the last two World Championships to include team competitions, in 2011 and 2014. In between, it finished fifth at the London Olympics after scoring the highest in qualifying.

What happened Sunday was eerily reminiscent of that Olympic team final, where the U.S. counted falls on pommel horse, floor exercise and vault.

“In the long scheme of things, it’s not this competition that really matters,” Mikulak said. “It’s a test event, would you say, for World Championships. We’ve got, I think, 10 weeks until Worlds.”

The Worlds team medal picture?

China and Japan took gold and silver, respectively, at every Olympics and World Championships since 2007. The U.S., if it corrects the slew of mistakes, appears to be fighting for bronze at best in Glasgow.

The favorite for bronze could very well be Worlds host Great Britain, which beat the U.S. for that medal at the Olympics and was fourth at the 2014 Worlds in Nanning, China.

The absences of Orozco and Dalton leave gaping holes. Nobody appeared ready to fill them on Sunday, but the difference at Worlds is that the six team members will only compete on their best events, rather than all six apparatuses as they did Sunday. Three men out of six perform per apparatus in the Worlds team final.

Mikulak remained optimistic as he sat in the shadow of the struggles, on the high bar podium shortly after the competition Sunday afternoon.

“The best part is that I think everyone can step up,” Mikulak said. “Maybe having some new variety in the mix from what we’re originally used to will be kind of a good thing. It could be some new spark that no one’s seen before.”

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Kyle Dake repeats as world wrestling champ; next challenge: Jordan Burroughs

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Kyle Dake recovered from an unspecified freak accident that required surgery, and not wrestling in a meet for eight months, to repeat as world champion at 79kg, a non-Olympic weight class, on Sunday.

The next six months will bring another challenge — beating Jordan Burroughs for an Olympic spot.

“Every year I have a goal of being the best guy in the world. Last year, I proved it. This year, I proved it,” Dake told Trackwrestling.com. “I’ve got my work cut out for me, coming up.”

Dake, a four-time NCAA champion at Cornell who considered quitting after finishing second at U.S. trials year after year, is now in his freestyle prime. He backed up going unscored on at worlds last year by beating his four opponents in Kazakhstan this week by a combined 27-4, capped by topping Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov 4-2 in a final rematch.

Kid Dynamite is unquestionably one of the world’s best pound-for-pound wrestlers.

That was not the case four years ago. Then, an internationally inexperienced Dake moved out of the 74kg division, and up to 86kg for the Olympic year, to avoid facing Burroughs because Burroughs had a bye into the Olympic trials final as the reigning world champion. Dake ended up losing the 86kg trials final to J’den Cox, who on Saturday repeated as world champion himself.

The four-year difference would seem to favor Dake over Burroughs at April’s trials, where Dake has a bye into the semifinals and Burroughs into the final.

Burroughs, at 31 years old, is on the back end of his career. He just missed the finals of back-to-back world championships for the first time, though he came back for bronze medals. Burroughs has made every U.S. world or Olympic team at 74kg dating to 2011 and earned a medal every time, save his tearful Rio Olympic exit.

Dake, reluctant four years ago to detail his decision to move out of 74kg, determined before this week’s worlds that he would choose 74kg over 86kg (where Cox likely waits again).

“74 seems like a good spot for me,” Dake told Trackwrestling last month.

The number of weight classes drops from 10 at worlds to six at the Olympics, ensuring that at least two of these Americans will not make the Tokyo team:

Burroughs — 5x Olympic/world champion
Dake — 2x world champion
David Taylor — 2018 World champion (missed 2019 while injured)
Cox — 2x world champion
Kyle Snyder — 2x Olympic/world champion

Later Sunday, Snyder rallied from being upset in the 97kg semifinals on Saturday to snag a bronze medal with a 5-0 win over Georgian Elizbar Odikadze. A potential third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev was the most anticipated match of the championships, but Snyder was beaten one match early by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov.

Sadulayev, meanwhile, blanked Sharifov 4-0 to complete a 30-3 romp through his four matches to repeat as world champ.

“The hardest part about it I would say is just the fact that I didn’t get to wrestle Sadulayev again,” said Snyder, a Rio Olympic champion and a 2015 and 2017 World champion who shared bus and elevator rides with Sadulayev on Saturday and Sunday. “I felt prepared for him.”

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MORE: Jordan Burroughs: Time is running out

Israel is first nation to qualify for 2020 Olympic baseball tournament

Margo Sugarman
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Israel’s baseball team, which captivated at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, is headed to its first Olympics next summer.

Israel won a joint European-African tournament to become the first nation to qualify for baseball’s return to the Games after the sport was voted off the program after Beijing 2008.

It joins host nation Japan. Four more countries will qualify — two at the global Premier12 in November, another from the Americas and one more from a last-chance qualifier next year.

Israel, ranked 19th in the world, advanced via its best opportunity in Italy this week. It upset the highest-ranked European nations — the Netherlands (No. 8) and host Italy (No. 16) — and wrapped it up with an 11-1 win over South Africa on Sunday.

Its run came two years after Israel, then ranked 41st, beat South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands and Cuba before bowing out of the World Baseball Classic. And one week after Israel finished fourth at the European Championship.

Israel’s roster at this week’s Olympic qualifier lacked many of the MLB veterans that it had at the World Baseball Classic. Israeli citizenship was not required at the WBC.

Its most recognizable player is Danny Valencia, an infielder who played parts of nine MLB seasons from 2010-18. Joey Wagman, its starting pitcher for its first and last games this week, plies his trade for the independent-league Milwaukee Milkmen.

MLB players are unlikely to feature at the Tokyo Games, but minor leaguers are expected to be eligible as in the past.

The rest of the Olympic field is likely to be nations from North America (such as the U.S., Cuba, Mexico or Canada) or Asia (South Korea, Chinese Taipei) or Australia.

Baseball will not be on the 2024 Olympic program but could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

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MORE: USA Baseball taps longtime catcher to be Olympic qualifying manager