Kohei Uchimura
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Kohei Uchimura, Japan top China in World Gymnastics Championships qualifying

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GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — Japan sprinted to the front. China jogged into second.

Another showdown awaits. Just like always.

The Japanese men easily topped qualifying at the World Gymnastics Championships on Sunday, posting a score of 358.884 to finish well clear of their rivals as the two superpowers spent six rotations shadowing each other around the chilly SSE Hydro in what amounted to a dual meet.

An occasionally sloppy one at that.

Not even Japanese star Kohei Uchimura was immune to a rare slip. The reigning Olympic and five-time World champion tweaked his neck and shorted a tumbling run during his floor exercise. He smacked his thigh in frustration when he finished and rubbed his immaculately styled hair before making his way back to his teammates.

The greatest male gymnast of his generation recovered in time a steady set on pommel horse on his way to an all-around total of 90.564. Yet the graceful and understated 26-year-old didn’t stick around another Olympic cycle to chase individual glory. Beating China in a major international team competition is the thing that keeps him going, the lone hole in Uchimura’s peerless resume.

“I think we need strong guts to win the competition,” he said.

While Japan led all the way during its session, it won’t matter when the scores are reset for Wednesday’s final, giving the Chinese plenty of time to play Lucy to Japan’s Charlie Brown.

It happened in the 2014 final, when China trailed going into the final rotation only to nip the Japanese by a tenth of a point after Zhang Chenlong‘s dramatic performance on the high bar.

Maybe that’s why Zhang, the only holdover from his country’s gold medal-winning team at the 2012 Olympics, wasn’t exactly sweating a sluggish start inside a brisk arena that had Uchimura seeking the comfort of his white parka when given the chance.

“I don’t think (the mistakes) have any bearing on the finals,” Zhang said. “They are not any issue to worry about. They are exceptions, not problems.”

Particularly in a sport where China typically rules. The Chinese have won every major international competition over the last decade. Whether its qualifiers are good or bad, in the final China is the closest thing to a sure thing.

The Chinese’s afternoon began with a series of pommel horse routines that made it look more like they were riding a mechanical bull as they struggled to hold on. They settled down and recovered with a world-class parallel bars set, Zhang punctuating his 15.433 with a fist pump and You Hao following with a 15.7, the best score of the day.

Britain and Russia rounded out the top four. The U.S., the Netherlands and Romania scheduled to compete Monday, with the teams with the best eight scores earning an automatic spot in the 2016 Olympics.

The Games were hardly a given in Britain, which went a century between Olympic team medals until a stunning bronze in London three years ago. Now anything short of a trip to Rio de Janeiro next August and a run at the podium would have been a disappointment.

The Brits are almost certainly through even they — like just about everyone else — were iffy at times, particularly during a messy 20 minutes on high bar that forced them to get serious very quickly.

“You’re always nervous on your first piece, a different atmosphere and everything like that,” said Max Whitlock, the defending all-around silver medalist who narrowly made it this year’s all-around final after edging teammate Nile Wilson on a tiebreaker.

Britain came in a narrow fourth behind China, Japan and the U.S. at last year’s world competition, and that was without three-time Olympic medalist Louis Smith, who is back after a sabbatical to extend his run as one of the most elegant pommel horse specialists around.

“We wanted to just do our jobs today and let the judges take care of us,” Smith said. “We pretty much did that. We didn’t make many mistakes. We didn’t carry too many mistakes over.”

The only real drama during Britain’s session came in the race to see who would join teammate Daniel Purvis in the all-around final on Friday. The rules limit two final participants per country, forcing Whitlock and Wilson into a game of knockout.

Wilson seemed to deliver the final blow with an aggressively controlled parallel bar routine. The 19-year-old pounding his fist over his heart after sticking his landing while looking for his father in the stands. His 15.500 was spectacular but only good enough to move him into a tie with Whitlock, who received the second spot in the final through a tiebreaker that dropped the lowest score of each competitor.

Wilson shrugged off his disappointment, pointing to the pursuit of another team medal as the priority. There’s really only room for one spot on the podium China and Japan, who have finished either first or second in every world meet since 2007.

“All we need to do is to perform as normal, because there won’t be huge difference at the finals,” Zhang said. “It all comes down on how you complete the skills at the finals.”

MORE GYMNASTICS: Women’s team, all-around, event finals qualifiers

Olympian Tasha Schwikert says she is a Larry Nassar survivor, speaks out on Steve Penny

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Tasha Schwikert is at least the ninth Olympian to come forward as a Larry Nassar survivor.

“After months of grappling with the decision, I have decided to come forward as a victim of Larry Nassar,” was tweeted from the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Schwikert’s account. “I want to join my former teammates and fellow survivors to help enact REAL change at @USAGym and @TeamUSA. #MeToo.

“I refuse to remain a victim. It is time for @USAGym and @TeamUSA to come clean and be held accountable for the toxic environment that enabled Nassar’s abuse. Only then will we see REAL change.”

Schwikert, now 33, was the youngest woman on the 2000 Olympic team across all sports, the U.S. all-around champion in 2001 and 2002, the 2003 World champion team captain and an alternate for the 2004 Olympic team.

Schwikert also said that ex-USA Gymnastics president and CEO Steve Penny pressed her to publicly support USA Gymnastics at the height of the Nassar scandal, according to ABC’s “World News Tonight.”

Penny was arrested Wednesday and indicted on charges he tampered with evidence in the Nassar sexual-assault investigation and on Thursday banned for life from USA Gymnastics. Penny’s lawyers said he is “confident that when all the facts are known it will be shown that he did nothing criminal.”

“Steve had always manipulated all of us, really, but I felt indebted to him,” Schwikert said on ABC. “Him and USA Gymnastics made me feel like if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be the person or the athlete who I was.”

She is at least the second member of the Sydney 2000 team to come forward as a Nassar survivor, joining Jamie Dantzscher, the first Olympian to do so in February 2017.

USA Gymnastics posted a statement from Schwikert on social media the night Dantzscher’s first interview aired, saying, “As a member of the national team from 1999-2004, I firmly believe USA Gymnastics always had my health and well-being top of mind. The program provided me with the resources and experiences that helped me achieve my goals.”

Penny resigned a month later.

Seven of the eight members of the 2012 or 2016 Olympic women’s artistic gymnastics teams have also come forward — Simone BilesGabby Douglas, Aly RaismanMcKayla MaroneyJordyn WieberKyla Ross and Madison Kocian. As have world championships team members among the hundreds of girls and women who said Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment when he worked for Michigan State and USA Gymnastics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue can make it 10 straight at Skate America

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If Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue ever lacked motivation in the post-Olympic summer, they needed only scan their Montreal training ice.

They would spot France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, the only ice dancers from the Olympic podium who return this season. Papadakis and Cizeron relegated the Americans to silver at March’s world championships, one month after Hubbell and Donohue were fourth in PyeongChang (the French took silver). They have trained under the same coaches in Quebec for three years.

They would also see Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, the third- and fourth-place finishers from January’s U.S. Championships. Those couples moved to the Montreal group in the spring. They are Hubbell and Donohue’s top threats to repeat as national champions in Detroit in three months, given U.S. silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are also taking a break.

Practicing next to rivals is often shunned in sports. It has elevated ice dance the last several years.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White trained together in Michigan and split the Olympic gold and silver medals in 2010 and 2014.

When Virtue and Moir returned from a two-year break in 2016, they joined the Montreal group and went one-two with training partners Papadakis and Cizeron at every major competition through PyeongChang.

Hubbell and Donohue thrived last season, their third in Montreal, winning their first national title after six straight years of finishing third or fourth. They were in position for an Olympic medal, third after the short dance, but Donohue fell in the free dance (as he did at 2017 Worlds after they were third in the short).

Then at worlds in March, they delivered back-to-back podium-worthy performances on the global stage for the first time for that silver medal. They are the world No. 2 and the favorites at this weekend’s Skate America, with the French not in the field.

U.S. couples have won nine straight Skate Americas, more than the other three disciplines combined in the last decade.

MORE: Skate America TV/Stream Schedule

“Clearly this formula is working for them,” NBC Sports analyst and 2006 Olympic ice dance silver medalist Tanith White said. “It has proven to work for many of the greatest teams in ice dance over the last few decades. … I cannot see a drawback.”

Hubbell and Donohue (and Papadakis and Cizeron) appear to agree.

They joked back and forth at a press conference after worlds in March. Asked how they would spend the offseason, Cizeron looked straight at Hubbell and Donohue and said, jokingly, “Our goal is to get drunk together as many times as we can.”

“As much as our own personal accomplishment is pretty incredible, being on the podium with training mates and having, literally, everyone from our training center skate the best programs of their season, all at the same competition, was pretty incredible,” Donohue said last week.

Hubbell and Donohue should breeze through Skate America in Everett, Wash. Nobody else from the top nine in PyeongChang is in the field. They’re the favorites next week at Skate Canada, too.

The first real test will be at December’s Grand Prix Final, where Papadakis and Cizeron should join them. Hubbell and Donohue never outscored the French in nine head-to-head competitions and were more than 10 points adrift at worlds.

“The French, where they left off last season, I think that they are still in a category on their own based on the last time we saw those two teams go up against each other,” White said. 

Hubbell said the world silver medal showed that they had tackled their demons, fear and history of errors. If the next goal is gold, they must conquer a much more visible foe, one they see every day on the ice.

“The podium at worlds,” Hubbell said, “was the moment I was able to leave that season behind me and go into the future.”

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