Depleted U.S. men make World Gymnastics Championships final

Danell Leyva
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GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — Alex Naddour watched his buddies labor through one skittish pommel horse routine after another, none with any particular degree of precision or artistry.

The good vibes surrounding the somewhat patchwork U.S. men’s gymnastics team were gone. The seemingly comfy spot in the team finals and the automatic spot in next summer’s Olympics suddenly didn’t quite feel so comfy.

Naddour, the rare American who seems to actually enjoy the 45 seconds of lactic acid torture that is the pommel horse, smiled. This is kind of his thing.

“Some guys when they feel the pressure, they get tight,” Naddour said. “For me, I look at each guy in the eyes and I tell myself I’m not going to mess up, I’m going to do it for all these guys right here.”

Sliding from one side of the horse to the other with a controlled flair rare for an American, Naddour calmly put together a routine that cemented a trip to Rio next August and allowed the U.S. men’s program to exhale.

The six-man group missing Olympic veterans Sam Mikulak, Jake Dalton and John Orozco finished qualifying in fifth place with a total of 350.322. The Americans will be joined in the finals and by Japan, China, Britain, Russia, Switzerland, Brazil and South Korea. 

The U.S. officially moved on after Naddour posted a passport-punching 15.266 on pommels, the final routine on the final rotation that capped an uneven but gritty performance.

“I love a good fight,” Chris Brooks said.

Good thing, because the U.S. was in one for much of the afternoon.

Rising star Donnell Whittenburg battled a cold and a series of wobbles, including a memorable brawl with the parallel bars where his massive arms nearly turned one of the poles into splinters as he tried to hold on. 

The resilient Brooks, added to the team when Mikulak sprained an ankle a few weeks ago, tried to ignore the searing pain in his left shoulder when not serving as the de facto cheerleader. 

Danell Leyva, a bronze medalist in the all-around at the 2012 Olympics, showed extended flashes of the brilliance that has appeared only occasionally since his triumph in London three years ago while earning a spot in the all-around final.

It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t always pretty. That can wait until Rio. This was about survival for a team minus some vital parts from the group that captured bronze at worlds a year ago. Yet the U.S. survived to remain firmly in the pack behind front-runners China and Japan.

The top of the podium is likely out of reach. That third step, however, remains in sight. Three days after a sloppy training session, one that included Paul Ruggeri laughing in frustration during his floor exercise, the U.S. regrouped. 

They’ve been doing this long enough to know the difference between a tough day and a bad one. It’s why national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika didn’t feel the need for a pep talk.

They do their best gymnastics when they’re not too tight,” Mazeika said. “I don’t micromanage that. I let them be themselves.”

The Americans looked loose, breezing through still rings and vault before things started to get shaky. 

Brooks’ bum shoulder kept him from making the lift he needed on parallel bars, and his 12.933 put the U.S. in the need of a big score to offset it.

Enter Leyva was the world champion in the event back in 2011, when he was a teenager. Not anymore. The 23-year-old remains a work in progress, but his athletically aggressive set produced a 15.633. 

Twenty minutes later Leyva was at it again, soaring over the high bar in what is the gymnastics version of the half-pipe, a series of turns and daring flips that seems to connect with Leyva’s inner showman. He drilled his landing and received a massive hug from stepfather and coach Yin Alvarez.

Leyva’s 15.566 was the highest of the meet and the highlight of an all-around total that put him fourth overall and placed him in the premier group with Japan’s incomparable Kohei Uchimura for the all-around finals on Friday.

It wasn’t the best and that’s what I needed,” Leyva said. “I need to have something to look forward to. I need to know I didn’t do my best.”

A sentiment echoed by the rest of a team that will have to find a way past Russia and the rapidly improving Brits if it wants to find its way onto the medal stand Wednesday. 

It’s telling that the group which has spoken incessantly about its depth since London needed it more than ever. The highest U.S. score on each event was spread among five different gymnasts, and Leyva, Naddour, Whittenburg, Brooks and Brandon Wynn all advanced to at least one event final.

The chase for individual glory can wait. For now they’ll settle for a mix of relief and guarded optimism.

“We did our job today, we’re going to Rio,” Whittenburg said. “But we still have more jobs ahead of us.”

MORE GYMNASTICS: World Championships broadcast schedule

Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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