Danell Leyva
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Depleted U.S. men make World Gymnastics Championships final

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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

J’den Cox repeats as world wrestling champion; Kyle Snyder stunned

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If he wasn’t crowned already, it’s clear U.S. wrestling has a new king.

On a day when Rio Olympic champion Kyle Snyder was upset and London Olympic champ Jordan Burroughs rallied for another bronze medal, J’den Cox repeated as world champion in Kazakhstan.

Cox, the Rio Olympic 86kg bronze medalist, completed a perfect run through the 92kg division — not giving up a point in four matches — by dominating Iranian Alireza Karimi 4-0 in the final. He became the second U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in more than 30 years (joining Kyle Dake from last year).

“I don’t know why, but it feels like a ton better [than 2018],” said Cox, whose tattoos include one that reads in Latin, “If I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” “I made more sacrifices … I wanted to do it better.”

Earlier Saturday, Snyder was shocked by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov 5-2 in the 97kg semifinals, denying a third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Tank Abdulrashid Sadulayev. Sharifov, the 2012 Olympic 84kg champ, clinched his first world medal in eight years.

Snyder, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion at age 20, failed to make an Olympic or world final for the first time in his career. He will wrestle for bronze on Sunday, while Sharifov meets Sadulayev for gold.

Burroughs earned his seventh straight world championships medal and second straight bronze. Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, rebounded from losing to Russian Zaurbeck Sidakov on Friday with a 10-0 technical fall over Japanese Mao Okui.

Burroughs gave up a lead on Sidakov with 1.3 seconds left in the semifinals, a year after Sidakov overtook him as time expired in the quarterfinals.

“A lot of people in 2016 called me a quitter,” said Burroughs, who tearfully missed the medals in Rio, “and I think that after watching the amount of devastation and heartbreak that I’ve taken over the last two years and still being able to come back and take third place is a testament.”

Burroughs, 31, shares third with Adeline Gray on the U.S. list of career world wrestling championships medals, trailing only Bruce Baumgartner and Kristie Davis, who each earned nine.

Burroughs’ bronze ensured he gets a bye into the 74kg final of the Olympic trials in April. But this will be the first time he goes into an Olympic year as anything other than a reigning world champion.

“At this juncture of my career, I feel I’m running out of time,” said Burroughs, who next year will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. “That can be really scary.”

Dake marched to Sunday’s final in defense of his 2018 World title at 79kg (a non-Olympic weight) by going 23-4 over three matches. Dake, who at Cornell became the only wrestler to win NCAA titles at four weight classes or without a redshirt, gets Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov in the final, a rematch of the 2018 gold-medal match.

Next year, Dake must move up to 86kg, where Cox will likely reside, or down to 74kg, where Burroughs has won every U.S. Olympic or world trials dating to 2011. There’s also David Taylor to reckon with. Taylor won the 86kg world title last year but missed this season due to injury.

“We’ve got a guy at 79 kilos that’s going to win a world championship tomorrow,” Burroughs said, smiling, of Dake, “I’m hopefully going to be waiting for [Dake at Olympic trials], healthy and prepared.”

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MORE: World Wrestling Championships TV Schedule

Alexandra Trusova, 15, becomes first woman to land three quadruple jumps

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Alexandra Trusova established herself as the world’s leading female figure skater … in her first senior international competition.

Trusova, the 15-year-old, two-time world junior champion from Russia, became the first woman to land three quadruple jumps in one international competition program, posting the world’s highest free skate and total scores on the early season.

Trusova previously landed three quads in the free skate at the Russian Federation’s test skates in early September.

She opened Saturday’s free skate with a quadruple Lutz, a quadruple toe loop-triple toe combination and another quad toe to run away from Japanese Olympian Kaori Sakamoto by 44.27 points. Video is here.

She won a lower-level event in Slovakia with 238.69 points, which would have beaten Japan’s top skater, Rika Kihira, and Olympic bronze medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva by more than 14 points at an event last week in Canada. However, judging panels can be more or less forgiving from event to event.

Still, Trusova established herself as a force going into next month’s Grand Prix season. She will face Kihira and Medvedeva at Skate Canada the last week of October.

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MORE: 2019 Senior Grand Prix assignments