Two prevailing storylines in World Gymnastics Championships men’s team final

Donnell Whittenburg
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Two questions hang over the World Gymnastics Championships men’s team final on Wednesday.

Can Japan end China’s dynasty?

How much will the loss of three Olympians impact the U.S.?

China has won six straight World Championships and the last two Olympics, its reign dating to 2006.

Japan finished second each time, but it appeared en route to gold at the 2014 Worlds in China until a clutch final high bar routine lifted the Chinese to the title by one tenth of a point. That marked the smallest margin of victory by a men’s or women’s team at an Olympics or Worlds since the sport threw out the perfect-10 scoring system a decade ago.

Japan’s confidence must be higher this week in Glasgow, Scotland, given it qualified first into the team final by 1.857 points over China.

However, if one adds up all the scores in qualifying by gymnasts who will contest the team final, China would beat Japan by .508.

Japan, led by five-time World all-around champion Kohei Uchimura, continues to look to preserve its heritage as the sport’s greatest dynastic nation.

Japan captured every Olympic and World title from 1960 through 1978, when Worlds were once every four years, but China is gaining.

Uchimura, arguably the greatest gymnast in history, has repeated that he values a team gold medal over an individual all-around title. He is going on all six events Wednesday, which he didn’t do in 2014.

The bronze-medal conversation usually starts with the U.S., but that isn’t the case this year. Great Britain and Russia easily topped the Americans in qualifying, to no surprise.

The U.S., which finished between third and fifth at every Olympics and Worlds since 2007, is without its three best gymnasts from 2014 — Olympians Sam MikulakJohn Orozco and Jacob Dalton — all injured.

The depleted Americans impressed some just by qualifying for this team final (and the Olympics) by finishing in the top eight in qualifying on Monday. They were fifth, led by Olympic all-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva, who also qualified fourth into Thursday’s individual all-around final.

Donnell Whittenburg, who was fourth in all-around qualifying in his Worlds debut in 2014 but tumbled to 17th in the final, will be the busiest U.S. man in the team final. The powerful Maryland native will compete on five of six events, looking to better his qualifying performance that was 4.5 points shy of his 2014 qualifying total.

MORE GYMNASTICS: World Championships broadcast schedule

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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