Four-way tie for gold medal(s) at World Gymnastics Championships

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Four women tied for the gold medal(s) in the World Championships uneven bars final on Saturday.

American Madison Kocian, Russians Viktoria Komova and Daria Spiridonova and China’s Fan Yilin all scored 15.366 points in Glasgow, Scotland.

It’s the first four-way tie in Worlds or Olympics history, according to the International Gymnastics Federation. Ties are broken at the Olympics, but not in this case at the World Championships.

Organizers had gold medals for all four gymnasts. For the medal ceremony, three anthems were played with flags being held by officials rather than raised in the arena.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and I didn’t really think anything like this would even be possible,” Spiridonova said.

MORE: Komova apologizes to U.S. gymnasts for steroid comments

Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas was the next highest finisher in fifth place with a 15.133.

Kocian, 18 and at her second Worlds, boosted her hopes of making the 2016 U.S. Olympic team by excelling on the U.S. women’s weakest event. She said she debated after 2014 Worlds between going straight to college, usually signaling the end of elite gymnastics careers, or having wrist surgery. She chose the latter.

“I had so much pain,” Kocian said. “I could barely hold onto the bar. The medal now definitely lights extra fire in me to keep going.”

All-around gymnasts Simone Biles, Douglas, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman‘s performances at competitions throughout this season had already made them strong hopes to be named to the five-woman team at or following the July 8-10 Olympic trials in San Jose.

Nichols, at 18 years old, would be the youngest member of that team. If the U.S. women’s team at Rio 2016 is that quintet, it will mark the first time since 1952 that no women younger than age 17 were on the team, according to sports-reference.

Earlier Saturday, three-time World all-around champion Biles earned her third straight Worlds medal on vault, a bronze.

Biles averaged 15.541 for two vaults (video here), falling .125 short of Russian Maria Paseka‘s winning score. North Korea’s Hong Un-Jong took silver.

Biles bagged silver on vault at her first two Worlds in 2013 and 2014, behind McKayla Maroney and Hong, respectively.

On Saturday, she scored 15.9 on her first attempt, taking a hop forward on her landing on the difficult Amanar. She scored lower on her second, also hopping on her landing for a 15.183. That vault scored much lower because it was much less difficult — seven tenths less in start value than her Amanar.

Paseka and Hong both had a combined eight tenths more in difficulty than Biles, though the American was much stronger in execution. Biles has said she plans to upgrade her vault difficulty before Rio 2016.

“My second vault, which is my more difficult vault, wasn’t ready yet,” Biles said. “[U.S. national team coordinator] Martha [Karolyi] said, ‘It’s fine, just do what you can do and see what happens.’ So it’s just an honor that I even got on the podium.”

She is the defending champion on both finals on the last day of competition Sunday, on the balance beam and floor exercise. Biles is one gold medal shy of the women’s Worlds record of 10 shared by Larissa LatyninaGina Gogean and Svetlana Khorkina.

Also Saturday, Great Britain’s Max Whitlock and Louis Smith went one-two on pommel horse. Whitlock edged Smith by one tenth of a point and captured the first Worlds gold by a British man. Smith, who sat out 2013 and didn’t compete at 2014 Worlds, earned his eighth Olympic or Worlds medal — none gold.

Japan’s Kenzo Shirai delivered as favorite by winning his second World title on floor exercise in the last three years with a 16.233, well ahead of silver medalist’s Whitlock’s 15.566.

It marked the second largest margin of victory in an Olympic or Worlds apparatus final under the Code of Points implemented in 2006 (He Kexin, uneven bars, 2009 Worlds, 1.125).

Greece’s Eleftherios Petrounias won still rings gold, his first Olympic or Worlds medal of any color, with 15.8 points over China’s You Hao (15.733) and Liu Yang (15.700).

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air World Championships coverage Saturday from 2:30-4 p.m. ET and Sunday from 12-1:30 p.m. ET, with Al Trautwig and Olympic champions Tim Daggett and Nastia Liukin.

MORE GYMNASTICS: Where is McKayla Maroney?

FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

Gabriel Jesus
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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”