U.S. men’s, women’s takeaways from World Gymnastics Championships

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Martha Karlolyi was succinct.

“Mission accomplished,” the U.S. women’s national team coordinator told media in Glasgow, Scotland, on Sunday.

Karolyi beamed after her team set program records for total medals at a Worlds with a team event and gold medals for any Worlds (five), including three individual titles for superstar Simone Biles.

Coming to Glasgow, Biles looked like a lock for the five-woman Olympic team, and Gabby DouglasAly Raisman and Maggie Nichols put themselves in strong positions via results throughout the year. They won’t learn their fates until after July’s Olympic trials.

We know what Biles did last week. Douglas and Nichols posted the best non-Biles all-around scores in Glasgow, if one counts Nichols’ four-event performance in the team final.

Raisman was fifth in all-around qualifying but missed the final because she was third among Americans, and made zero individual finals overall. However, her last routine score in Glasgow, a 15.075 on floor in the team final, would have earned bronze in apparatus finals. She may not have performed as well as Douglas and Nichols in Glasgow, but her experience and intangibles are unmatched in the U.S. program.

The U.S. would certainly be favored to repeat as Olympic champion with just that quartet, which makes the fifth roster spot somewhat of a luxury. Where does the formidable team most need help in a three-up, three-count format?

Biles, Nichols and Raisman all perform the standard high-difficulty vault, the Amanar, and put up medal-worthy floor routines (and Douglas could upgrade to the Amanar for 2016). That leaves beam, where only Biles scored above 14.4 at Worlds, and uneven bars, Biles’ and Raisman’s weakest event.

The U.S. chose to bring two bars specialists to Worlds — Brenna Dowell and Madison Kocian. Kocian hit in qualifying to earn the fifth team final spot and then shared gold with three others in the bars final (Douglas was fifth). Kocian may be the clubhouse leader for the fifth Olympic spot.

If a younger gymnast is to enter the conversation next year, it’s expected to be Laurie Hernandez, who won the junior all-around and bars titles at the P&G Championships.

On beam, Alyssa Baumann was the only gymnast to score in the 15s on both nights at the 2014 and 2015 P&G Championships (even Biles couldn’t muster that) but scored lower at her only Worlds appearance in 2014.

Maybe the perfect scenario would be a return to form from 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross, who earned World silver on bars and beam in 2013, but must regroup after finishing 10th in the all-around at the P&G Championships in August.

While the U.S. women overflow with talent, the men scraped together a World Championships team.

A fifth-place finish without the three best all-around gymnasts from last year’s P&G Championships was respectable.

The climb back to the podium will be steep. China and Japan beat the U.S. men in every Olympics and Worlds since 2005, and now Great Britain may be pulling away.

The Brits, silver medalists ahead of China in Glasgow, have experience (Louis SmithDan Purvis and Kristian Thomas all own previous World apparatus medals), promise (Brinn Bevan, 18, and Nile Wilson, 19) and arguably the world’s second-best gymnast, Max Whitlock.

The U.S. men’s medal hopes were justified after World bronze in 2014, but three members of that team missed last week’s Worlds and will go into 2016 returning from surgeries — Olympians Sam MikulakJohn Orozco (both Achilles) and Jacob Dalton (shoulder).

An underlying problem in Glasgow: the six-man team was uneven. The U.S. finished top three among all nations on high bar, parallel bars and still rings and outside the top five on pommel horse, floor exercise and vault.

The injuries to Mikulak, Orozco and Dalton of course complicated the Olympic team selection picture. Danell Leyva and Donnell Whittenburg salvaged apparatus medals Sunday, high bar silver and vault bronze, and were the team’s all-arounders, too.

A major problem is that Orozco, Dalton, Leyva and Whittenburg are not reliable on pommel horse, the U.S.’ Achilles heel event. That creates more Olympic team selection scenarios and increases the value of strong pommel workers Alex Naddour and Marvin Kimble.

Olympic roster sizes for men and women are five gymnasts each. The U.S. women could get by in Rio with four gymnasts. The U.S. men would like six or seven.

MORE GYMNASTICS: Where is McKayla Maroney?

Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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