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?

Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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