Ten gymnasts to watch at P&G Men’s Championships; schedule

Danell Leyva, John Orozco
Getty Images
0 Comments

Competition to determine the five-man U.S. Olympic gymnastics team begins this weekend at the P&G Championships in Hartford, Conn.

The two-day meet on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, Hartford2016.com) and Sunday (2 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports Live Extra) mark the first of two Olympic team selection events.

P&Gs will be followed by the U.S. Olympic Trials in St. Louis on June 23 and 25, after which the five-man Olympic team will be announced.

Gymnasts can automatically qualify for the Olympic team by finishing first or second in the all-around and in the top three on three of the six individual events in combined results from four days of competition at the P&G Championships and the Olympic Trials. This is how John Orozco and Danell Leyva clinched their first Olympic berths in 2012.

After the Olympic Trials, a selection committee will determine the rest of the team, taking into account performances at the P&G Championships and Olympic Trials. The entire five-man Olympic team will be announced before June 27.

Four of the five 2012 Olympic team members, plus six more men with World Championships experience are among the gymnasts in the running for the Rio team. Here’s a look at those 10:

Chris Brooks
2010, 2015 World Championships team

Brooks, 29, competed in his second Worlds last year after three-time U.S. national champion Sam Mikulak was ruled out due to partially tearing his left Achilles. Brooks finished sixth on high bar at Worlds, just as he did in 2015. He is the U.S. champion on high bar and silver medalist on parallel bars and looking to become the oldest U.S. Olympic gymnast since 2004.

Jacob Dalton
2012 Olympian
2009, 2011, 2013, 2014 World Championships team
2013 World silver medalist — floor exercise
2014 World bronze medalist — vault

Dalton has been consistently on the top international level longer than most men on this list. His streak of Worlds appearances snapped last year, though, due to a small shoulder labrum tear that required surgery. When healthy, Dalton is a strong contributor on floor exercise, where he made the eight-man Olympic final and his last three Worlds finals, and on vault.

Steven Legendre
2009, 2013 World Championships team
2013 World silver medalist — vault

Legendre is the farthest removed from a World Championships team of anyone on this list. Like his former University of Oklahoma teammate Dalton, he is best on floor exercise — two-time Worlds finalist — and vault — 2013 World silver medal.

Danell Leyva
2012 Olympian
2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015 World Championships team
2012 Olympic bronze medalist — all-around
2011 World gold medalist — parallel bars
2014 World silver medalist — parallel bars
2015 World silver medalist — high bar

Leyva is the most decorated gymnast on this list. He has made every Olympic and World Championships team since 2009 (withdrew before 2013 Worlds due to injury). He won the 2011 U.S. all-around title and had the top score at the 2012 Olympic Trials. Leyva goes into this weekend with his left leg bandaged due to dog bites.

Sam Mikulak
2012 Olympian
2013, 2014 World Championships team

Mikulak is on a decorated list of men to win three straight U.S. all-around titles, but he missed out on the 2015 Worlds due to a partially torn left Achilles. He has returned with mixed results at the American Cup, Winter Cup and Pacific Rim Championships this year. Still, it would be a shock if Mikulak does not make a second straight Olympic team later this month.

Alex Naddour
2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 World Championships team

Naddour is valuable because he is strong on the U.S.’ weakest event — pommel horse. He made the eight-man pommel horse final at the last two World Championships and is the only active American to make an Olympic or Worlds pommel horse final. His task at the P&G Championships and Olympic Trials will be to prove his strength on some of the other five events.

John Orozco
2012 Olympian
2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 World Championships team
2013 World bronze medalist — parallel bars

Orozco, the 2012 U.S. national champion and youngest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic men’s team, is coming back from a second torn right Achilles in five years. He suffered the injury June 15, was told he would be out about one year but has already competed a few times this year. If fully recovered, Orozco, who also tore his left ACL and meniscus in October 2012, is an all-around podium contender at the P&G Championships.

Paul Ruggeri III
2015 World Championships team

An alternate on the 2010, 2013 and 2014 Worlds teams, Ruggeri debuted at Worlds last year and was the lone American not to qualify for an event final. He is best on vault, high bar and floor exercise, so the return of Dalton, Mikulak and Orozco will certainly complicate his Olympic hopes this month.

Donnell Whittenburg
2014, 2015 World Championships team
2015 World bronze medalist — vault

Whittenburg, built with linebacker’s shoulders but soft-spoken, is the new American star since the London Games, finishing fourth in the all-around at the 2014 P&G Championships and second in 2015 behind Mikulak. He was the top U.S. all-arounder at Worlds, taking ninth before bagging that vault bronze.

Brandon Wynn
2010, 2013, 2015 World Championships team
2013 World bronze medalist — still rings

Like Naddour on pommel horse, Wynn is best known for one event — still rings. He finished third and fifth at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds on rings. Like Naddour, Wynn will need to improve results on some of the other five events to be more valuable to a five-man Olympic team versus a six-man Worlds team.

VIDEO: Inside Liang Chow’s gymnastics center

Olympians, Paralympians get early look at Paris on ‘Top Chef’ World All-Stars

0 Comments

A year from now, they hope to vie for medals in the City of Light. But on this day, four U.S. hopefuls for the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics competed on “Top Chef” World All-Stars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, the first cross-promotional moment across NBC Universal’s One Platform for the Games.

As Parisians and tourists traversed the Champ de Mars, Olympic champions gymnast Suni Lee and sprinter Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Paralympic champion swimmer Mallory Weggemann and medalist sprinter Hunter Woodhall bundled and huddled and did everything possible to stay warm between rain showers.

Then came the 30-minute frenzy. Each athlete was paired with a cheftestant for what the Bravo series calls a wall challenge: the chef and the athlete each attempted to make the same dish while separated by a divider, unable to see what the other was doing. The duo whose dishes have the closest appearance and taste win.

It’s little surprise that Weggemann prevailed. At 33 on the day of filming, she’s a decade older than the rest of the athletes.

When she was 18, Weggemann lost movement from the waist down while receiving epidural injections to treat shingles. Four years later, she swam at her first Paralympics and won her first gold medal.

“I understand that when I go onto a [filming] set like today, and I’m rolling rather than stepping, that looks different,” she said. “Not everyone who’s going to watch ‘Top Chef’ is a sports fanatic, and so they maybe don’t watch the Olympics and Paralympics, but in that moment, we got to bring them into the movement in a way that we maybe otherwise wouldn’t. I’m not oblivious to the fact that as a woman with a disability in that moment, I also have the power to change perceptions because not everyone in our society has exposure to disability.”

Each of the athletes, flown in by Delta, the official airline of Team USA through the 2028 Los Angeles Games, came at a different point in their journeys.

Weggemann has already been to three Paralympics and earned five medals. She did the “Top Chef” competition while three months pregnant. Baby Charlotte arrived March 16. Her goal is to be on the podium in Paris and be able to see her husband and daughter in the stands.

Woodhall, who won three medals in Tokyo in his Paralympic debut, visited the French capital with his then-fiancée Tara Davis, who placed sixth in the Tokyo Olympic long jump. Their Texas wedding was a month after the “Top Chef” filming.

“In Tokyo, we weren’t able to be there for each other,” said Woodhall, referring to COVID-19 travel restrictions for those Games not allowing spectators. “Paris is so exciting because we’ll both be able to really be in the moment and support each other through both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

McLaughlin-Levrone had husband Andre Levrone Jr., a former NFL practice squad wide receiver, by her side in Paris. Before “Top Chef,” she had a whirlwind spring and summer, getting married in May and then twice breaking her world record in the 400m hurdles. At the top of her sport, McLaughlin-Levrone had a decision to make in the fall and winter offseason: continue in the hurdles, where she has accomplished everything, or venture into another event, the 400m without hurdles, to test herself.

“That world record has stood for so long, and no one’s come even close to it,” she said of the flat 400m, and its 37-year-old world record, while in Paris. “So we definitely want to be able to try that and see what we can do there as well.”

Now, McLaughlin-Levrone is set to return to Paris next week for her first outdoor race since August. It will be a flat 400m. She also plans to race the 400m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July, and possibly at August’s world championships in lieu of the hurdles.

Top Chef World All-Stars
Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and cheftestant Sara Bradley meet after preparing their dishes during the “Top Chef” wall challenge. (Fred Jagueneau/Bravo)

The gymnast Lee became one of the unexpected golden stories of the Tokyo Games. After Simone Biles withdrew from the meet, the Hmong American from Minnesota seized the all-around title, the biggest prize in her sport.

She hasn’t performed in international gymnastics since. Lee matriculated at Auburn and competed for the Tigers. But NCAA gymnastics involves different routines, competitions and scoring than Olympic gymnastics. It’s such a contrast that, traditionally, joining a college team has often meant retirement from the Olympic level.

The afternoon before the “Top Chef” filming, Lee walked inside the Accor Arena in the Bercy neighborhood, the site of the 2024 Olympic gymnastics events. A competition was taking place that included the Brazilian who took silver behind Lee in Tokyo.

“I am a little nervous to get back out on the bigger stage,” Lee said then. “Going to that meet actually was really important to me because I think I needed the help of re-motivating myself and seeing what I’m getting back into, watching the competition, just getting used to that atmosphere again.”

Two months after that experience, Lee announced she would leave Auburn after her sophomore year to return to elite training for a 2024 Paris Olympic bid.

The “Top Chef” integration helps launch summer Paris Games-related fanfare, including national and world championships in many Olympic and Paralympic sports and events to mark the one-year-out dates from the Opening Ceremonies (July 26 for the Olympics, Aug. 28 for the Paralympics).

“Top Chef,” in its 20th season, previously featured Olympians before the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games and then again before Tokyo. Host Padma Lakshmi noticed a common trait.

“Their attention to detail is extraordinary,” she said. “Having that Olympic training, and really listening to what your coaches want, and what the parameters of the contest is, is something that they’re skilled at doing day in and day out.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Taylor Fritz becomes crowd enemy at French Open

Taylor Fritz French Open
Getty
0 Comments

The French Open crowd was not happy with American player Taylor Fritz after he beat one of their own — indeed, their last man in the bracket — so they booed and whistle relentlessly. Fritz’s response? He told them to shush. Over and over again.

Fritz, a 25-year-old from California who is seeded No. 9 at Roland Garros, got into a back-and-forth with the fans at Court Suzanne Lenglen after his 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 comeback victory over 78th-ranked Arthur Rinderknech in the second round on Thursday night.

Rinderknech attempted a lob that landed long on the last point, and Fritz, who had been running toward the baseline to chase the ball, immediately looked up into the stands and pressed his right index finger to his lips to say, essentially, “Hush!”

He held that pose for a bit as he headed back toward the net for a postmatch handshake, then spread his arms wide, wind-milled them a bit as if to egg on the rowdiness, and yelled: “Come on! I want to hear it!”

During the customary winner’s on-court interview that followed, more jeers rained down on Fritz, and 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli kept pausing her attempts to ask a question into her microphone.

So Fritz again said, “Shhhhh!” and put his finger toward his mouth, while Bartoli unsuccessfully tried to get the spectators to lower their decibel level.

More boos. More whistles.

And the awkwardness continued as both Bartoli and a stadium announcer kept saying, “S’il vous plaît” — “Please!” — to no avail, while Fritz stood there with his arms crossed.

A few U.S. supporters with signs and flags drew Fritz’s attention from the front row, and he looked over and said to them, “I love you guys.”

But the interview was still on hold.

Bartoli tried asking a question in English, which only served to draw more boos.

So Fritz told her he couldn’t hear her. Bartoli moved closer and finally got out a query — but it didn’t seem to matter what her words were.

Fritz, who has been featured on the Netflix docuseries about tennis called “Break Point,” had his hands on his hips and a message on his mind — one reminiscent of Daniil Medvedev’s contretemps with fans at the 2019 U.S. Open.

“I came out and the crowd was so great honestly. Like, the crowd was just so great,” Fritz said, as folks tried to drown out his voice. “They cheered so well for me, I wanted to make sure that I won. Thanks, guys.”

And with that, he exited the stage.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!