Danell Leyva, John Orozco
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Ten gymnasts to watch at P&G Men’s Championships; schedule

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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

10 takeaways from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Here, the NBC Sports figure skating contributors reflect on the standout moments of the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Nathan Chen and Alysa Liu of course come to mind, though there were plenty of other moments to remark upon along the way. 

Women

1. Alysa Liu proved that she could do it again. She validated her insistence that there was no more pressure in successfully defending a title compared to winning her first title. 

Plus, the amusement of seeing the 4-foot-10 14-year-old needing help ascending the top step of the awards podium doesn’t get old either. Mariah Bell and Bradie Tennell helped hoist her for the second year in a row. Liu next competes at world juniors, where she will take on a formidable pair of Russian “K’s”: Kamila Valieva and Ksenia Sinitsyna, both of whom outscored her on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. To win the crown, Liu may need a fully rotated quadruple Lutz, something that eluded her in Greensboro.

2. Speaking of Bell, she comes out of the championships with her already-improving confidence another notch higher after the free skate of her life and her best nationals finish ever, a silver medal. In tears before she even hit her final pose, she deservedly got an overwhelming standing ovation.

When asked how she felt about being the No. 1 senior U.S. woman, she said, “It’s a very special feeling. I haven’t had that before in my career, so that was awesome. The coolest thing about it was how into it the crowd was.” 

Now, let the calculations begin: can Bell and Tennell gain three U.S. women’s spots for next season’s world championships? To do so, the sum of their placements at the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships cannot be greater than 13 (for example, sixth and seventh).

3. Rounding out the memorable moments of the women’s event were the returns of Olympians Karen Chen and Gracie Gold. Chen, the 2017 national champion, missed the entirety of last season with a right foot stress fracture, and now is a freshman at Cornell. She finished fourth, and gained an assignment at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships early next month. With her competitive juices flowing again, Chen told reporters she was considering taking a gap year from college.

Two-time U.S. champion Gold, of course, triumphed simply by qualifying for her first national championships since 2017 after time away from the sport for treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. After a mediocre short program, Gold did a respectable free skate, and the crowd gave her a standing ovation, an emotional reward that left her with grateful tears. It moved Gold, who finished 12th, to vow she would continue her comeback for at least another season.

Men

4. Nathan Chen’s fourth straight U.S. title puts him in the company of five men since World War II, all of whom won Olympic gold medals, with Brian Boitano (85-88) the most recent. Chen, a Yale sophomore, was the first to do it in the IJS and quadruple jump eras (he went six-for-six in quads in the two programs), and the fourth came after a case of the flu bad enough he could practice only intermittently the first two weeks of January. “I don’t know anybody who could recover and do what he did after that sickness,” coach Rafael Arutunian said of Chen.

5. Tomoki Hiwatashi’s continued improvement: two clean programs with three clean quads for the bronze medal. His showmanship, including Russian split jumps, are to die for. Last season, Hiwatashi finished a surprise fourth at nationals but had disappointing 10th and fifth places in his debut competitions on the senior Grand Prix debut. The 2019 world junior champion has put himself into the mix for a 2022 Olympic team spot — if he can improve his consistency. 

6. Except for that pesky quad, Jason Brown put it all together at nationals for the first time since 2014. If he can execute all the elements as brilliantly as he did in Greensboro, a clean quad might put him in bronze medal contention at the 2020 World Championships, given the consistent inconsistency of all the top men after Chen and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu.

7. In the past month, Vincent Zhou turned his life inside out, taking a leave from Brown University to focus on skating after completing the first semester of his freshman year and switching coaches to Lee Barkell and Lori Nichol in Toronto. Despite that upheaval and little intense training, the reigning world bronze medalist and 2019 U.S. silver medalist had two solid performances to finish fourth, strategically limiting his quads to one in each program. Although Zhou had skipped the Grand Prix season, his choice as a world team member over Hiwatashi was totally justified under the selection criteria in use.

Ice dance

8. Madison Chock and Evan Bates made ice dance — and figure skating — history when they became the first U.S. skater, couple or pair team to go five years between national titles since the 1920s. They topped two duos they train with, Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, to win their first title since 2015, also won in Greensboro. Their widely acclaimed slithering “Snake Charmer” free dance likely sets them up to glide to the world championship podium, but another showdown with Hubbell and Donohue awaits at Four Continents.

Pairs

9. Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson had a breakthrough moment in the pairs’ event with one of the most memorable free skates in the last 20 years. Calalang’s joyous disbelief was palpable when she and Johnson got their score (146.01, the highest ever at nationals) for a program that had the crowd out of its seats before it even ended

“In my head, I’m like, ‘We got 119 at Skate Canada. We got 120-something at Warsaw.’ So, I was like, ‘Okay, we did both jumps… maybe 130,” she said, recalling her mental play-by-play. “Then it’s 140. Ohmigod, I’ve never dreamed of getting this score. I didn’t think it was possible.” 

Added Johnson: “No one can take that moment away from us.” 

Especially poignant words as Calalang and Johnson were passed over in favor of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc for the world championships teams. Calalang and Johnson are slated to participate at Four Continents, where they can continue to build a body of work that will impress U.S. Figure Skating’s International Selection Committee next time around.

10. Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim won their third U.S. pair title in Greensboro, joining such company as John Zimmerman and Kyoko Ina, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, and Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard. The couple skated a clean and memorable short program to “At Last,” including side-by-side triple toe loops. In the free skate, though, Knierim fell on his triple toe and the skaters doubled their planned triple Salchows. Despite their superior triple twist and lifts, in order to crack the top five in the world, Scimeca Knierim and Knierim need to get consistent on their jumps, and the California-based skaters are working with Arutunian to do so.

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U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS: Full Results | Women’s | Ice dance | Pairs | Men’s | Worlds roster

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

China’s first Winter X Games postponed due to coronavirus

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A Winter X Games competition due to be held in Chongli, China, next month has been postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in China.

“Due to the ongoing coronavirus concerns, the X Games Chongli 2020 event will be postponed until a later date,” organizers announced via Twitter. “The safety of our athletes, staff and spectators is our top priority, and we will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

The competition would have been the first Winter X Games held in China. Shanghai has hosted many X Games in the summer, including a event last June.

As with an Alpine skiing World Cup event that was canceled Wednesday, the X Games were due to take place at a 2022 Olympic venue, Chongli’s Secret Garden ski report. The venue hosted a World Cup snowboard event in December.

READ: First Alpine World Cup in China canceled

Several of the most decorated X Games and Olympic athletes, including two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion Jamie Anderson, were scheduled to compete in China.

The coronavirus outbreak has also affected qualifiers for the 2020 Olympics, with boxing and women’s soccer tournaments moved from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Asia-Oceania boxing qualifiers will be held March 3-11 in Amman, Jordan, with coverage on the Olympic Channel. The women’s soccer qualifiers, including traditional power China and a strong Australian team, were originally moved to Nanjing but then moved to Sydney, Australia.

China’s team has arrived in Australia but is under quarantine, putting the start of the qualifiers in doubt.

Aspen hosted the biggest X Games competition of the winter last week. Another X Games is scheduled for March 7-8 in Norway.

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