Donnell Whittenburg
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Donnell Whittenburg leads bunched crowd at P&G Championships

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Donnell Whittenburg is halfway to his first U.S. all-around title and one-quarter of the way to his first Olympic team.

Whittenburg, the Baltimore native with a linebacker build, posted a six-event score of 89.9 points on the first of two days of competition at the P&G Championships on Friday night. He edged three-time reigning U.S. all-around champion and 2012 Olympian Sam Mikulak by .05, with the next five gymnasts within another point.

Whittenburg was in 32nd place after the first rotation due to starting off on his weakest (yet favorite) event, pommel horse. But he followed that up with the highest score of any gymnast on any apparatus on still rings, a 15.95, and jumped past Mikulak and Jacob Dalton in the sixth and final rotation.

“There’s still more room for improvement, but, today, just glad to get through the first day with clean sets,” said Whittenburg, who earlier this year added to his tattoo collection by spending two hours getting the entire John 3:16 verse inked on his bulging left bicep.

London Olympians Dalton, John Orozco and Danell Leyva are fourth, 11th and 12th, respectively. Full standings are here.

The P&G Championships conclude Sunday (1-4 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Live Extra), after the U.S. women compete in the Secret Classic in Hartford on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, Live Extra).

The P&G Championships are one of two Olympic men’s selection meets, followed by the U.S. Olympic Trials in St. Louis in three weeks. The five-man Olympic team will be named after trials.

A gymnast can clinch an Olympic berth by finishing in the top two in the all-around and the top three in three of the six events in combined standings after four days of competition at the P&G Championships and Olympic Trials.

If Friday’s scores repeat Sunday and at Olympic Trials, Mikulak will automatically qualify for his second Olympic team in three weeks, and Whittenburg will undoubtedly prove he should go to Rio, too.

What a four-year journey it has been for Whittenburg, who was raised by a single mother with three siblings. He won this meet in 2012, in the junior division, that is, at age 17, after being eighth in 2011.

Whittenburg moved up to the senior ranks and finished 13th in the 2013 P&G Championships all-around. Then fourth in 2014. And second in 2015. He capped last year with his first individual World Championships medal, bronze on vault, a power event that lends itself to his musclebound explosiveness.

“He kind of showed up on the scene, like, oh man, this kid’s really good,” Dalton said. “He’s really improved. He’s cleaned things up, but just his difficulty is insane. He’s got a lot of hard skills that he makes look easy.”

Mikulak, coming back from a partially torn Achilles that kept him out 2015 Worlds, would have had the first-day lead if not for his last step of the night. He stumbled out of bounds on floor exercise.

“If I hit all my routines on Sunday, and I still lose, then so be it,” said Mikulak, who could become the fifth man to win four straight U.S. all-around titles. “As long as I’m hitting my sets, I’m a happy man.”

Orozco and Leyva, the two best U.S. gymnasts this time four years ago, could miss the five-man team for Rio if they repeat their Friday performances on Sunday and at the Olympic Trials. They didn’t seem too worried, commiserating by jokingly high-fiving after flawed performances.

“I was tired by the end of it,” said Leyva, who fell off high bar, a silver-medal event for him at the 2015 World Championships.

Orozco, who fell off the pommel horse to open his night, said he made a novice mistake earlier Friday by not eating enough.

“I’ve been taking my diet super seriously, and I thought, OK, I want to be lean and light, so I’m going to have two pieces of chicken and some asparagus,” said Orozco, who shaved his head earlier this spring and is coming back from a second torn right Achilles last year. “It got me through the warm-ups, but the minute I started competing, I jumped up on pommel [horse], and halfway through my routine I started cramping.”

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J’den Cox repeats as world wrestling champion; Kyle Snyder stunned

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If he wasn’t crowned already, it’s clear U.S. wrestling has a new king.

On a day when Rio Olympic champion Kyle Snyder was upset and London Olympic champ Jordan Burroughs rallied for another bronze medal, J’den Cox repeated as world champion in Kazakhstan.

Cox, the Rio Olympic 86kg bronze medalist, completed a perfect run through the 92kg division — not giving up a point in four matches — by dominating Iranian Alireza Karimi 4-0 in the final. He became the second U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in more than 30 years (joining Kyle Dake from last year).

“I don’t know why, but it feels like a ton better [than 2018],” said Cox, whose tattoos include one that reads in Latin, “If I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” “I made more sacrifices … I wanted to do it better.”

Earlier Saturday, Snyder was shocked by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov 5-2 in the 97kg semifinals, denying a third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Tank Abdulrashid Sadulayev. Sharifov, the 2012 Olympic 84kg champ, clinched his first world medal in eight years.

Snyder, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion at age 20, failed to make an Olympic or world final for the first time in his career. He will wrestle for bronze on Sunday, while Sharifov meets Sadulayev for gold.

Burroughs earned his seventh straight world championships medal and second straight bronze. Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, rebounded from losing to Russian Zaurbeck Sidakov on Friday with a 10-0 technical fall over Japanese Mao Okui.

Burroughs gave up a lead on Sidakov with 1.3 seconds left in the semifinals, a year after Sidakov overtook him as time expired in the quarterfinals.

“A lot of people in 2016 called me a quitter,” said Burroughs, who tearfully missed the medals in Rio, “and I think that after watching the amount of devastation and heartbreak that I’ve taken over the last two years and still being able to come back and take third place is a testament.”

Burroughs, 31, shares third with Adeline Gray on the U.S. list of career world wrestling championships medals, trailing only Bruce Baumgartner and Kristie Davis, who each earned nine.

Burroughs’ bronze ensured he gets a bye into the 74kg final of the Olympic trials in April. But this will be the first time he goes into an Olympic year as anything other than a reigning world champion.

“At this juncture of my career, I feel I’m running out of time,” said Burroughs, who next year will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. “That can be really scary.”

Dake marched to Sunday’s final in defense of his 2018 World title at 79kg (a non-Olympic weight) by going 23-4 over three matches. Dake, who at Cornell became the only wrestler to win NCAA titles at four weight classes or without a redshirt, gets Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov in the final, a rematch of the 2018 gold-medal match.

Next year, Dake must move up to 86kg, where Cox will likely reside, or down to 74kg, where Burroughs has won every U.S. Olympic or world trials dating to 2011. There’s also David Taylor to reckon with. Taylor won the 86kg world title last year but missed this season due to injury.

“We’ve got a guy at 79 kilos that’s going to win a world championship tomorrow,” Burroughs said, smiling, of Dake, “I’m hopefully going to be waiting for [Dake at Olympic trials], healthy and prepared.”

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Alexandra Trusova, 15, becomes first woman to land three quadruple jumps

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Alexandra Trusova established herself as the world’s leading female figure skater … in her first senior international competition.

Trusova, the 15-year-old, two-time world junior champion from Russia, became the first woman to land three quadruple jumps in one international competition program, posting the world’s highest free skate and total scores on the early season.

Trusova previously landed three quads in the free skate at the Russian Federation’s test skates in early September.

She opened Saturday’s free skate with a quadruple Lutz, a quadruple toe loop-triple toe combination and another quad toe to run away from Japanese Olympian Kaori Sakamoto by 44.27 points. Video is here.

She won a lower-level event in Slovakia with 238.69 points, which would have beaten Japan’s top skater, Rika Kihira, and Olympic bronze medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva by more than 14 points at an event last week in Canada. However, judging panels can be more or less forgiving from event to event.

Still, Trusova established herself as a force going into next month’s Grand Prix season. She will face Kihira and Medvedeva at Skate Canada the last week of October.

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