Sam Mikulak wins fourth straight U.S. title; Orozco, Leyva in Olympic danger

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Sam Mikulak won his fourth straight P&G Championships all-around title and took another step toward his second Olympic team on Sunday.

John Orozco and Danell Leyva, the top two U.S. gymnasts in 2012, finished 10th and 16th after two days of competition in Hartford, Conn., this weekend. They have serious work ahead to make the five-man team for Rio.

The Olympic men’s gymnastics selection competition is at the halfway point after the P&G Championships. The Olympic team will be announced after the Olympic Trials in St. Louis in three weeks. At least three of the five members, perhaps all five, will be chosen by a committee based primarily off results at those two meets.

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. Nobody currently meets that criteria.

Mikulak totaled 181.5 points in Hartford, winning by 1.65 points over Chris Brooks, a 2012 Olympic alternate making his last push for a first Olympics.

Mikulak is the first man to win four straight U.S. all-around titles since Blaine Wilson in 2000 and the fifth overall.

Mikulak, coming back from a partially torn Achilles that kept him out of 2015 Worlds, overtook first-day leader Donnell Whittenburg and Brooks, who led after four of six rotations Sunday.

“It’s a great accomplishment, I’m very happy to still be winning,” Mikulak told media in Hartford. “I want to do better routines. … I want to unleash those awesome routines that I’ve been doing in training and trust my training a little bit more.”

Jacob Dalton, another 2012 Olympian, was third, 2.5 points back. Full scores are here.

John Orozco, who won this meet four years ago en route to his first Olympics, was 4.5 points behind. Orozco said he struggled with cramps and being “drained physically” this weekend.

Orozco considered himself fortunate to even compete on all events in Hartford, given a doctor told him it wouldn’t be possible after he tore his right Achilles for the second time last June 15.

“I honestly don’t feel any pressure at all [about my Olympic team chances],” Orozco said after bettering a Friday performance where he fell off the pommel horse. “I finally feel like I’m getting there. I’m still not there, which is OK, because at trials is where I want to peak. … I’m glad that I didn’t do my absolute best yet. Hopefully I’m saving a little for trials.”

Leyva, who won the 2012 Olympic Trials and all-around bronze at the London Games, echoed Orozco’s attitude after dropping from 12th to 16th on Sunday. In two days, Leyva fell off the high bar, went out of bounds on floor exercise and mangled a pommel horse dismount, among several errors.

“I don’t mind being the underdog,” said Leyva, who added that dog bites from one month ago covered by a full-left-leg wrap didn’t affect him in Hartford. “I wasn’t trying to be perfect here. You’ve got to be perfect in Rio.”

If Orozco and Leyva repeat their P&G routines at Olympic Trials, there may be no Rio.

The formation of the Olympic team is much like a puzzle. The top all-around gymnast(s) — Mikulak, for sure — are surrounded by a supporting cast that can plug in the holes.

Orozco and Leyva excel on similar events, high bar and parallel bars. Orozco placed third on high bar and sixth on parallel bars this weekend. Leyva was sixth on high bar and fourth on parallel bars.

Mikulak, Brooks and Whittenburg are also strong on one or both of those events, complicating matters since a nation uses three athletes per apparatus in the Olympic team final.

The U.S.’ biggest need is on pommel horse, where neither Orozco nor Leyva excels. That could favor the likes of Alex Naddour, a four-time U.S. champion on the event who is also usable on still rings and floor exercise.

Naddour, who got a London 2012 tattoo on his right bicep after being an Olympic alternate, flubbed his pommel horse dismount Friday but came back Sunday with the highest score on the apparatus of all gymnasts on both days.

“The U.S. team really wants to change that idea of horse is a weak event for us,” Mikulak said. “Every team has its strengths and weaknesses. All we can do is minimize our weaknesses as much as possible.”

NBC Olympics gymnastics producer Julia Fincher contributed to this report from Hartford.

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Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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