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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Justin Schoenefeld gets U.S.’ first men’s aerials World Cup win in 4 years

Justin Schoenefeld
U.S. Ski & Snowboard
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Justin Schoenefeld ended a four-year U.S. men’s aerials drought with his first World Cup win Saturday in Belarus.

Schoenfeld, 21, hit a double full-full-full in the super final to beat a field that included world champion Maxim Burov of Russia. Burov was fourth, one spot behind another American, Chris Lillis. Full results are here.

“I’m pretty speechless right now,” Schoenefeld said, according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard. “I’m just shocked. It just all came so quick, all of a sudden the two finals were over, and I was on top of the podium. I probably landed two of my training jumps yesterday, but I managed to land all of my comp jumps down to my feet.”

Schoenefeld’s best previous World Cup finish was fourth, in Belarus last season.

Lillis earned the U.S.’ last World Cup men’s aerials victory on Feb. 20, 2016, also in Belarus. The four-year gap between wins marked the longest for the U.S. men since aerials was added as an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Schoenefeld also became the first American of either gender to win a World Cup aerials event in two years, since Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018. That gap was the longest for the U.S. since 2005.

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Kaillie Humphries wins bobsled world title in first season for U.S.

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Two-time Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries won a bobsled world title in her first season since switching allegiance from Canada to the U.S., ending recent German dominance.

Humphries, with brakewoman Lauren Gibbs, edged German junior world champ Kim Kalicki by .37 of a second combining times from four runs between Friday and Saturday in Altenberg, Germany.

“I love this track. It’s very challenging, one of the hardest in the world,” Humphries said, according to U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton. “It demands a lot of focus, a lot of respect every minute you’re on that track. So to be able to win here, I know the Germans and the spectators, everybody, have worked so hard and this week, no exceptions. I’m proud of all of the girls.”

Canadian Christine de Bruin took bronze for a second straight year. Full results are here.

Humphries, who married a former U.S. bobsledder, was released by Canada in September after filing verbal abuse and harassment claims against a coach, saying she no longer felt safe with the program. As a Canadian, Humphries won 2010 and 2014 Olympic titles, plus 2012 and 2013 World titles.

Humphries joined German Sandra Kiriasis as the only female drivers to win three world titles. She is already the only female driver with multiple Olympic titles.

German Mariama Jamanka, the reigning Olympic champion and defending world champion, finished fourth in Altenberg.

Triple U.S. Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor didn’t compete as she sits out the season due to pregnancy. Meyers Taylor and Gibbs teamed for silver in PyeongChang.

The world championships continue Sunday with the conclusion of the two-man competition. German Francesco Friedrich, eyeing his sixth straight world title, leads after the first two of four runs.

A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

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