Sam Mikulak keeps lead; Danell Leyva comes back at Olympic Trials

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — The selection committee putting together the U.S. men’s Olympic gymnastics team can probably put pencil to paper and write Sam Mikulak‘s name down.

A dry erase board might be a better option while trying to figure out who else will be on the five-man team in Rio de Janeiro.

Mikulak, a four-time national champion, overcame another typically sloppy start to top the leaderboard at the opening night of Olympic Trials on Thursday. Even after botching his dismount on parallel bars and getting crossed up on high bar, his total of 90.650 was still easily best in the field.

Though his spot when the team is unveiled on Saturday night is all but secure, Mikulak isn’t exactly thrilled. He’s spent most of the last four years just a touch above the rest of the Americans. A far sterner test awaits in Brazil, and Mikulak knows it.

“I think I’ve done this too many times and that’s why I’m upset with it,” Mikulak said. “I like to seem to dig myself a hole and build my way back.”

There won’t be nearly as much wiggle room in Rio.

“That’s why I’m upset with myself tonight,” Mikulak said. “I made two major mistakes tonight and that’s never going to fly in international competition. And that’s my goal, to be an international gymnast.”

The Olympic team will be announced after Saturday night’s final (broadcast schedule), with the panel taking into account the performances from the national championships earlier this month and the trials when putting the squad together.

There’s a path for the top two all-around finishers to secure an automatic berth, but the reality is Mikulak appears to be the only lock. His total through three days of 272.150 is more than three points clear of Chris Brooks at 269.025 and nearly five more than Jake Dalton‘s third-place total of 267.325.

Full Olympic Trials results | Olympic Trials + Nationals results

Brooks, at 29 the oldest competitor in the 18-man field, backed up a solid showing at nationals with an 89.175 on Thursday, avoiding major mistakes and providing a pretty compelling argument that he should join Mikulak. Brooks ended his night with an emphatic fist pump after surviving pommel horse without slipping off in an event that’s tormented him for years.

“Just relief to get off the horse and not hear ’30 seconds (to get back on after falling),'” Brooks said. “That’s the best feeling ever.”

One that could be topped if Brooks — an Olympic alternate four years ago — hears his name called on Saturday night. Not that Brooks is getting ahead of himself. Healthy — well, as healthy as can be expected after more than two decades of competition — Brooks is hardly fading into the twilight.

“This is my last shot at an Olympic team,” Brooks said. “(It’s) the will to not come off of anything, the will to prepare, taking everything unto my own control and leaving no stone unturned.”

Piecing the puzzle together will not be easy. The core group that has spent portions of the last four years adrift after a disappointing fifth-place finish in London spent the first night of trials providing a reminder of how deep the Americans can be when they’re on, never a guarantee.

Danell Leyva, whose star seemed to be on the rise after capturing bronze in the all-around in 2012 — the only medal won by the men’s program — headed into trials in 16th place thanks in part to a shaky couple of days at nationals that came with his left leg recovering from a series of dog bites sustained while trying to break up a fight.

Yet he looked very much like the dynamic performer he was in London, finishing third behind Mikulak and Brooks, highlighted by a 15.6 on parallel bars and a 15.2 on high bar the left his stepfather/coach Yin Alvarez doing his signature sprinting fist pump around the arena.

“I want to be the guy they’re like, ‘He’s on the team for sure,'” Leyva said. “I think that’s what Sam is doing, and that’s what I want to do as well.”

Leyva’s resiliency put him back in the mix along with some other familiar names.

John Orozco, the 2012 national champion who has spent the interim since London dealing with a series of injuries and the loss of his mother, put up the highest score on high bar. Dalton, left off the 2015 World Championships team after missing Nationals due to injury, was first on vault and second on floor.

Alex Naddour‘s world-class pommel horse set — his 15.650 edged Mikulak’s total — makes him a particularly valuable asset and his focus on becoming more versatile is paying off. Naddour wound up second on still rings and fifth on vault on Thursday, proof he can fill in capably on multiple events if asked to go to Rio. While stressing “the selection committee has a tough job” Naddour does have a bit of advice heading into the weekend.

“I’d tell them to look at the scores and do their homework,” he said. “If they do their homework and they put the right team out there, guys who can relate to each other, guys who can count on each other, that may not be the highest scores on paper, that’s the team I want … I think that’s what they want to.”

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UCI looks for new host for 2020 World Road Cycling Championships

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The International Cycling Union (UCI) is looking for a new host for the 2020 World Road Cycling Championships due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Switzerland can no longer host the week-long event in late September after a national decision to extend a ban on events with more than 1,000 people through next month.

Amid reports the competition has been canceled, the UCI clarified Wednesday that it still hopes to hold it in some form, perhaps without some of the junior or senior races.

It now seeks an “alternative project,” preferably still in Europe and on the same dates (Sept. 20-27).

Worlds were due to start in Switzerland on the same day that the rescheduled Tour de France ends, though the senior elite men’s races are typically not on the first three days.

The Tour de France is still scheduled to start Aug. 29.

Last year, American Chloe Dygert starred at road worlds, winning the time trial in dominant fashion. Other world champions in Olympic events: Annemiek van Vleuten (road race), Rohan Dennis (time trial) and Mads Pedersen (road race).

MORE: Chloe Dygert had the most dominant ride in history. It still drives her nuts.

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Michael Phelps qualifies for first Olympics at age 15 in 2000

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In the biggest race of his young life, a 15-year-old Michael Phelps turned for the last 50 meters in fourth place of the U.S. Olympic Trials 200m butterfly final on Aug. 12, 2000.

His mom, Debbie, couldn’t watch. She turned away from the Indianapolis Natatorium pool and stared at the scoreboard. Both Debbie and Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, mentally prepared their consolation speeches for the rising Towson High School sophomore outside Baltimore.

Then Phelps, fueled by nightly Adam’s Mark chicken sandwich-and-cheesecake room service and amped by pre-race DMX on his CD player, turned it on. He zoomed into second place, becoming the youngest U.S. male swimmer to qualify for an Olympics since 1932.

Phelps had “come out of nowhere in the last six months” to become an Olympic hopeful, NBC Sports swimming commentator Dan Hicks said on the broadcast. True, Phelps chopped five and a half seconds off his personal best that March.

“He doesn’t know what it means to go to the Olympics and how it’s going to change his life,” Tom Malchow, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist who held off Phelps in that trials final, said that night, according to The Associated Press. “He’s going to find out soon.”

Phelps, who did his trademark arm flaps before the trials final, made Bowman look like a prophet. Four years earlier, the coach sat Debbie down for a conversation she would not soon forget.

“Told me what he projected for Michael,” Debbie said, according to the Baltimore Sun‘s front-page story on a local 15-year-old qualifying for the Sydney Games. “He said that in 2004, he would definitely be a factor in the Olympics. He also said that he could be there in 2000, to watch out for him. At the time, he was only 11.”

The trials were bittersweet for the Phelps family. Whitney, one of Phelps’ older sisters, withdrew before the meet with herniated discs in her back that kept her from making an Olympics after competing in the 1994 World Championships at age 14.

After Phelps qualified for the Olympics, one of the first people to embrace him was Whitney on the pool deck.

The next week, Phelps, still with bottom-teeth braces, did his first live TV sitdown on CNN, swiveling in his chair the whole time, according to his autobiography, “Beneath the Surface.”

The next month, Phelps finished fifth in his Olympic debut, clocking a then-personal-best time that would have earned gold or silver at every previous Olympics.

Following the Olympic race, gold medalist Malchow patted Phelps on the back, according to “No Limits,” another Phelps autobiography. What did Malchow say?

“The best is ahead of you.”

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