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.”

MORE: Ten gymnasts to watch at P&G Women’s Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier win U.S. figure skating pairs’ title in possible final nationals

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier haven’t decided if they’ll compete beyond this season, so Saturday may have been their farewell to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

If so, they went out as dominant winners, the first pair in their 30s to win nationals in more than 50 years.

Knierim, 31, and Frazier, 30, took their second U.S. title together, totaling 227.97 points to prevail by 31.11 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe. They led by a gaping 15.1 points after Thursday’s short.

Knierim and Frazier were solid after errors on their opening jumping combination in Saturday’s free skate. They broke their own pairs’ margin of victory record from the 2021 U.S. Championships under a scoring system implemented in 2006. Knierim appeared to wipe away tears backstage.

“As I get older, the longer I’m in this sport, the more gratitude I have for it,” Knierim, the oldest woman to win a U.S. figure skating title since 1995 (Renée Roca), said on USA Network. “After that music ended, I’m just thankful that Brandon’s by my side and I’m able to do what I love.”

Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea bagged bronze to likely round out the three-pair team for March’s world championships.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Knierim and Frazier considered retiring after last season, after they missed nationals due to Frazier’s COVID-19, petitioned onto the Olympic team and posted the best Olympic finish for a U.S. pair (sixth) in 20 years.

They then became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, beating a field that didn’t include any of the top five from the Olympics.

They returned in part to compete as world champions and rank second in the world this season (during which the top Olympic pairs also haven’t competed). They will likely go into March’s worlds in Japan as underdogs to Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who won their lone head-to-head this past fall at the Grand Prix Final.

Back in October, Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“This U.S. Championships for us was extra special because you’re just reflecting on the journey, and you know that there’s a good chance that this will be your last one,” Frazier said.

Knierim won her fifth U.S. title, tying the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka InaTai BabiloniaRandy GardnerKarol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Silver medalists Chan and Howe continued their recent surge. After placing fourth at last season’s nationals, they rank sixth in the world this season. That’s despite summer injuries that left them unable to practice lifts (his shoulder) and throws (her foot) for a while.

Kam, 18, and O’Shea, 31, made the podium four months after becoming a pair and less than two months after a car Kim was riding in was hit by a drunk driver while crossing an intersection. The car was totaled, but Kim and O’Shea still competed days later in Croatia.

O’Shea won the 2016 U.S. title with Tarah Kayne, retired after they split in late 2020, then came back in 2021 with Chelsea Liu. They ranked sixth in the U.S. going into 2022 Nationals, but withdrew beforehand due to concussions both suffered in a November competition fall, according to Figure Skaters Online.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Women
Gold: Isabeau Levito — 223.33
Silver: Bradie Tennell — 213.12
Bronze: Amber Glenn — 207.44
4. Starr Andrews — 188.24
5. Josephine Lee — 187.68
6. Lindsay Thorngren — 187.19
7. Clare Seo — 175.60
8. Gracie Gold — 173.98
9. Ava Ziegler — 167.70
10. Sonja Hilmer — 166.49
11. Gabriella Izzo — 166.40
12. Ting Cui — 161.27
13. Audrey Shin — 161.12
14. Lindsay Wang — 154.91
15. Michelle Lee — 145.28
16. Elsa Cheng — 138.13
17. Alexa Gasparotto — 129.41
WD. Hanna Harrell

Men’s Short Program
1. Ilia Malinin — 110.36
2. Jason Brown — 100.25
3. Tomoki Hiwatashi — 85.43
4. Liam Kapeikis — 82.27
5. Andrew Torgashev — 78.78
6. Maxim Naumov — 77.71
7. Jimmy Ma — 73.88
8. Goku Endo — 73.45
9. Samuel Mindra — 71.36
10. Yaroslav Paniot — 70.87
11. Camden Pulkinen — 69.47
12. Matthew Nielsen — 67.98
13. Joonsoo Kim — 67.45
14. Daniel Martynov — 64.04
15. Will Annis — 63.46
16. Dinh Tran — 60.63
17. Mitchell Friess — 59.14
18. Joseph Klein — 58.38

Pairs
Gold: Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 227.97
Silver: Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 196.86

Bronze: Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea — 184.01
4. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 179.08
5. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 176.34
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 172.74
7. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 148.84
8. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 137.98
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 135.30
10. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 132.07
11. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 129.80

Ice Dance
Gold: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 229.75
Silver: Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 207.46
Bronze: Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 198.45
4. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 198.13
5. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 189.84
6. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 189.15
7. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 183.05
8. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 182.61
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 181.89
10. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 177.31
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 167.87
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 133.93
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 129.85
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 123.40
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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