Key for Team USA men’s gymnastics? Sticky glue and sticky pad quotes

Sam Mikulak
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RIO DE JANEIRO – Before the U.S. men’s gymnastics team departed for the Olympics, staff athletic trainer Jamie Broz handed captain Chris Brooks a care package.

It included super glue (for two reasons), a fruit-and-nut mix and a sticky pad of 30 inspirational quotes. The quotes, Broz said, were for Brooks to read to the team, one per day, before they leave the Olympic Village for the gymnastics arena.

Broz happened to be passing by the gymnasts’ room early Tuesday when she heard Brooks “shout” the quote.

Then they all stepped into an elevator and embarked for team qualifying on the first day of the Games.

“They love it,” Broz said of the motivational tool. “It kind of gets them out the door.”

WATCH: Saturday’s men’s gymnastics competition

So what was Tuesday’s quote?

“I was obviously trying to get into my zone, but it was something about believing,” 2012 Olympic all-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva said. “[Brooks] is the only one who can remember it.”

Ok. Captain?

“I don’t remember,” Brooks said, leading a journalist to wonder if he actually followed Broz’s instructions. “No, I read it.”

Three-time U.S. all-around champion Sam Mikulak had their backs.

“It was something about, you have the ability to make it happen, so go out there and make it happen,” he said. “Really believe in yourself.”

The Americans looked full of self-belief – and stronger than medal favorites Japan and Great Britain – in their first four of six rotations in qualifying on Saturday.

Then they made a mess of pommel horse, as they always seem to do. But they still had the highest qualifying score with the third and final subdivision of teams to go, a group that includes two-time defending Olympic champion China.

The U.S. easily qualified for Monday’s eight-team final in a way that was reminiscent of the 2012 Olympics.

A Rio team medal, which seemed unlikely after a fifth-place finish at the 2015 World Championships, is now a little more realistic. But any optimism must be cautioned.

The U.S. men had the highest qualifying score four years ago – where Japan also struggled – but the Americans plummeted to fifth in the final with pommel horse being the Achilles’ heel.

There is also a lingering wonder that favorites Japan and China may not always show their best gymnastics in qualifying. Japan was shockingly behind Netherlands and France in qualifying.

In 2012, China was sixth and Japan was fifth in qualifying. Then they went one-two in the final for a second straight Olympics.

WATCH: All gymnastics events live at NBCOlympics.com

“They’re saving themselves for the finals,” U.S. and University of Oklahoma coach Mark Williams said. “From my experience as a college coach, you want to be good the first day [in qualifying], and you want to be better the second day [in the final]. But you don’t want to have to be scrambling to get better the second day. So I feel like we did exactly what we needed to do. We still have some room to improve.”

So, is this year’s U.S. team better equipped to handle this situation than the London group?

“We have more experience, we know what to expect,” said Jake Dalton, one of three Olympic rookies from that 2012 team who are on the five-man Rio squad. “We’re not going to get too hyped up. Last time, I think, it was awesome, we were excited, we went into finals super hyped and then we had mistakes.”

Brooks is without a doubt the most excitable, fist-pumping, chest-beating member of the team (not counting Leyva’s animated father, of course). And he has reason to be. He’s making an Olympic debut at age 29. Nobody else on the team is older than 25.

Even though Dalton is stressing calm, Brooks’ demeanor is what drew Broz to assemble the items in the care package.

“Chris is the team captain, and he’s inspirational to everybody,” she said. “When he was announced team captain, I thought, give them all the tools they need. That’s kind of my job.”

The super glue, distributed not just to Brooks but also to the rest of the team, serves two purposes. Gymnasts actually use it to cover ripped-up skin. Broz also wanted it to symbolize how each of the five is part of a glue that keeps the team together.

Broz has been with USA Gymnastics for nearly 20 years. And this is the first time she has done this with a men’s team.

What makes this one so special? It’s their differences, Broz said.

There are Brooks and Alex Naddour at their first Games after traveling to London in 2012 as alternates.

There are Dalton and Mikulak, two 2012 Olympians who misses the 2015 Worlds due to injuries.

And there’s Leyva, who didn’t make this team outright but was called up after John Orozco tore his left ACL again in July.

“They have that mixture that, if you add all the ingredients in,” Broz said, “they’re going to be something big.”

Ilia Malinin’s quadruple Axel sheds light on first figure skater to land triple Axel

Vern Taylor
Vern Taylor, the first figure skater to land a triple Axel in competition. (Getty Images)
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Vern Taylor arrived at the Riverside Skating Club in Windsor, Ontario, on Sept. 15 to do what he has done at that rink for the last three decades: coach figure skaters. But this day was different.

Taylor, who in 1978 became the first man to land a ratified triple Axel in competition, was told that 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin performed the first quadruple Axel the previous night.

“When we heard that he landed it, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s terrific,'” Taylor said by phone.

He was then shown video of Malinin’s feat.

“Anything’s possible,” Taylor said. “43 years [later], that’s something. It’s knowing that you can perform the jump that makes it challenging.”

Malinin, the world junior champion, landed the most difficult jump in skating and checked off the only remaining quad yet to be performed.

At the 1978 World Championships in Ottawa, a 20-year-old Taylor broke through a similar barrier in hitting the last remaining unchecked triple jump. But while Malinin’s senior career seems to be just getting started, and many medals appear in his future, Taylor is largely a forgotten man outside of ardent figure skating followers.

He finished 12th at those 1978 World Championships. Taylor’s 1980 Olympic prospects were dimmed by the fact that Canada had just one men’s singles spot, and he had taken runner-up at nationals in 1978 and 1979 to Brian Pockar, who also outscored Taylor at those years’ world championships. So Taylor stopped competing a year before the Lake Placid Games.

“I didn’t have a reason,” he said. “I just decided to take a break.”

Taylor will always have that day at the world championships in Ottawa. He can still remember the nervousness, knowing that two other skaters also planned to attempt a triple Axel. They were unsuccessful, though Taylor didn’t know it.

“I didn’t see their jumps,” he said. “I didn’t want to know what was ahead of me.”

American David Jenkins landed a triple Axel in Movietone newsreel footage reported to be from 1957, but that was not in competition.

Taylor, skating to music from “Rocky,” put the triple Axel as the third jump of his program, according to reports at the time. The one YouTube video of it, published two years ago, has 32,000 views. It shows Taylor landing the three-and-a-half revolution jump on one foot and spinning out of it while managing to stay on that single skate blade amid a crowd roar.

“During that program, it was like a rock concert,” Taylor said. “I got the energy from the audience.”

The Montreal Gazette reported at the time that the jump was ratified three hours later. Italian Sonia Bianchetti, the men’s referee at the 1978 Worlds, said she met with the assistant referee, the ISU president and a technical delegate.

“During this short meeting it was recognized that Vern had completed the first triple Axel Paulsen jump [Norwegian Axel Paulsen was the skater who landed the first Axel jump in 1882, getting it named after him] in an officially recognized figure skating competition,” she wrote in an email last month. “The triple Axel was fully rotated and landed on one foot.”

One of the people inside the Ottawa Civic Centre that day was 16-year-old Canadian Brian Orser. Orser, inspired by Taylor, later became synonymous with the jump — labeled “Mr. Triple Axel” and landing it en route to silver medals at the Olympics in 1984 and 1988 and the 1987 World title.

Orser remembered Taylor visiting his skating club for an exhibition. Orser saw Taylor doing an Axel takeoff exercise off the ice, incorporated it into his own routine and began teaching it to his skaters after becoming a coach.

Yet another Canadian, Kurt Browning, was the first man to land a ratified quadruple jump of any kind in competition — a toe loop at the 1988 World Championships.

“For me, personally, it was huge,” he said, “because I was promised a car if I could land it.”

Through an agreement with an Edmonton car dealership, Browning was handed the keys to a Quattro — quad/Quattro — after hitting the toe loop. The skater was unaware that the dealer was merely leasing it to him. About six months later, Browning received a call asking to bring the car back.

Browning was inspired by American Brian Boitano, whom he previously saw land a quad outside of competition. Taylor motivated him, too.

“[Taylor] gave me permission, even at a young age, to start thinking bigger,” he said.

Browning also pointed to Jozef Sabovčík, a 1980s skater for then-Czechoslovakia who many believe was the first man to land a quad in competition, Browning included. Sabovčík was initially given credit for a quad toe loop at the 1986 European Championships, but weeks later it was invalidated because he touched down with his free foot, according to reports.

“I never want to come off as arrogant, but despite what ISU [International Skating Union] decided in the end, I do know that I landed the jump on that day,” Sabovčík, who said he performed a quad jump on his birthdays through age 44, wrote in an email. “The fact that most of the people in the skating world believe the same thing, it means everything to me that Kurt is one of them. It would have been nice to have my name in the Guinness Book of Records, but I am also not trying to change history.”

Sabovčík, now 58 and coaching in Salt Lake City, attended March’s world championships in Montpellier, France, where Malinin finished ninth. There, he spoke with Malinin’s parents, Russian-born Uzbek Olympic skaters Tatyana Malinina and Roman Skornyakov, whom he calls friends.

“They told me that he was already doing a quad Axel on a fishing pole harness [in practice], and that it was coming,” Sabovčík said.

Less than two months after that talk, the first video surfaced of Malinin landing a clean quad Axel — at a U.S. Figure Skating jump camp.

“I did not think [a quad Axel] was possible,” Sabovčík said. “It really has to be an athlete that can combine the technical ability with jumping ability with the speed of rotation. When Kurt and I jumped, we had a relatively speaking slow rotation, but we jumped really big compared to these kids. But Ilia, he has the vertical lift, but he [also] has an unbelievably fast rotation.”

The recent proliferation of quads in men’s and women’s skating can be attributed to several factors, including better boots, better ice conditions and improvements in technology that can aid coaching. Still, there are concerns about if and how the pounding of training quads can wear down a skater physically.

“It’s a lot of pain you don’t feel at first, but you know it comes later,” said Frenchwoman Surya Bonaly, who started training a quad in 1989 and attempting it through the mid-1990s. Bonaly had two hip surgeries after her competitive career.

Even Taylor faced those questions.

“People said, ‘Aren’t you worried about injuring yourself?'” he said. “I would say, ‘No, I want you to know it can be done.'”

Sabovčík never tried a quad Axel in his skating days, but Browning did for less than a week in the early 1990s after winning four consecutive world titles.

“Just playing with it,” said Browning, who never tried it in competition. “Ilia has that special ability to not only get up in the air, but then he has that beautiful rotation that doesn’t look hurried. It’s fast, it’s quick as lightning, but it doesn’t look hurried. It’s so easy. Like a good golfer swings easy, and the ball goes 400 yards.”

Browning recalled a conversation he had with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who in recent years made the quad Axel his quest. Hanyu attempted it in competition last season but did not land it cleanly before retiring in July. He said upon retirement that he still hoped to master the jump for his non-competitive show career.

“I asked Yuzu one day, ‘When you do quad Axel, does it just feel like you’re up there forever?'” Browning said. “And he kind of looked at me funny, and he goes, ‘Yeah, like it never ends.'”

The skating world awaits the reserved Hanyu’s thoughts on Malinin’s quad.

“Knowing Yuzu, I would think he’d be very supportive,” said Orser, who coached Hanyu for nearly a decade. “He appreciates that kind of athleticism.”

Orser also noted what comes with being the first — and so far only — skater to land a rarefied jump. Malinin, who headlines Skate America in two weeks, will be asked about the quad Axel in just about every interview for the foreseeable future. For some skaters, they may feel a responsibility to land it all the time.

“But I don’t think [Malinin] thinks too much about it,” Orser said. “His technique is perfect, so he’ll be fine.”

The inevitable topic after that is the next progression in skating: the first quintuple jump. Orser said that Hanyu did five-rotation Salchows in practice with the aid of a harness.

“It’s just a little bit more rotation than the quadruple Axel, so it’s not that far off,” said Sabovčík, whose unratified quad toe loop came eight years after Taylor’s triple Axel. “Now that I’ve seen the quad Axel, I don’t think it’s impossible.”

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Aleksandra Trusova splits from coach Eteri Tutberidze, months after Olympic tears

Alexandra Trusova, Eteri Tutberidze
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Olympic figure skating silver medalist Aleksandra Trusova reportedly split from coach Eteri Tutberidze‘s group, eight months after a tearful scene after the Olympic free skate.

Trusova, 18, will now be coached by Svetlana Sokolovskaya, according to Russian media reports dating to Saturday. All Russian skaters are ineligible to compete internationally indefinitely due to the national ban over the war in Ukraine, but Russia is still holding domestic events.

At the Beijing Winter Games, Trusova became the first woman to land five quadruple jumps in a free skate. She had the highest score that day, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap to fellow Tutberidze pupil Anna Shcherbakova from the short program.

Moments after the competition ended, Trusova was seen crying and yelling at Sergey Dudakov, a member of Tutberidze’s coaching team.

“Everyone has a gold medal! Everyone has! Only I don’t! I hate figure skating! I hate! I will never step on the ice again! Never!” she said in Russian.

Shcherbakova had the individual gold, and the other Russian women’s singles skater at the Games, Kamila Valiyeva, skated both programs of the team event. The Russians placed first in the team event, but medals will not be awarded until Valiyeva’s doping case is adjudicated. It’s possible that Valiyeva gets retroactively disqualified, the Russian team gets disqualified and the other nations all move up with the U.S. going from silver to gold.

Trusova performed at the Russian test skates last month, withdrawing after her short program due to a back injury.

Trusova previously left Tutberidze in 2020 for two-time Olympic champion turned coach Yevgeny Plushenko‘s group, then moved back to Tutberidze’s group after the 2020-21 season.

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