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

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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.”

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

MORE: World’s top skater leaves famed coach

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Respectfully, Donavan Brazier believes he has a chance at legendary record

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On the night of the biggest race of his life, Donavan Brazier met the man whom he is trying to succeed and, perhaps, supplant.

David Rudisha, the two-time Olympic 800m champion and world-record holder, told Brazier before the Oct. 1 world championships 800m final that he believed in the 22-year-old American more than any other man in that night’s event.

Later that evening in Doha, Brazier proved the sidelined Kenyan prophetic, winning in a national record 1:42.34 and becoming the first American to win a world title in the event.

Brazier, in his first global championship final, also ran the fastest time by somebody that young since Rudisha’s 2012 Olympic title and world-record epic pulled that field to personal bests.

Rudisha’s mark of 1:40.91 — from a race Brazier has watched dozens of times — is still significantly faster. That hasn’t stopped followers from wondering if Rudisha’s days as world-record holder may be numbered.

Sounds like Brazier may be wondering, too.

“I think I definitely have the opportunity,” Brazier told NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey in a watchback of his 2019 Diamond League and world titles. “If we’re looking at guys that are currently racing right now, I think I might have the best opportunity to do it.”

Brazier exercised caution. He was by no means predicting such a feat.

“David Rudisha, when he first broke it, he was a once-in-a-century athlete,” Brazier said. “For someone to break it so quick and just to say it so nonchalantly, I think it’s not really giving David Rudisha the respect that he deserves. A 1:40.91 is a really dangerous record to break.”

Brazier, who took up running in middle school in Michigan rather than football because he was “terribly skinny,” quickly became a dangerous prospect. In 2016, he went into the Olympic Trials ranked third in the world as a Texas A&M freshman.

Then came the obstacles. Brazier was eliminated in the first round of trials, three weeks after winning the NCAA title on the same Oregon track. In 2017, he won the U.S. title but failed to make the world final. He didn’t race at all outdoors in 2018 due to a foot injury.

Brazier looked at 2019 as a redemption year. He hit a series of successes: an American indoor 800m record, the world’s fastest indoor 600m in history, his first Diamond League win, a repeat national title and the Diamond League Final title.

Brazier said that last victory in Zurich took him from “not a well known guy, maybe a medal contender, maybe not,” to the world championships favorite. Rudisha hasn’t raced since 2017 due to injuries.

Brazier, after meeting Rudisha and former world-record holder Seb Coe, capped the season with his biggest title yet in Doha. The feeling was more relief than happiness. Brazier, after getting knocked down repeatedly in his first two seasons as a pro, noted that Muhammad Ali also won his first world title at age 22.

Brazier mouthed “thank you” after crossing the finish line, a salute to everybody who helped him reach that point.

“I’m thanking myself, too, because I’m the one who put in all the hard work to do it,” Brazier said. “I’m not saying that this is the end of my career, but it was definitely the peak of my career and the pinnacle of it. I never accomplished anything on a stage like that.”

MORE: Dalilah Muhammad rewatches 2019 world records

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