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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.”

Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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