Helen Maroulis gets help from Cal Ripken Jr. on first pitch

Helen Maroulis
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It would be memorable for any D.C. area person to throw a pitch to Cal Ripken Jr. Helen Maroulis can say she did it twice, with a great story behind it.

Maroulis, a Maryland native who in Rio became the first U.S. women’s wrestling champion, visited the Aberdeen IronBirds to throw a ceremonial first pitch Thursday as part of her tour of area pro sports teams.

Her catcher was none other than Ripken, the IronBirds owner, who said he had never before caught a pitch from an Olympic gold medalist. (A little surprising given Michael Phelps is a noted Ripken fan)

Maroulis, who lifted Teddy Roosevelt at a Washington Nationals game but did not throw a first pitch last week, practiced with Ripken in the bullpen before her pitch Thursday.

Once she got to the more sloped pitcher’s mound, her ceremonial toss bounced once before reaching Ripken, well off the plate. Rather than accept it, the Baltimore Orioles legend lofted the ball back to Maroulis and told her to try again.

“It felt incredible, but you know what, I’m more happy about the lessons I got beforehand,” Maroulis told the Baltimore Sun. “No one saw that, but Cal is awesome, so I don’t know if I would have gotten that to home plate without him.

“If Cal’s throwing you the ball back, you better get it right the second time. So I was going for broke at that point.”

Maroulis felt butterflies, just like she does before wrestling matches. Ripken sensed it.

“It’s nerve-wracking going out on the field and throw, if it’s not what you do,” Ripken said. “We practiced down here in the bullpen, and we measured it off down there to see if she could do it, and she took it all the way to 60 feet. I didn’t tell her about the slope of the mound, it kind of messed her up the first time, so we had to have a take two.”

Maroulis and Ripken then shared a Maryland tradition, cracking steamed crabs.

Last Saturday, Maroulis gave the Baltimore Ravens a pre-game, locker-room speech. On Friday, she is to throw a first pitch at a Baltimore Orioles game.

MORE: Maroulis’ rival from Japan decides not to retire

Asher Hong leads U.S. men’s gymnastics world team selection camp after first day

Asher Hong

Asher Hong, 18, posted the highest all-around score on the first of two days of competition at the U.S. men’s gymnastics selection camp to determine the last three spots on the team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Hong, bidding to become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009, totaled 84.6 points in Colorado Springs. He edged Colt Walker by one tenth. Tokyo Olympians Shane Wiskus (84.15) and Yul Moldauer (83.95) were next. Full apparatus-by-apparatus scores are here.

Brody Malone, who repeated as U.S. all-around champion at August’s national championships, and runner-up Donnell Whittenburg already clinched spots on the five-man team for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. They did not compete Monday, though their results from the first day of nationals are shown in the official scores.

The three remaining team spots will not necessarily go to the top three all-arounders at this week’s camp, which is supposed to be weighed equally with results from August’s nationals. Hong was third at nationals, but if excluding difficulty bonus points from that meet that will not be considered by the committee, would have finished behind Walker and Moldauer in August.

A selection committee is expected to announce the team soon after the second and final day of selection camp competition on Wednesday evening. The committee will look at overall scoring potential for the world team final, where three men go per apparatus, and medal potential in individual events.

Stephen Nedoroscik, who last year became the first American to win a world title on the pommel horse, is trying to make the team solely on that apparatus. He wasn’t at his best at nationals and struggled again on Monday, hurting his chances of displacing an all-arounder for one of the last three spots.

The U.S. has reason to emphasize the team event over individual medals at this year’s worlds. It will clinch an Olympic berth by finishing in the top three, and its medal hopes are boosted by the absence of the Russians who won the Olympic team title. All gymnasts from Belarus and Russia are banned indefinitely from international competition due to the war in Ukraine.

In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship

The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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