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Heather Bergsma, Joey Mantia close speed skating worlds with titles

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Only the Netherlands earned more gold medals at the world single distance championships than the U.S., which bodes well for a PyeongChang bounce-back for American speed skaters who struggled in Sochi.

Sochi Olympians Heather Bergsma and Joey Mantia finished off worlds with titles in the 1500m and mass start, respectively. The U.S. earned four medals overall at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea.

Bergsma bagged three of them, setting up to perhaps be the top U.S. medal winner in any sport at the PyeongChang Olympics. Full worlds results are here.

A day after winning the 1000m, Bergsma outdueled Dutch star Ireen Wuest in the final pair of the 1500m on Sunday. Bergsma, with more early speed than 3000m champ Wuest, was six tenths of a second ahead going into the last lap.

“I definitely had to dig deep in the second lap, because if she would already have been ahead of me, mentally I would have been shut down,” Bergsma said, according to a press release.

Wuest, the most decorated woman in Sochi with five medals, closed in the final 400 meters but not enough, crossing one tenth after Bergsma.

“This was the exact draw that I did not want, starting in the inner lane versus Heather,” Wuest said. “Then it was up to me to stay calm and try to catch up in the last part of the race, which I managed, but the finish line came 30 meters too soon. Well, I guess you can’t change it in a 1530m, can you?”

Bergsma, who moved to the Netherlands after missing the medals in Sochi and married Dutch Olympic 10,000m champion Jorrit Bergsma, now owns world titles in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m in her career. Plus a world sprint title and the world record in the 1500m.

Later Sunday, Bergsma took bronze in the mass start, a new Olympic event where skaters race in a pack rather than in pairings. The mass start is similar to short track speed skating, except on a larger oval and at a longer distance (16 laps, which takes about eight minutes).

Mantia edged France’s Alexis Contin for gold in the men’s mass start Sunday, his first Olympic or world medal after transitioning from inline skating to the ice in 2011.

Four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis placed 11th in the 1500m won by the Netherlands’ Kjeld Nuis. Davis was fifth in the 1000m on Saturday.

In 2013, the U.S. earned three medals (no golds) at worlds at the 2014 Olympic venue. Then in Sochi, the top individual American finish was seventh, marking the first medal-less Winter Games by U.S. long-track speed skaters since 1984.

MORE: PyeongChang Olympics daily schedule highlights

Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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