Five men’s gymnasts to watch at P&G Championships

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It’s fair to say this week’s P&G Championships heralds a new era for U.S. men’s gymnastics.

In the last six months, four Olympians effectively announced retirements.

That came on the heels of a change in leadership for a program that followed silver in 2004 and bronze in 2008 with fifth-place finishes in 2012 and 2016.

Gone are Jacob DaltonJonathan HortonDanell Leyva and John Orozco, who each made two Olympic teams and combined for double-digit Olympic and world medals. At times, they led squads that challenged world powers China and Japan.

The U.S. goes into this Olympic cycle without that kind of expectation. Not yet, at least.

“I think it’s good for the U.S. team, to be perfectly honest,” NBC Olympics analyst Tim Daggett said of the lack of familiar faces this week. “It gives some of the younger guys an opportunity to really step up and not be completely in the shadows.”

The year after the Games is all about individual goals. There is no team event at October’s world championships in Montreal.

Six men will be named for worlds either late Saturday night, after competition wraps up, or Sunday. That team should include a new U.S. all-around champion.

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Sam Mikulak, who took the last four national titles, is expected to compete on one or two out of six events at P&Gs. The two-time Olympian is working his way back from February Achilles surgery.

The other Olympian in the field, Rio pommel horse bronze medalist Alex Naddour, is not expected to factor into the all-around. He may focus on horse and still rings.

Mikulak and Naddour can still make the world team without competing on every apparatus.

The all-around “is going to be a three-person race between Yul Moldauer, Akash Modi and Donnell Whittenburg,” Daggett said.

Five men to watch in Anaheim this week:

Sam Mikulak
Two-time Olympian
Four-time U.S. all-around champion

Mikulak, 24, returned to skills training a little more than two months ago. Last month, he competed on one event at a qualifier, falling off the pommel horse. Still, Daggett is confident he will be a contender on high bar and parallel bars come world championships, seeking his first individual medal.

“He’s going to be the same Sam, is my guess,” Daggett said. “I’m not that surprised [that he’s back five months after surgery]. I would have been really surprised if he goes and does floor [exercise] and vaulting [this week]. But to take landings, I would say it’s a very doable thing for him to be at this point.”

Alex Naddour
Rio Olympic pommel horse bronze medalist
Two-time world championships medalist

Naddour, the only Olympic medalist in this field, is expected to compete through this Olympic cycle and up to the Tokyo Games, when he will be 29 years old. That’s in part because of a change in Olympic roster makeup that will incorporate two athletes who compete strictly in individual events and not for the team. Naddour’s pommel horse prowess might be enough to get him to 2020.

Naddour eyes his fifth national title on pommel horse and potentially his first on still rings.

Donnell Whittenburg
Rio Olympic alternate
Two-time world championships medalist

Two years ago, the linebacker-built Whittenburg seemed poise to make the Olympic team. He was second to Mikulak at the 2015 P&G Championships and the top U.S. all-arounder at those world championships (eighth).

But Whittenburg dropped to fourth and fifth in the all-around at last year’s nationals and Olympic Trials, moving onto the Olympic team bubble. It burst, and he went to Rio as an alternate.

“He says he’s never going to let that happen again,” Daggett said. “As an athlete, physically, he’s mind-blowing. His biggest challenge is always going to come on both high bar and pommel horse.”

Yul Moldauer
2017 AT&T American Cup winner

The rising University of Oklahoma junior upset Olympic all-around silver medalist Oleg Vernyayev to win the AT&T American Cup on March 4 in his first top-level international meet.

“His gymnastics is as error-free as anybody doing gymnastics right now,” Daggett said. “There have been gymnasts that can do well in the United States, and they just don’t hold up as well on the international front. That’ll never be the case with Yul.”

Akash Modi
Rio Olympic alternate
2017 NCAA all-around champion

Modi and Moldauer have traded victories in head-to-head competitions this year. Modi, who just completed his Stanford career, has the degree of difficulty edge on his Oklahoma rival. It’s just a matter of how clean he can be.

But one wonders if either Moldauer or Modi would have been able to keep a fully healthy Mikulak from a fifth straight national title. Mikulak won all four of his crowns despite never hitting all 12 of his routines at the two-day meet.

“To a healthy and error-free Sam, no, they’re not at that level,” Daggett said. “To be perfectly honest, in my opinion, an error-free Sam, the only person that was really at his level was [Olympic all-around champion] Kohei Uchimura and Vernyayev, I would say — Sam never had a flawless competition, but if he had.”

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MORE: Two-time U.S. Olympian retires from men’s gymnastics

Alistair Brownlee, after Ironman, leans toward Olympic return

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Alistair Brownlee is already the only triathlete with multiple Olympic titles. In July, he is reportedly leaning toward another impressive feat, to win an Olympic gold medal the summer after completing the Kona Ironman World Championships.

The Brit Brownlee said he is “definitely swinging towards” trying to qualify for the Tokyo Games, according to the Times of London. Brownlee’s manager confirmed the stance while noting that his result in the Ironman Western Australia on Dec. 1 will play into the ultimate decision.

Brownlee previously reportedly said he was “50-50” on going for the Olympics and that he had to decide between focusing on the shorter Olympic distance or the Ironman, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon.

Other Olympic triathletes transitioned to the Ironman and never went back, such as 2008 Olympic champion Jan Frodeno of Germany and two-time U.S. Olympian Sarah True.

Brownlee finished 21st in Kona on Oct. 12 in 8 hours, 25 minutes, 3 seconds, which was 33:50 behind the winner Frodeno.

Brownlee won four half Ironmans between 2017 and 2018 (sandwiched by a hip surgery), then finished second to Frodeno at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship on Sept. 2.

One other triathlete won an Olympic title after completing the Kona Ironman — Austrian Kate Allen, who was seventh in Kona in 2002, then took gold at the 2004 Athens Games.

MORE: 2019 Kona Ironman World Championships Results

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Alberto Salazar appeals doping ban

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The Court of Arbitration for Sport says it has registered an appeal by track coach Alberto Salazar against his ban for doping violations, though a hearing will take several months to prepare.

CAS says Salazar and Dr. Jeffrey Brown appealed against their four-year bans by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

After a multi-year USADA investigation, Salazar and Brown were found guilty of doping violations linked to the Nike Oregon Project training camp. USADA said Salazar ran experiments with supplements and testosterone, and possessed and trafficked the banned substance.

The case also related to falsified and incomplete medical records that disguised the work.

CAS says Salazar and Brown asked for more time to file “written submissions and evidence,” adding the hearing is “unlikely to take place before March.”

Verdicts typically take at least a further several weeks.

MORE: Mary Cain raises issues from being coached by Salazar

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