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Five male gymnasts to watch at world championships

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Male gymnasts to watch at the world championships, which begin with qualifying Monday, followed by the all-around final Thursday and apparatus finals on Saturday and Sunday in Montreal (no team event) … 

Kohei Uchimura, Japan
Olympic All-Around Gold: 2012, 2016
World All-Around Gold: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015

Best in the world for eight straight years. Few athletes in any sport have that kind of streak going. Uchimura has shown it all since earning all-around silver at his Olympic debut in 2008. The Nagasaki native can utterly dominate, come from behind, recover from falls, lead a team and win titles on three of the six individual events as well.

But Uchimura’s streak nearly ended in Rio. He needed an incredible final routine — the top high bar score of the entire Olympics — to edge Ukrainian Oleg Verniaiev by .099 of a point. Uchimura also failed to earn an apparatus medal at an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2009. His dominance is in question now more than ever.

Oleg Verniaiev, Ukraine
Olympic All-Around Silver Medalist
Olympic, World Parallel Bars Champion

Back to challenge Uchimura. Verniaiev, who turns 24 this week (Uchimura is 28), showed admirable sportsmanship after the controversially scored high bar rotation in Rio, calling Uchimura the Michael Phelps of gymnastics in the post-event press conference.

Verniaiev swept the all-around at the European Championships and World University Games already this year. So he should be ready. He might also be the busiest gymnast in Montreal next weekend. He was the only gymnast to qualify for four apparatus finals at the Olympics.

MORE: World Champs broadcast schedule | Female gymnasts to watch

Max Whitlock, Great Britain
Olympic All-Around Bronze Medalist
Olympic Floor Exercise, Pommel Horse Champion

The only man other than Uchimura to finish in the top five of the all-around at every worlds and the Olympics in the last cycle. But Whitlock, 24, won’t be doing the all-around in Montreal, choosing to focus on floor and horse. He hopes the lighter workload can extend his career another two Olympics. Watch for him in the weekend apparatus finals.

Kenzo Shirai, Japan
Olympic Bronze Medalist, Vault
World Champion, Floor Exercise

The “Twist Prince” rewrote the history books in the last Olympic cycle, introducing multiple skills on floor and vault that were named after him. Now 21, Shirai has grown into an all-around threat, taking second behind Uchimura at a Japanese competition in May and outscoring 2014 World all-around bronze medalist Yusuke Tanaka. Uchimura was joined by a countryman on the all-around podium at three of the last four worlds, but there’s no guarantee that Japan chooses to have two men do the all-around this year.

Yul Moldauer, U.S.
P&G Championships All-Around Champion
AT&T American Cup Champion

Moldauer, a rising University of Oklahoma junior, actually beat Verniaiev at the American Cup in Newark, N.J., on March 4 in his first top-level international meet. The 5-foot-3 gymnast has the international artistic “look,” NBC Olympics analyst Tim Daggett said. While he’s clean, Moldauer might lack the difficulty to contend in the all-around this year. The U.S. hasn’t put a man on the world all-around podium since Jonathan Horton‘s bronze in 2010.

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MORE: U.S. names women’s gymnastics team for world champs

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics