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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

Kyle Dake repeats as world wrestling champ; next challenge: Jordan Burroughs

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Kyle Dake recovered from an unspecified freak accident that required surgery, and not wrestling in a meet for eight months, to repeat as world champion at 79kg, a non-Olympic weight class, on Sunday.

The next six months will bring another challenge — beating Jordan Burroughs for an Olympic spot.

“Every year I have a goal of being the best guy in the world. Last year, I proved it. This year, I proved it,” Dake told Trackwrestling.com. “I’ve got my work cut out for me, coming up.”

Dake, a four-time NCAA champion at Cornell who considered quitting after finishing second at U.S. trials year after year, is now in his freestyle prime. He backed up going unscored on at worlds last year by beating his four opponents in Kazakhstan this week by a combined 27-4, capped by topping Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov 4-2 in a final rematch.

Kid Dynamite is unquestionably one of the world’s best pound-for-pound wrestlers.

That was not the case four years ago. Then, an internationally inexperienced Dake moved out of the 74kg division, and up to 86kg for the Olympic year, to avoid facing Burroughs because Burroughs had a bye into the Olympic trials final as the reigning world champion. Dake ended up losing the 86kg trials final to J’den Cox, who on Saturday repeated as world champion himself.

The four-year difference would seem to favor Dake over Burroughs at April’s trials, where Dake has a bye into the semifinals and Burroughs into the final.

Burroughs, at 31 years old, is on the back end of his career. He just missed the finals of back-to-back world championships for the first time, though he came back for bronze medals. Burroughs has made every U.S. world or Olympic team at 74kg dating to 2011 and earned a medal every time, save his tearful Rio Olympic exit.

Dake, reluctant four years ago to detail his decision to move out of 74kg, determined before this week’s worlds that he would choose 74kg over 86kg (where Cox likely waits again).

“74 seems like a good spot for me,” Dake told Trackwrestling last month.

The number of weight classes drops from 10 at worlds to six at the Olympics, ensuring that at least two of these Americans will not make the Tokyo team:

Burroughs — 5x Olympic/world champion
Dake — 2x world champion
David Taylor — 2018 World champion (missed 2019 while injured)
Cox — 2x world champion
Kyle Snyder — 2x Olympic/world champion

Later Sunday, Snyder rallied from being upset in the 97kg semifinals on Saturday to snag a bronze medal with a 5-0 win over Georgian Elizbar Odikadze. A potential third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev was the most anticipated match of the championships, but Snyder was beaten one match early by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov.

Sadulayev, meanwhile, blanked Sharifov 4-0 to complete a 30-3 romp through his four matches to repeat as world champ.

“The hardest part about it I would say is just the fact that I didn’t get to wrestle Sadulayev again,” said Snyder, a Rio Olympic champion and a 2015 and 2017 World champion who shared bus and elevator rides with Sadulayev on Saturday and Sunday. “I felt prepared for him.”

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MORE: Jordan Burroughs: Time is running out

Israel is first nation to qualify for 2020 Olympic baseball tournament

Margo Sugarman
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Israel’s baseball team, which captivated at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, is headed to its first Olympics next summer.

Israel won a joint European-African tournament to become the first nation to qualify for baseball’s return to the Games after the sport was voted off the program after Beijing 2008.

It joins host nation Japan. Four more countries will qualify — two at the global Premier12 in November, another from the Americas and one more from a last-chance qualifier next year.

Israel, ranked 19th in the world, advanced via its best opportunity in Italy this week. It upset the highest-ranked European nations — the Netherlands (No. 8) and host Italy (No. 16) — and wrapped it up with an 11-1 win over South Africa on Sunday.

Its run came two years after Israel, then ranked 41st, beat South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands and Cuba before bowing out of the World Baseball Classic. And one week after Israel finished fourth at the European Championship.

Israel’s roster at this week’s Olympic qualifier lacked many of the MLB veterans that it had at the World Baseball Classic. Israeli citizenship was not required at the WBC.

Its most recognizable player is Danny Valencia, an infielder who played parts of nine MLB seasons from 2010-18. Joey Wagman, its starting pitcher for its first and last games this week, plies his trade for the independent-league Milwaukee Milkmen.

MLB players are unlikely to feature at the Tokyo Games, but minor leaguers are expected to be eligible as in the past.

The rest of the Olympic field is likely to be nations from North America (such as the U.S., Cuba, Mexico or Canada) or Asia (South Korea, Chinese Taipei) or Australia.

Baseball will not be on the 2024 Olympic program but could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

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