Two years out: 20 U.S. athletes to watch for Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Leave a comment

With Tuesday marking two years until the 2020 Olympic Opening Ceremony, a look at 20 U.S. athletes to watch on the road to Tokyo …

Perry Baker, Rugby
The former Arena Football League wide receiver blossomed into the world’s best rugby sevens player in 2017, leading the World Series in tries. Baker took part in sevens’ Olympic debut in Rio, where the U.S. men failed to get out of pool play.

Simone Biles
, Gymnastics
The only woman on this list who has yet to compete since Rio. But the quadruple gold medalist was so dominant in the last Olympic cycle that she’s expected to return to the top of the sport in her comeback this summer.

David Boudia, Diving
The only man on this list who hasn’t competed since Rio. Boudia, the greatest U.S. diver since Greg Louganis, considered retirement last year but was due to return to competition in 2018. However, a crash off the 10-meter platform in winter training resulted in a concussion that delayed that plan.

Jordan Burroughs, Wrestling
The man expected to become the greatest U.S. wrestler of all time was tearfully upset in Rio. Burroughs rebounded to win his fourth world title last year, which put the father of two one shy of John Smith‘s national record of six combined Olympic and world titles.

Christian Coleman, Track and Field
Beat Usain Bolt in the Jamaican’s last race, taking 100m silver at the 2017 Worlds. Coleman is the world’s fastest man since Rio (9.82 seconds). Also owns a 40-yard dash time (4.12) one tenth faster than the NFL Combine record.

Caeleb Dressel
, Swimming
Matched Michael Phelps‘ record seven gold medals at a world championships last year, albeit two came in mixed-gender relays that weren’t on the program in Phelps’ heyday. Dressel is unmissable for his arm tattoos and a blue bandana he carries in remembrance of a high school teacher who died of cancer in November.

Allyson Felix, Track and Field
Felix, eyeing her fifth Olympics, already has the most medals for a female U.S. track and field athlete. She’s one shy of Carl Lewis‘ record for any U.S. track and field athlete and three shy of the most medals for a U.S. woman in any sport. But Felix turns 34 in 2020, and the U.S. is deep in her best event, the 400m, with 20-somethings.

Morgan Hurd, Gymnastics
The Harry Potter super fan from the Olympian-starved state of Delaware had an incredible 2017. She went from sixth at the U.S. Championships to winning the world all-around title, the sport’s biggest prize aside from the Olympics. Hurd, who competes in glasses, knows that the U.S. women’s gymnastics teams is among the hardest to make in any sport in any nation. The expected returns of Biles this summer and Laurie Hernandez in 2019 will complicate matters.

Nyjah Huston, Skateboarding
Tokyo 2020 could introduce a whole new set of sports fans to Nyjah Huston, the longtime face of skateboarding who has his own Nike shoe. Huston has eight X Games titles in street, one of two skateboarding events added to the Olympics. Winter Olympians may also pursue the Summer Games in skateboarding, notably Shaun White in the park event.

Gwen Jorgensen, Track and Field
The first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion gave birth to Stanley last August, then announced a switch to the marathon. Her goal is to win a gold medal in Tokyo, but it’s a tall ask just to make the three-woman U.S. team. The U.S. has the reigning New York City and Boston Marathon winners in Shalane Flanagan and Des Linden, plus a world bronze medalist in Amy Cragg.

Katie Ledecky, Swimming
Since bagging four more golds in Rio, Ledecky used Bryce Harper as a medal rack, met Bruce Springsteen, enrolled at Stanford, changed coaches, won eight NCAA titles and five more world titles, turned professional and broke another world record. Can win more golds in Tokyo with the Olympic debut of the women’s 1500m (Ledecky is 18 seconds faster than any woman in history).

Noah Lyles, Track and Field
Fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials as an 18-year-old, the dancing, somersaulting, backflipping Lyles is turning into the most exciting sprint personality in the post-Usain Bolt era. Lyles has accompanying talent, too. He is the U.S. 100 champion (wearing “The Incredibles” socks) and fastest in the world this year in the 200m.

Simone Manuel, Swimming
Who can forget Manuel’s reaction to earning gold in Rio? The first black woman to grab an individual Olympic swimming title captured another five golds at the 2017 Worlds. Like her good friend Ledecky, she recently completed her Stanford career.

Sydney McLaughlin, Track and Field
At 17, the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years in Rio. McLaughlin just turned professional after an eye-catching freshman season at Kentucky where she posted the fastest 400m hurdles time in the world this year by more than a half-second. McLaughlin also lowered her 200m and 400m personal bests by seconds, making her the most versatile U.S. woman between hurdles and sprints since Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Alex Morgan, Soccer
The U.S. women’s soccer team may be reigning World Cup champions, but they unceremoniously exited the Rio Games in the quarterfinals. It marked the first time the Americans failed to make an Olympic final. Morgan, a 29-year-old forward, eyes her third Olympics in Tokyo and the chance to chase Abby Wambach‘s American record nine career Olympic goals. Morgan is at five.

Lakey Peterson, Surfing
Surfing is one of four sports debuting at the Olympics in 2020, along with karate, skateboarding and sport climbing. Peterson, a 23-year-old whose grandfather invented the Egg McMuffin, has been the top U.S. male or female surfer this year, challenging six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore of Australia.

April Ross/Alix Klineman, Beach Volleyball
Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings split less than a year after their Rio Olympic bronze medal. Ross partnered with the 6-foot-5 Klineman, and they won their first international event together in January. That also happened to be the first international beach tournament for Klineman, a former indoor player at Stanford.

Maggie Steffens, Water Polo
Approaching legend status at age 25. Steffens was the top scorer and MVP at the last two Olympics, leading the U.S. to a pair of gold medals. Steffens’ father played internationally for Puerto Rico, an uncle made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that boycotted and sister Jessica played on the 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams.

Kerri Walsh Jennings/Nicole Branagh, Beach Volleyball
Walsh Jennings and Branagh are each 39 years old and have a combined five kids. They are the longest-standing partnership in elite U.S. women’s beach volleyball, although they have only been together for a year. Walsh Jennings is going for her sixth Olympics and fifth medal but is coming off a 2017 season-ending shoulder surgery (her sixth operation on that right shoulder). Come 2020, both Walsh Jennings and Branagh will be older than every previous Olympic beach volleyball player.

Serena Williams, Tennis
Williams made the Mother of all Comebacks to reach the Wimbledon final, 10 months after childbirth followed by pulmonary embolism complications that left her bedridden for six weeks. In the Olympic realm, the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion failed to earn a medal for the first time in Rio, falling in the third round in singles and the first round in doubles with older sister Venus Williams.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Softball is first event on 2020 Olympic schedule

Sam Mikulak wins fifth U.S. all-around gymnastics title, ties record

Leave a comment

BOSTON — Sam Mikulak‘s record-tying fifth U.S. all-around title came by his largest margin of victory. What he’s really yearning for is a first individual world championships medal.

Mikulak, the only Olympian in the field, added to his lead from Thursday and easily won by 4.75 points at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Saturday. Yul Moldauer, the 2017 U.S. champion in Mikulak’s absence, improved from sixth to finish second.

“This is my favorite national championship that I’ve won so far,” Mikulak told Andrea Joyce on NBC. “I finally feel like I’m in peak shape.”

Full scores are here.

Mikulak, 25, joined Blaine Wilson as the only men to win five U.S. all-around titles. He also became the oldest champ since David Durante in 2007.

But Mikulak is no longer satisfied with gold medals at nationals. He is one of the best American gymnasts to never earn an individual Olympic or world medal (Wilson is also on this list). He called this title “a stepping stone.”

Mikulak is sure to be named to the five-man team for October’s world championships, his next chance for that first individual global podium. Tokyo 2020 would be his third and likely final shot at an Olympic medal (Wilson won his only Olympic medal at his third and final Games in 2004).

“I’m trying to look into the world and international scene a little bit more, and if this [national] title comes along in the process, that’s a little cherry on top,” Mikulak said before the meet. “Until I can check some of that off will I feel like I’ve earned my right to retire.”

Mikulak hit all six routines Saturday, including a 15.25 on parallel bars that was the highest score of the two-day meet. He totaled 87.75 points. That’s 2.6 more than Thursday, when Mikulak fell twice and still had the best all-around score thanks to major mistakes from the other favorites.

“If I can go out and do this [repeat Saturday’s routines at worlds], I think I can make a very strong case for [a world medal],” said Mikulak, who didn’t do the all-around at worlds and nationals last year coming back from a torn Achilles.

Nationals end Sunday with the last day of women’s competition live on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app from 8-10 p.m. ET. Simone Biles carries a huge lead, eyeing a record fifth U.S. women’s all-around title as the first non-teen winner since 1971.

GYMNASTICS NATIONALS: TV/Stream Schedule | Where Are The Final Five?

Next for the U.S. men? World championships in Doha in October. Usually, the world team would be named right after nationals, but this year a September selection camp has been added. Up to eight men will be invited to that camp, after which the five-man world team will be named.

It could be a very new-look squad aside from the likely leaders Mikulak and Moldauer. Allan Bower and Donothan Bailey, who were third and fourth Saturday, have never been to a worlds. Neither has Alec Yoder, who won the national title on pommel horse, making him valuable.

All but one of Mikulak’s teammates from the last two Olympics have retired. The one who hasn’t — Rio pommel horse bronze medalist Alex Naddour — has been suspended since June for unspecified reasons.

Another top American, Marvin Kimble, withdrew before nationals due to injury but is training at his Wisconsin gym. He is petitioning for a spot on the national team to get into the worlds selection camp.

Yet another, Eddie Penev, is out with a torn ACL. Olympic alternate Donnell Whittenburg, competed here, but only on parallel bars and still rings, not fully back from November torn rotator cuff surgery.

Kimble, Mikulak, Moldauer, Naddour, Penev and Whittenburg were the U.S. entries at the 2017 Worlds, which only had individual events. Only Moldauer came back with a medal, a floor exercise bronze.

U.S. high-performance director Brett McClure has team medal aspirations but said before nationals that China, Japan and Russia are in a different league in terms of routine difficulty.

The U.S. men were fifth at the Rio Olympics and at the last worlds with a team event in 2015. That marked the first back-to-back global championships without a medal since 2006 and 2007.

Mikulak has been a part of recent U.S. teams that underwhelmed. He hopes that what happened at nationals — everybody struggling on the first day but nailing routines on the second, will portend success.

“Usually we do well in qualifications and then choke in team finals,” at the Olympics and worlds, Mikulak said. “So if we do the opposite, I’m totally cool with that.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Laurie Hernandez faces big decisions before comeback

Christian Coleman wins Birmingham 100m in photo finish (video)

Leave a comment

In a matchup of two breakout U.S. sprinters, Christian Coleman beat Noah Lyles in a 100m for the second time this season at a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, Great Britain on Saturday.

Coleman, the 2017 World silver medalist, clocked 9.94 seconds. Lyles, the U.S. champion who is stronger at 200m, crossed in third in 9.98. Brit Reece Prescod was between them, also in 9.94 seconds and all but catching Coleman in the last half of the race.

Coleman is the fastest indoor 60m runner of all time, but the field usually closes on him in the last half of 100m races. Lyles is not a strong starter but makes up ground in the second half.

Lyles and another American, Ronnie Baker, are the fastest men in the world this year at 9.88 seconds. Coleman clocked 9.82 last year and could have broken 9.9 this year but missed all of June with a hamstring injury.

“It was a sigh of relief because you never know what to expect when you come back from injury,” Coleman said, according to meet organizers. “I got my rhythm back, and I came out with the win in a good time.”

Lyles said he thought he was last when he crossed the finish line and that it was his worst race.

Full results are here. The Diamond League concludes with finals meets in Zurich and Brussels on Aug. 30-31.

In other events Saturday, Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo emerged from one of the deepest 200m fields in history to win in 22.15 seconds.

Every woman in the field ranks in the top 60 all-time. Miller-Uibo upset Brit Dina Asher-Smith, the triple gold medalist from last week’s European Championships that included the fastest 200m in the world this year (21.89). The Bahamian Miller-Uibo is undefeated at all distances this year.

“The 200m isn’t a race that I love,” Miller-Uibo said. “I really do like it, but not as much as the 400m.”

London Olympic champion Greg Rutherford finished last in what may have been his last long jump competition. The 31-year-old Brit has said he will retire after this season after a series of injuries in recent years.

American Sandi Morris beat Greek Katerina Stefanidi in a reversal of their 2016 Olympic and 2017 World Championships finish. But Morris only cleared 4.62 meters in windy conditions, well off her 2018 world-leading clearance of 4.95 from July 27.

American Fred Kerley, the second-fastest 400m runner in the world last year, edged European champion Matthew Hudson-Smith of Great Britain to win in 45.54. Kerley ranks eighth int the world this season, with Michael Norman having the fastest time of 43.61.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan held off Ethiopian Gudaf Tsegay — 4:00.60 to 4:01.03 — in a battle of the Nos. 3 and 4 1500m runners this year. Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba and U.S. breakthrough Shelby Houlihan, not in Saturday’s field, remain the fastest women of 2018.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ethiopian runner who protested at Olympics invited home