Yul Moldauer, Sam Mikulak
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U.S. men’s gymnastics team sets medal goals after hard talk

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BOSTON — The U.S. men’s gymnastics team gathered in May for what director Brett McClure called “a hard discussion.”

The topic? Goals and accountability through the 2020 Olympics. McClure wants a team medal in Tokyo.

“Absolutely,” McClure said on the eve of the U.S. Championships at TD Garden on Wednesday. “We want to win a team medal at the world championships this year.”

This marks the first year of the Olympic cycle with a team event at the world championships. The U.S. men finished fifth at the last world championships in 2015 and at the Olympics in 2016, their first time off the podium in back-to-back global competitions since 2006 and 2007.

That led to major changes.

McClure, a 2004 Olympic team silver medalist, replaced Kevin Mazeika as the leader of the men’s program six months after Rio. A quartet of two-time Olympians retired — Jake DaltonJonathan HortonDanell Leyva and John Orozco — all of them individual medalists at the Olympics or worlds.

“We had over half of our senior national team retire,” McClure said. “This is a brand-new group.”

With a brand-new mindset at nationals, a two-day meet (Thursday and Saturday for the men; Friday and Sunday for the women). A TV and streaming schedule is here.

In a change, the five-man roster for October’s world championships in Doha will not be named this weekend.

The U.S. men adopted something similar to a longtime U.S. women’s team procedure — a later selection camp — with a two-month break between nationals and worlds.

Up to eight men will be chosen after nationals for the September camp, which will count just as much to the selection committee as nationals.

Expect Sam Mikulak and Yul Moldauer to be there. The two-time Olympian Mikulak won every U.S. all-around title the last Olympic cycle. He ceded the crown to Moldauer last year, competing in a limited fashion after a torn Achilles, but plans a full slate this week.

Both of them are the front-runners, without question,” NBC Sports analyst Tim Daggett said.

Moldauer, then a University of Oklahoma junior, proved he belonged at the world champs last October. In his first worlds, Moldauer did what Mikulak could not in two Olympics and three prior world championships — earn an individual medal (bronze on floor exercise).

Moldauer made that podium despite having the least-difficult routine of the eight men in the final. Difficulty — or start value — scores were emphasized by McClure.

“The difficulty is not quite up at the top of the world,” he said. “This young U.S. team is trying to find their way. … Our start values are a lot lower than China, Japan, even Russia.”

A team medal at the world championships would not only keep the U.S. from a full-fledged drought, but also qualify a men’s team for the Olympics a year earlier than usual.

Mikulak in particular is motivated by international medals. The only Olympian in this week’s field, he is one of the greatest U.S. gymnasts of all time without a single individual Olympic or world medal.

“Until I can check some of that off will I feel like I’ve earned my right to retire,” said Mikulak, a 25-year-old who plans to compete through Tokyo 2020, then maybe take it year by year.

This week, Mikulak can become the first man to win five U.S. all-around titles since Blaine Wilson from 1996-2000.

Wilson was a three-time Olympian, like Mikulak aspires to be. Wilson also earned no individual international medals, but he went out on a high with a team bronze at Athens 2004, a team that included McClure.

“I’m trying to look into the world and international scene a little bit more,” Mikulak said, “and if this [U.S.] title comes along in the process, that’s a little cherry on top.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the men’s selection camp is closed-doors. 

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MORE: Morgan Hurd’s path to gymnastics gold began with 6-hour bus ride

Three questions with Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea before the U.S. Championships

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2016 U.S. national champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea changed coaches to kick off the new season. Now under Dalilah Sappenfield in Colorado Springs, the oft-injured team said they’re healthier than ever heading into the U.S. Championships this weekend in Detroit.

The 2018 Four Continents Champions got off to a “slow start” this year, with a seventh place finish a silver medal on the Challenger Series. On the Grand Prix series, though, they had a fifth place finish in Japan and a silver medal-performance in France. It was their first-ever Grand Prix medal. They told reporters on a media teleconference ahead of nationals that both of their Grand Prix performances “showed growth.” Since then, they’ve spent time drilling on their programs.

Here’s what we learned from their teleconference:

1. They’ve made huge strides from where they are today compared to where they were this time before nationals a year ago.

Tarah Kayne: “There’s a huge difference for me specifically mentally and physically. Last year I was coming off of a right knee surgery where I had my patella tendon reconstructed. For nationals, we were just getting started back into competitive shape. We had maybe a handful of free skate run-throughs under our belts going into nationals. I was just starting to get comfortable doing throws again. We were purposefully trying to make our throws smaller to cut back the impact on my right knee, and to make it as safe as possible.”

“Now this season, I am feeling so much healthier and stronger. We’re making our throws bigger again! Which is a great feeling for me to feel comfortable and to be in that place physically. And also mentally to feel safe doing that. A huge part of that has been being at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and training under Dalilah who I find to be very empowering.”

Danny O’Shea: “We’re healthy. That’s been the goal for a very long time. We have been elusive for a lot of our career so far. Feeling healthy going into nationals is a very comforting place to be in. Not having to scramble, rely purely on mental toughness to overcome what may be a lack of physical training is a very nice place to be in.

2. They feel like they got a fresh start under their new coach.

TK: “With Dalilah, we started from scratch. We just came to her and let her mold us. Whatever she wanted us to do, we did. We didn’t question things. We didn’t say, ‘that’s not how we do things, how we’re used to.’ We just let her change whatever she wanted to change because we didn’t want to get the same results we have always gotten. We wanted to improve. We wanted to be bigger; we wanted to be better; we wanted to be faster.”

DO: “When you’re with a coach for seven years as a team, things are second-nature. There’s been definite differences in what we’ve been doing throughout the year. Some took some getting used to. Some were very comfortable right off the bat. Overall, it’s been a positive for us and that we’re in a very good place physically right now, which is helping us be able to train hard and keep pushing throughout the year.”

3. Kayne and O’Shea don’t want anyone else to miss out on the Olympics (like they did, as 2018 Olympic alternates) or the world championships. And with only one U.S. pair spot at Worlds this year, they know what’s at stake.

DO: “It’s on our minds.”

TK: “It’s a hard job. It’s a hard position to be in. I wish I wasn’t in this position. I would love to be walking into this with three spots and have a little bit of wiggle room… it’s a job. I have to go and do my job at nationals to get to Worlds. And then I have to do my job at Worlds to make sure no one else is in this position again… We’re capable at this place and time to accomplish that goal for ourselves and for the United States.”

DO: “We have always gone into nationals trying to skate our best, but this year we know we have to go and do that and we have to win. You wanna go into every competition to try and be your best, but with the way things are, we’re going in to win nationals and make that world team again, and go to Worlds and start turning this around. We don’t want to have one spot for Worlds or one spot for the Olympics any longer.”

MORE: Three questions with Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships 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.

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U.S. junior champions crowned in ladies’ and men’s events

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Gabriella Izzo is the newest junior ladies’ national champion, crowned this week at the U.S. Championships in Detroit. Junior ladies’ national champions of the past include eventual Olympians Mirai Nagasu, Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds and Bradie Tennell.

Izzo had a commanding lead after the short program, with 60.97 points, where she pulled off her first-ever triple Lutz, triple loop combination in competition. (However, it was deemed under-rotated.) Regardless, her 111.45 points in the free skate combined for 172.42 points and the gold medal.

Audrey Shin, who actually won the free skate by just over a point, earned the silver medal with 165.61 points. Emilia Murdock took home the bronze with 154.48 points.

On the junior men’s side, Ryan Dunk rebounded from second after the short program to win the event. His 132.85-point free skate was enough to crack the 200-point overall score, the only man in the field to do so, and win the gold.

Men’s junior champions include eventual world champion Nathan Chen (twice) as well as Olympians Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown.

Dinh Tran finished second with 196.03 points after a fourth-place short program. Joonsoo Kim, who lead after the short program on Tuesday, ended up with the bronze medal with 187.95 points.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream each junior competition and replays will also be available on-demand. Check out the full schedule and live streaming information here.

The junior rhythm dance took place earlier Wednesday. Siblings Caroline and Gordon Green lead the field with 70.82 points, while Avonley Nguyen and Vadym Kolesnik are second with 65.92 points. The brother-sister team of Oona and Gage Brown are in third with 63.34 heading into Friday’s junior free dance.

Also Wednesday, Laiken Lockley and Keenan Prochnow took the lead in the junior pairs’ short program. The junior pairs’ free skate is Thursday. Kate Finster and Balazs Nagy are second, followed by Isabelle Martins and Ryan Bedard in third.

MORE: Full streaming schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the junior and senior U.S. Championships 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.

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