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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Asbel Kiprop, Olympic 1500m champ, banned 4 years

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Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017, according to track and field’s doping watchdog organization.

The ban is backdated to Feb. 3, 2018, when the 29-year-old was provisionally suspended after the failed test.

Kiprop repeatedly denied doping since last May, when he first acknowledged the positive test. Most recently, a 3,000-word defense from his lawyer was posted on Kiprop’s Facebook page.

Kiprop’s defenses included saying he was a victim of extortion and that he was offered “a reward” of becoming an anti-doping ambassador if he admitted guilt. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the IAAF’s independent organization to monitor doping and corruption, denied the latter last May.

A disciplinary panel dismissed six defenses from exonerating him, including the possibility his sample was spiked, in handing out the four-year ban.

Kiprop, the pre-eminent 1500m runner of the last decade, can appeal the ban.

At 19, he finished second in the Beijing Olympic 1500m but was upgraded to gold a year later after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drug test. He is the youngest Olympic 1500m medalist of all time, according to the OlyMADMen.

Kiprop went on to earn three straight world titles in the 1500m in 2011, 2013 and 2015, matching the feats of retired legends Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj.

He struggled in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, finishing last in the London final with a hamstring injury and sixth in the Rio final won by American rival Matthew Centrowitz.

Kiprop has targeted El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26:00, missing the mark by .69 of a second in 2015.

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Maggie Nichols is second woman in 20 years to repeat as NCAA all-around champ

Maggie Nichols
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Oklahoma junior and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years, returning from a heel injury to compete on all four events for the first time since January on Friday.

Nichols, a Rio Olympic hopeful before being beset by a torn meniscus in 2016, joined 2004 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Kupets as the only women to win back-to-back NCAA all-arounds in the 2000s.

A junior, Nichols can next year join Jenny Hansen as the only women to three-peat in NCAA history.

Oklahoma goes for a third team title in four years on Saturday night against UCLA (featuring Olympic champions Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross), LSU and Denver.

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NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Individual Results
All-Around
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma) — 39.7125
2. Lexy Ramler (Minnesota) — 39.6625
2. Kyla Ross (UCLA) — 39.6625
4. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 39.65
5. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 39.6

Vault
1. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 9.95
1. Derrian Gobourne (Auburn)
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)

Uneven Bars
1. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 9.95

Balance Beam
1. Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) — 9.95

Floor Exercise
1. Alicia Boren (Florida) — 9.95
1. Lynnzee Brown (Denver)
1. Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)