Sam Mikulak ‘the best loser’ on rough day at gymnastics nationals

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BOSTON — Sam Mikulak is in first place halfway through the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, but it feels like rock bottom.

“I can’t really do much worse than today,” he said. “The fact that I’m in first right now speaks that it really wasn’t too good of a day for anyone.”

Mikulak, a two-time Olympian, fell twice in six routines on the first of two nights of competition at TD Garden on Thursday. He’s in first largely because the other favorites struggled, too.

Mikulak still leads by 1.05 points over Akash Modi going into Saturday, when he can become the second man to win five U.S. all-around titles since 1970 (Blaine Wilson, 1996-2000).

Defending champion Yul Moldauer was sixth, gingerly shuffling off the floor with a back injury. Full scores are here.

“You don’t want to win on days like this,” said Mikulak, who came off high bar and pommel horse but said he wasn’t affected by a back injury that forced him to take last week very light in training. “I want to be able to slam routines and have it come down to the wire. That’s when it’s really exciting and intense, because everyone’s doing their best, and you want to beat people at their best. Not because you were the best loser.”

The only Olympian in the field hoped the first night would show where he stood among a new generation of gymnasts. After winning all four U.S. all-around titles in the last Olympic cycle, Mikulak only competed on two of six events at the 2017 Nationals following an Achilles tear.

Mikulak, who at 25 would be the oldest U.S. champion since David Durante in 2007, wasn’t pleased with much Thursday except his floor exercise. He finished the routine with a triple twist, the same element that caused his torn Achilles in February 2017, and motioned to pump up a crowd lacking energy.

Mikulak was supposed to vie with the 2017 champion Moldauer, a rising University of Oklahoma senior, for the all-around in Boston. But Moldauer trails by 2.4 points. He fell off the pommel horse, too, and sputtered to close out the night with major errors on parallel bars and high bar.

Moldauer said afterward that he was affected by a cracked disk plate in his back that has bothered him since the NCAA season in the spring. It hurt every time he bent forward.

“He’s experiencing a tremendous amount of tightness, and, despite some pretty heroic efforts, it clearly effected him tonight,” his coach, Mark Williams, tweeted. “We will reevaluate on Saturday.”

Moldauer said he discussed a little bit with Williams about not doing the all-around this week.

“But we weren’t going to let that [the back injury] just get in the way,” he said. “When you come to the championships, you need to do six events. You need to do all-around both days. You need to show what you have if you want to prove yourself to be on that team.”

The world championships team.

Gymnasts are competing not only for national titles this week but also to impress a selection committee for worlds.

In a change from recent years, the five-man roster for October’s worlds in Doha will not be named this weekend. Instead, eight men will be chosen for a September selection camp to determine the world team and three alternates. Results from nationals and the camp will be weighted equally, so there is still some pressure to perform well now.

Mikulak and Moldauer could mess up here and at the camp and still make that team. They are the most established American gymnasts.

Mikulak has been the best American over the last five years, though he has yet to earn an individual Olympic or world medal. Moldauer was the only U.S. men’s medalist at last year’s worlds (floor exercise bronze).

Nobody else stepped up in a big way Thursday. 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.

“We don’t really want Team USA to look like it did today at the world stage,” said Modi, an Olympic alternate who didn’t fall Thursday but stumbled, hopped and had leg separation. “Not that everyone looked very bad, but it was not sharp. It wasn’t the crisp and polished gymnastics that we really want to be known for.”

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Eliud Kipchoge breaks marathon world record in Berlin

Eliud Kipchoge Berlin Marathon
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Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge broke his own world record in winning the Berlin Marathon, clocking 2:01:09 to lower the previous record time of 2:01:39 he set in the German capital in 2018.

Kipchoge, 37 and a two-time Olympic champion, earned his 15th win in 17 career marathons to bolster his claim as the greatest runner in history over 26.2 miles.

His pacing was not ideal. Kipchoge slowed in the final miles, running 61:18 for the second half after going out in an unprecedented 59:51 for the first 13.1 miles. He still won by 4:49 over Kenyan Mark Korir.

“I was planning to go through it [the halfway mark] 60:50, 60:40,” Kipchoge said. “My legs were running actually very fast. I thought, let me just try to run two hours flat, but all in all, I am happy with the performance.

“We went too fast [in the first half]. It takes energy from the muscles. … There’s still more in my legs [to possibly lower the record again].”

MORE: Berlin Marathon Results

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa won the women’s race in 2:15:37, the third-fastest time in history for somebody who ran one prior marathon in 2:34:01. Only Brigid Kosgei (2:14:14 in Chicago in 2019) and Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25 in London in 2003) have gone faster.

American record holder Keira D’Amato, who entered as the top seed, was sixth in 2:21:48. D’Amato, who went nearly a decade between competitive races after college, owns the American record of 2:19:12 and now also the 10th-best time in U.S. history.

“Today wasn’t my best day ever, but it was the best I could do today,” she said in a text message, according to Race Results Weekly, adding that she briefly stopped and walked late in the race.

The last eight instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come on the pancake-flat roads of Berlin. It began in 2003, when Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first man to break 2:05.

The world record was 2:02:57 — set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014 — until Kipchoge broke it for the first time four years ago.

The following year, Kipchoge became the first person to cover 26.2 miles in under two hours, clocking 1:59:40 in a non-record-eligible showcase rather than a race.

Kipchoge’s focus going forward is trying to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles in Paris in 2024. He also wants to win all six annual World Marathon Majors. He’s checked off four of them, only missing Boston (run in April) and New York City (run every November).

Kipchoge grew up on a farm in Kapsabet in Kenya’s Rift Valley, often hauling by bike several gallons of the family’s milk to sell at the local market. Raised by a nursery school teacher, he ran more than three miles to and from school. He saved for five months to get his first pair of running shoes.

At 18, he upset legends Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele to win the 2003 World 5000m title on the track. He won Olympic 5000m medals (bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008), then moved to the marathon after failing to make the 2012 Olympic team on the track.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final