Simone Biles, Sam Mikulak
Getty Images

Three thoughts from U.S. Gymnastics Championships

Leave a comment

Three thoughts off a U.S. Gymnastics Championships that saw Simone Biles swiftly, powerfully, insert adverb reclaim the throne and Sam Mikulak match her national title for national title … 

1. An all-timer for Simone Biles
After Biles retires, which as of now will be at the Tokyo Games, this fifth national title may trail only the Olympics on her remember-when list of all-around performances.

Only once before has Biles been so dominant to win by an event-record margin with the highest scores on every apparatus.

At the 2015 American Cup, Biles nearly doubled the previous record margin, winning by 4.467 points in a one-day competition (Biles won nationals by 6.55 over two days). But this year’s nationals field was without a doubt stronger than the American Cup.

While Biles was challenged in the last quad — Katelyn Ohashi and Kyla Ross beat Biles in two of her first three senior competitions in 2013; Romanian Larisa Iordache made the 2014 World Championships interesting — there is nobody in the world who appears up to the task at the moment.

Biles’ worst all-around score of her three days of competition in her comeback (58.7 with an uneven bars fall) is still better than anybody else in the world since Rio.

At worlds, she should break Svetlana Khorkina‘s record with a fourth all-around title to extend a five-year win streak.

The only gymnast to have a longer run of major-event dominance is 18-time Olympic medalist Larisa Latynina, who won every Olympic, world and European all-around title from 1956 through 1962, save the 1959 Euros, which she appears to have sat out following childbirth.

GYM NATIONALS: Women’s, men’s results

2. The U.S. women are loaded
It’s so hard to predict far ahead in this sport. Promising gymnasts can turn senior elite at the beginning of an Olympic cycle and retire before the Games. There are no junior world championships (though that soon will change). So in 2016, as great as the Americans were, it wasn’t clear just how long they would stay at the top.

Halfway through this Olympic cycle, it appears the only changes are in the names who will stand with Biles on the gold-medal podium step at worlds in October.

Morgan Hurd and Riley McCusker counted zero falls between two days at nationals. One of them will likely join Biles on the all-around podium at worlds (an American always has). Jade Carey earned world silver medals on vault and floor exercise last year in her first year as an elite gymnast.

The teams at worlds are five women each, but the Americans have the luxury of using their fifth spot purely on a gymnast with the best chance at an apparatus medal.

The team will be named after an October selection camp.

MORE: Biles comments on statement-making leotard

3. The U.S. men must dig deep
Sam Mikulak 
and Yul Moldauer (when healthy) represent the best U.S. one-two all-around punch in several years, but the depth is not there right now. Mikulak is the only active man with Olympic experience.

Of the rest of the 2017 World Championships team, only Donnell Whittenburg competed at nationals. He was limited to two events after shoulder surgery and left off the eight finalists for the five-man world team.

When the Americans line up for team qualifying at worlds in Doha, Mikulak will be the only one who has been in that situation before. Moldauer and Marvin Kimble competed at 2017 Worlds where there was no team event.

Though Kimble missed nationals due to injury, he arguably became more valuable to the program last week, especially given the awful Thursday competition. He can contribute in a three-up, three-count team final on high bar (where the only man to crack 14 at nationals was Mikulak (14.7)) and two or three other events. His gym said Saturday that he was already back training.

The U.S. team will be named after a September selection camp. It will go to Doha as an underdog for a medal behind at least Japan, China and Russia.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

GYM NATIONALS: Where Are The Final Five?

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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

Jay Adeff/U.S. Figure Skating
Leave a comment

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!