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Sam Mikulak can be the busiest U.S. male gymnast at worlds in 39 years

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Sam Mikulak desperately wants his first individual world championships medal. He has five chances next week.

The two-time Olympian and five-time U.S. all-around champion qualified for a handful of finals at worlds in Doha on Friday, the most for a U.S. man since 1979. Thirty-nine years ago, Kurt Thomas earned two golds and three silvers in arguably the greatest single-meet performance by an American man.

“This has been a year and a half of work,” said Mikulak, who was limited last year with a torn Achilles. “This is the most comfortable that I have ever been on this grand of a stage.”

The U.S. qualified in fourth place into Monday’s team final, where China, Japan and Russia are the medal favorites.

Chances are better that Mikulak makes an individual podium, beginning with Wednesday’s all-around final. Mikulak had the third-highest score in qualifying, less than a point behind defending champ Xiao Ruoteng of China and Russian Nikita Nagornyy.

GYM WORLDS: Men’s Qualifying Results | TV/Stream Schedule

The field lacks two-time Olympic champion and six-time world champion Kohei Uchimura, who is not doing all events this year due to an ankle injury. It’s also without the men who last year finished second (China’s Lin Chaopan), fourth (Russian David Belyavskiy), fifth (Cuban Manrique Larduet) and sixth (Brit Nile Wilson).

Mikulak also made next weekend’s apparatus finals on high bar (in second place), pommel horse (fifth), parallel bars (sixth) and floor exercise (eighth and last spot).

The other American to make individual finals was 2017 U.S. all-around champion Yul Moldauer, who fought a bruised bicep to qualify 17th into the 24-man all-around and sixth on floor, where he earned bronze in his worlds debut last year.

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.

Enter a new wave on the world team, including Rio Olympic alternate Akash Modi and fellow world championships rookies Alec Yoder and Colin Van Wicklen.

The U.S. men, under the direction of 2004 Olympic silver medalist Brett McClure are trying this Olympic cycle to reach a global podium for the first time since 2014 (a bronze, which happens to be Mikulak’s lone Olympic or world champs medal).

Though he doesn’t have the hardware, Mikulak is experienced among the world’s best.

He qualified second into the all-around final at his first world championships in 2013. He was in third place going into the last rotation of that final, but a high bar error dropped him to sixth place.

He has since finished fourth in Olympic and world high bar finals. He also qualified first into the Rio floor final but ended up eighth.

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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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