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U.S.’ Moldauer three-peats; Wong wins first international senior title at American Cup

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With the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games roughly 16 months away, U.S. gymnasts Yul Moldauer and Leanne Wong won the American Cup, the annual one-day all-round gathering of international talent in the U.S.

It was a back-and-forth battle between Moldauer and his friend and five-time U.S. all-around champion, Sam Mikulak, but in the end Moldauer got the win by just one-thousandth of a point posting a final score of 85.932 to Mikulak’s 85.931.

Moldauer’s landings and dismounts on the day were some of the stickiest. After Mikulak sidestepped his landing on vault, NBC Sports mics overheard Mikulak say to Moldauer, “I wanted that stick like you!”

Typically dominant on parallel bars, Mikulak made an uncharacteristic error when his hands slipped as he attempted to launch himself the full length of the bars with one skill

It came down to the high bar between Moldauer and Mikulak, with Mikulak holding the edge on paper as the 2018 World bronze medalist in the discipline. But, Mikulak, like on parallel bars, made a costly mistake when he rotated around the bar in the wrong direction midway through his routine.

Moldauer is the first gymnast to win three years in a row since U.S. gymnast Blaine Wilson completed his own hat trick at three-straight American Cup events back in 1999.

“It was just so fun going out there with Sam again,” Moldauer told NBC Sports’ Andrea Joyce after his win.  “The last time we truly competed together for the U.S. was at Worlds. It was just a great feeling having him out there. I can’t describe how I’m feeling right now.”

Moldauer posted the highest scores of the day in the vault and parallel bars, and finished second in rings and the floor.

Full men’s results are here.

In the women’s competition the 15-year-old Wong, making her senior international debut, posted the highest scores of the day on vault and balance beam and had the second best floor routine score, to walk away with the win.

Wong and the U.S.’ Grace McCallum were tied at the halfway point, but Wong’s balance beam routine pushed the rookie ahead of the 2018 World Team Champion. McCallum finished her day in second.

Full women’s results are here.

“It’s so incredible and I’m really excited and it was really fun,” Wong said. “I tried to treat it the same as any other meet, and that’s pretty much what it was.

“I was just afraid about the part that each gymnast goes one-by-one, but I think I handled it really well.”

The next major gymnastics event will be a World Cup stop in Stuttgart, Germany from March 16-17, where the U.S.’ reigning world Champion and four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles is expected to compete.

Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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