Sam Mikulak’s sixth all-around title reveals question for U.S. gymnastics

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sam Mikulak winning a sixth U.S. all-around title by the largest margin in history is fantastic for Sam Mikulak. But it might not be the best result for a U.S. men’s gymnastics program that’s in a team medal drought.

“It’s good and bad,” Mikulak said after tallying 174.15 points over two nights of competition, prevailing by a Simone Biles-like 5.55 points. “It is just a weird place for the U.S. right now. You could probably make the argument that, maybe, this is the easiest time period for USA Gymnastics for a guy like me, and so it doesn’t quite hold as much to it right now.

“It’s nice to have margin and to be scoring the way I do, but I guess, in my own mind, I try keeping the bar to where Sam wants the bar to be.”

That bar is out of reach for the rest of the country.

“Hopefully this young group can start getting on his level,” said Yul Moldauer, a distant runner-up to Mikulak a second straight year, “but Sam’s so much older than us.”

Mikulak was the only man in the field with Olympic experience. He watered-down routines on the opening night Thursday and still took a 2.75-point lead into Saturday’s final night of competition.

Mikulak broke his tie with retired, three-time Olympian Blaine Wilson for the most U.S. men’s all-around titles in the last 50 years. He broke his own record for margin of victory since the perfect 10 was replaced by an open-ended scoring system in 2006.

Mikulak, known for falling once or twice among 12 routines at a nationals, said he went 12 for 12 this week and that it felt the best of his six crowns. The gap to the rest of the field widened due to injuries. Full results are here.

VIDEO: Gymnast saves high bar routine with one hand catch

Moldauer, who earned the 2017 U.S. title while Mikulak was limited by an Achilles tear, took around a month off this spring due to elbow inflammation. Another 2018 World team member, Colin Van Wicklen, withdrew after sustaining a concussion in Thursday’s warm-ups.

Jonathan Horton, a retired, two-time Olympian who in September will help select the five-man team for October’s world championships, said it’s not ideal for Mikulak to dominate domestically year after year.

“It’s nice to see Sam leading the charge, but it would be good to see some guys on his tail,” he said.

The U.S. men last earned a world championships medal in 2014 (bronze), making this their longest major meet podium drought since the turn of the millennium. They were fifth at the last two Olympics despite placing first and second in qualifying. They were fourth at last year’s worlds behind powers China, Japan and Russia.

“The team collectively is doing a good job, but there’s a bit of a tentative feel to U.S. men’s gymnastics right now,” Horton said. “Being tentative is not going to get us on the podium, but we have a year [until the Olympics]. That’s enough time, but we need guys to start pushing.”

Mikulak is comparing himself only to foreign competitors.

At 2018 Worlds, he went into the last all-around rotation in third place but struggled on his best event, high bar, to drop to fifth. Mikulak finally earned his first career individual world medal a few days later, a bittersweet high bar bronze.

It’s clear that the U.S. is leaning on Mikulak more than ever in his eight years on the national team.

Last year, he was put on all six apparatuses in the team final, which no U.S. man had ever done since the format switched to three-up, three-count after the 2000 Olympics. But that kind of strategy could work out in the U.S.’ favor come the Tokyo Olympics, where team sizes drop from five gymnasts to four, and multiple countries will be putting their stars on every apparatus.

“Sam is creating very positive rhythm doing all six events that we want to continue to keep consistent,” U.S. high-performance director Brett McClure said. “If he makes it all six in the lineup, we’re not worried at all.”

McClure is optimistic, noting he has seen personal-best performances from other top Americans in the last year. His stated goal since moving into the leadership role post-Rio has been to get the team back on the podium.

“It only gives us a little bit more confidence knowing that, hey, maybe this is our year to sneak on the podium,” he said. “We feel good about our chances.”

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MORE: U.S. Gymnastics Championships TV, live stream schedule

World short-track speedskating championships will be moved, postponed or canceled

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The International Skating Union announced Tuesday that the world short-track speedskating championships will not proceed as scheduled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Seoul’s Mokdong Ice Rink, where the competition was set to be held March 13-15, held the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships earlier this month but closed on Monday.

The ISU left open the possibility that the championships will be postponed or relocated, but the window to do so may close rapidly.

“Taking into account the uncertain world-wide development of the coronavirus, the limited and uncertain available time slots during the coming weeks and the logistical challenges of potential organizers and participating teams, a postponement and/or relocation of the Championships would be difficult to achieve,” the ISU said. “Nevertheless, a postponement and/or relocation of this Championships might be considered if the circumstances would allow so in due time.”

South Korea is one of short-track speedskating’s traditional powers. Last year, the country dominated the world championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, winning both relays and taking gold in all of the men’s individual races. South Korea also led the medal count on home ice in the 2018 Olympics.

The coronavirus outbreak has forced the cancellation of many events in China, where the illness was first found. The world indoor track and field championships were pushed back a whole year.

With the virus spreading to other regions, other countries’ sports schedules are being affected. Several soccer games are proceeding in empty stadiums in Italy and Iran.

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Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, planted her athletic roots there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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MORE: Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch for 2020 Tokyo Games