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U.S. men’s gymnasts shake off “disaster” to qualify for Olympics

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It wasn’t pretty, but the U.S. men earned enough points Monday in Stuttgart, Germany, to qualify for the men’s team final at the world championships and clinch a berth in the 2020 Olympics.

Last year’s silver medalist, Russia, sent a message with a massive performance on the first day of qualifiers Sunday, with 2018 all-around bronze medalist Nikita Nagornyy and defending all-around champion Artur Dalaloyan posting scores that held up as the best and second-best by comfortable margins. Russia unsurprisingly finished atop the team qualifications, followed by defending champion China and last year’s third-place team, Japan.

The U.S. men finished seventh, just good enough to qualify for the eight-team final.

GYM WORLDS: Men’s qualifiers into team, individual finals

Monday’s qualification was also imperative for Olympic qualifying. The top nine teams who have not yet already qualified — in other words, the top nine after China, Japan and Russia — booked tickets to Tokyo next year.

But while the U.S. men completed their most important task, their mistakes will keep most of them out of individual events later in the week. Yul Moldauer finished 11th in qualifying to clinch a spot in the all-around. Sam Mikulak barely joined him, finishing 27th in qualifying and only making it to the 24-gymnast final because each country is limited to two participants, the same rule that kept Gabby Douglas out of the 2016 Olympic final.

And the U.S. men only advanced one man to the event finals — Mikulak on the horizontal bar, where he won a bronze medal last year. Moldauer is the second reserve in the floor exercise after finishing 10th.

Mikulak, who also won a team bronze medal at the 2014 world championships, was far from pleased, calling the qualification round “a disaster” for himself and the team.

“I never woke up,” Mikulak said. “That’s the best way I can put it, I don’t know if I just haven’t found my diet right? I thought I was doing everything right, but I just felt so heavy and sluggish today. All these trainings leading up to today, I felt fresh, light and strong; today my feng shui was not where I wanted it to be. It took a couple of events for me to feel right.”

READ: Biles, U.S. women dominate qualifying

The U.S. men started on the floor exercise, where Moldauer earned a score of 14.466 but Mikulak fell twice. Moldauer and Mikulak both fell on the pommel horse, putting the team in a hole.

Trevor Howard‘s solid performance helped to stabilize the team on rings. Mikulak and Moldauer both landed their vaults and broke the 14.5 mark.

Mikulak fell for a fourth time on the parallel bars but still posted a score of 14.333, while Akash Modki hit his routine for a 14.533.

On the horizontal bar, Mikulak finally found his peak form and posted a score of 14.866, which held up as the second-best score of the qualifiers. Shane Wiskus also helped the U.S. team finish strong with a 14.166 on the same apparatus.

Defending team champion China had some surprising struggles in individual events. Xiao Ruoteng fell on the pommel horse, on which he won gold last year, but still finished third in the all-around to earn a chance to improve on his all-around silver medal in 2018. Defending parallel bars champion Zou Jingyuan also will miss out on a chance to defend his title.

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GYM WORLDS: TV Schedule | U.S. Roster

Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

MORE: NHL players vote on world’s best female hockey player

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NHL closer to Olympic hockey return for 2022, 2026

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The NHL just took a major step to returning to the Olympics in 2022 and 2026 after skipping the 2018 Winter Games.

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that includes Olympic participation at the next two Winter Games in Beijing and Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.

Should the NHL, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the IOC agree, expect the world’s best players to compete for their nations during breaks in those NHL seasons.

Nine of the 12 nations have already qualified for the 2022 Olympic men’s hockey tournament. The groups and qualifiers are here.

The NHL participated in five straight Olympics from 1998-2014 before declining to pause its season for PyeongChang.

The 2018 Olympic men’s hockey rosters included players from every other major international league, led by Russia’s KHL, which made up the entire Olympic Athletes from Russia team that beat Germany in the final. The U.S. team included veterans in European leagues, the minor league AHL, collegians and captain Brian Gionta, a 2006 Olympian who had stepped away from the NHL.

In April 2017, the NHL announced it would not send its players to the 2018 Olympics due to a lack of concession from the IOC, IIHF or the NHLPA to entice owners and officials. At the time, the CBA did not include Olympic participation.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman then cited “fatigue” among team owners about taking an Olympic break every four seasons. Owners mentioned the risk of having their stars get injured, away from their teams in the middle of their seasons. South Korea, with its 14-hour time difference from New York, was also not as enticing a Winter Olympic host as, say, Canada or Russia.

Other issues Bettman and other league and team officials expressed included a lack of exposure and benefit for the NHL, the league’s inability to use the Olympics for marketing due to sponsorship rules and money.

MORE: 2014 Olympic stars on the 2022 Olympic roster bubble

Before and after the PyeongChang Olympics, Bettman doubted that the NHL would return for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

“I don’t want to sound like a broken record on the subject, but I think going to the Olympics is a challenge for us,” Bettman said last November after meetings with the IIHF. “I know the players love representing their countries. I know that the players like going. I know that the players that don’t go like having a break in the middle of the season. But from our standpoint, we have found going to the Olympics to be incredibly disruptive to our season.

“For us, at best, it’s a mixed bag.”

Canada came to dominate Olympic men’s hockey in the NHL era, taking gold in 2002, 2010 and 2014. Sidney Crosby, gold medalist in 2010 and 2014, will be 34 years old come the 2022 Olympics.

Alex Ovechkin, a three-time Olympian for Russia with zero medals, will be 36 years old. Only two Russian male Olympic hockey players have been older: Igor Larionov in 2002 and Sergei Fedorov in 2010, according to Olympedia.org.

Younger stars Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews (USA), Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy (Russia), Connor McDavid (Canada), David Pastrnak (Czech Republic) and Leon Draisaitl (Germany) could each play in their first Olympics in 2022.

MORE: NHL players vote on world’s best female hockey player

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