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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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Emily Sisson a U.S. Olympic marathon trials favorite, thanks to Ireland

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Emily Sisson didn’t think she would become a professional runner until her last year of college. Now, at 28, she goes into the U.S. Olympic marathon trials as a contender for one of three Tokyo spots, if not the overall favorite.

“I’ve only done one marathon, so I definitely don’t feel like I’m an experienced marathoner,” Sisson said by phone last week from her Arizona base. “That’s the one question mark I’ve had all build-up.”

Predicting a marathon can be a crapshoot, but a Podiumrunner.com experts panel pegged Sisson to win. She is younger than any female U.S. Olympic marathoner since Anne Marie Lauck in 1996 (though fellow contender Jordan Hasay is a month younger).

Confidence stems from last April 28. Sisson clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in U.S. women’s history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow. She finished sixth — behind five East Africans. She crossed 3:25 ahead of sometimes training partner and mentor Molly Huddle, also a headliner at trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (12 p.m. ET, NBC).

“We wanted to run faster,” Sisson said that day in London. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Sisson later mentioned a pre-race scare on the “Keeping Track” podcast. She tripped over a carpet jogging back from a bathroom, banged both knees 15 minutes before the start and got checked out physically by a chiropractor and mentally by her husband, who has a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

Sisson then covered the final half of that marathon alone, a foreign feeling for the longtime track runner. At one point, she thought about having never before run more than 23 miles.

Her mind could have also wandered to sports memories that led her to the world’s strongest marathon: Attending a 1999 Women’s World Cup match and seeing her hero, Mia Hamm. As a soccer-playing teenager, being asked by a friend to join a track relay team. Or being told during a record-breaking high school career that she was reminiscent of 2004 Olympic marathoner Jen Rhines.

Sisson, whose dad ran and mom did gymnastics at the University of Wisconsin, transferred after one year in Madison to Providence. She had a best NCAA Championships finish of fourth going into her last year. Before that final season, Sisson was prepared to leave competitive running once her NCAA eligibility exhausted in pursuit of an MBA.

“I had been going through a bit of a funk with running,” she said. “I was getting a little tired.”

Things changed the summer before her senior year. She vacationed with then-boyfriend/now-husband Shane Quinn, a fellow Providence runner, in Quinn’s native Ireland. At one point, they altered training, ditching tempo runs for local road races. Sisson never before competed on the roads. She doesn’t remember the distances being exact. She does remember winning.

“That was a new, fun thing that kept the sport kind of fresh for me,” she said. “You finish, and you go into a local pub and have sandwiches.”

Providence coach Ray Treacy put Sisson in more road races that fall. The opportunity was right. She had no cross-country eligibility left while she readied for the winter and spring track seasons. She went on to win the 2015 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor 5000m, a springboard to the pros (while still going after the MBA).

Sisson was set back by injury in 2016 and placed 10th in the Olympic trials 10,000m. She kept training under Treacy, and perhaps just as important, with Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000m. Huddle, seven years older than Sisson, made her marathon debut after the Rio Olympics.

“Emily really looks up to her and is inspired by her,” Treacy said. “Molly has helped her out in numerous ways in training. … Making sure she’s not going overboard with the training, not running too fast. She kind of keeps her under control.”

Sisson made the last two world championships teams in the 10,000m, but Treacy thought marathon since 2015. They signed her up for the 2019 London Marathon, in part because Huddle was going to race it as her third career 26.2-miler. And in part to get Sisson ready for the Olympic trials in 10 months’ time.

The build-up was better than ideal. Sisson ran the second-fastest half marathon in U.S. history (on a record-eligible course) in January. She became the third-fastest U.S. woman all-time at 10,000m in March.

Come April, Treacy was impressed again just by watching Sisson after she crossed the London finish line in what would be the second-fastest marathon for a U.S. woman in 2019.

“It didn’t look like it took anything out of her,” Treacy said. “She recovered really fast. Within minutes, she was feeling pretty good. That was a good sign.”

Sisson returned home to Quinn and their golden retriever, Desmond, who has 1,400 Instagram followers. She skipped a fall marathon to compete in the 10,000m at track worlds in Doha, placing a respectable 10th.

The recent marathon build-up for trials went just as well, if not better, than the training for London.

“I’m definitely putting a bit of pressure on myself with this one,” Sisson said. “But at the same time, I don’t get caught up in so much what other people say. I don’t really read the articles about who’s the favorite or what chance you have of making the team.”

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Brigid Kosgei beaten as another world record smashed in Nike shoes

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Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh broke the half marathon world record by 20 seconds, beating new marathon world-record holder Brigid Kosgei in the United Arab Emirates on Friday.

Nike-sponsored runners lowered the men’s and women’s marathon and half marathon records since September 2018, each appearing to race in versions of the apparel giant’s scrutinized Vaporfly shoes.

Yeshaneh, a 28-year-old who finished 14th in the 2016 Olympic 5000m, clocked 1:04:31 for 13.1 miles to better Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei‘s world record from 2017.

Kosgei, a 26-year-old Kenyan, also came in under the old world record but 18 seconds behind Yeshaneh.

Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record on Oct. 13, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

Nike Vaporfly shoes, including the prototypes worn by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge when he ran a sub-two-hour marathon, were deemed legal by World Athletics’ new shoe regulations last month, according to Nike.

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