Who makes the U.S. Olympic men’s gymnastics team for Tokyo?

2021 U.S. Gymnastics Championships - Day 1
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The U.S. Olympic Trials for men’s gymnastics, which begin Thursday, mark the end of one generation and, perhaps, the beginning of another.

Sam Mikulak, a record six-time U.S. all-around champion, competes at his final Olympic Trials and likely the last domestic meet of his career. Mikulak, who plans to retire later this year, is the only man in the field with Olympic experience.

The Opening Ceremony is in exactly one month.

Since Rio, two other men emerged to challenge Mikulak. First in 2017, Yul Moldauer, who won that U.S. all-around title when Mikulak was injured and then a world championships bronze medal on floor exercise later that year.

Then, three weeks ago, rising Stanford senior Brody Malone won the all-around in his first senior national championships. He was the first male gymnast to accomplish that feat in more than 35 years.

The U.S. Olympic team of four men, plus a fifth for individual events only, will be named after the second day of competition on Saturday. The all-around champion clinches a spot. The second-place finisher does, too, provided he finishes in the top three on three of the six apparatuses.

The rest are chosen by a committee looking to build a team to bridge the gap to Olympic medal favorites Russia, China and Japan.

A look at 10 contenders …

Sam Mikulak
Two-time Olympian
Six-time U.S. all-around champion

Had the same record as Simone Biles in U.S. Championships all-arounds up until three weeks ago, when he finished third. Mikulak, in his first meet since March 2020, was a rusty seventh on the first day at nationals. There was concern that his status for the Olympic team was something other than a lock. But then he had the best score on the second day, and all was well. Mikulak suffered elbow and wrist injuries during the pandemic and put a limit on his ability, saying he can’t exceed where he was in previous years. That should still be enough to make this team. He can be internationally competitive on high bar, where he earned world bronze in 2018. At 28, the end is near. He is trying to become the first U.S. gymnast to compete in three Olympics since Blaine Wilson in 2004.

Yul Moldauer
2017 U.S. all-around champion
2017 World floor exercise bronze medalist

All-around silver medalist at the last three nationals. Moldauer, too, has dealt with injuries in this Olympic cycle, but he has been the most consistent American throughout. Reliability is key considering the Olympic team event roster cut from five to four, putting a greater emphasis on all-arounders. Born in South Korea, adopted as an infant. He learned from 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Sasha Artemev as a kid in Colorado. Then matriculated at the University of Oklahoma and was guided by Mark Williams, the USA Gymnastics Hall of Famer who coached a man to each of the last four Olympics.

Brody Malone
2021 U.S. all-around champion
Two-time NCAA all-around champion

Competed in rodeo — team roping, to be specific — as a kid in four-square-mile Summerville, Georgia. Then flourished as a gymnast at Stanford (13 square miles), while still enjoying frog gigging on trips home. Malone won the 2017 U.S. junior all-around, then missed nationals in 2018 (transition to college) and 2019 (competed at Pan American Games). Still proved himself in big meets, becoming the third freshman to win an NCAA men’s all-around after Mikulak and Moldauer. On the second day of nationals earlier this month, competing with a lead, he bent but didn’t break, posting the second-best score to win by a comfortable 2.75 points overall.

Shane Wiskus
2019 World Championships team member
Three-time NCAA all-around silver medalist

A favorite to make the Olympic team at the start of the year. Malone’s ascent complicates matters. Wiskus finished ninth at nationals, but he was second going into the 11th of 12 events before falling three times off the high bar. At 2019 Worlds, where team event sizes were five, he was the fourth-most-used U.S. gymnast after Mikulak, Moldauer and Akash Modi.

Akash Modi
2016 Olympic alternate
Two-time world championships team member

Trying to make his first Olympic team at age 26. Only Mikulak and Moldauer performed on more events in the world championships team final in 2018 and 2019. Since 2016, has placed between third and sixth in the all-around at every U.S. Championships. Modi was sixth at nationals three weeks ago, so he needs a strong performance at Trials.

Brandon Briones
2021 U.S. all-around fourth place
2021 NCAA all-around bronze medalist

The Robin to Malone’s Batman this year, both as a Stanford teammate and as a revelation at nationals. Tied for second on the first day of nationals, then dropped to fourth as Mikulak and Moldauer improved significantly on the second day. Still had a full point cushion on fifth place Allan Bower. If, so far, nationals is this most important meet in the committee’s eyes for the four team event spots, then Briones is right in the mix.

Allan Bower
World championships alternate in 2018, 2019
2017 U.S. all-around silver medalist

Just missed each of the last three world teams but the only man other than Mikulak, Moldauer and Malone to finish top two in a nationals all-around this Olympic cycle. In the middle of a medical school admissions process and planning to get married in December.

Stephen Nedoroscik
2021 U.S. pommel horse champion
Two-time NCAA pommel horse champion

Prevailing notion is that the one Olympic spot for individual events only will go to a specialist on one event, and likely pommel horse. Nedoroscik, who competes in rec specs, was in contention to earn an Olympic spot for himself via the apparatus World Cup series early in 2020, but was done in by the pandemic wreaking havoc with the final qualifying events. The Penn State electrical engineering graduate may be in the driver’s seat after winning his first national title on pommels.

Alec Yoder
2018 World Championships team member
2021 U.S. pommel horse silver medalist

Finished a scant .15 behind Nedoroscik at nationals on pommel horse, combining scores from two days. Their head-to-head battle, potentially for that individual Olympic spot, may turn out to be the most compelling men’s storyline at Olympic Trials. After winning the 2018 U.S. pommel horse title and making the world team, fell off the horse at 2019 Nationals on day one, then withdrew with a shoulder injury. Nedoroscik since gathered momentum, but Yoder was right with him at nationals.

Donnell Whittenburg
Two-time world medalist
2016 Olympic alternate

Only man at Olympic Trials other than Mikulak who owns multiple world championships medals, though they are from the previous Olympic cycle (2014 and 2015). In 2016, Whittenburg was fourth in the all-around combining scores from nationals and the Olympic Trials, but left off the five-man team. Wasn’t called up when John Orozco got hurt, either. If Whittenburg can show the vault form that earned a 2015 World bronze medal, he can be in the running for the individual Olympic spot.

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U.S. women’s rugby team qualifies for 2024 Paris Olympics as medal contender

Cheta Emba

The U.S. women’s rugby team qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics by clinching a top-four finish in this season’s World Series.

Since rugby was re-added to the Olympics in 2016, the U.S. men’s and women’s teams finished fifth, sixth, sixth and ninth at the Games.

The U.S. women are having their best season since 2018-19, finishing second or third in all five World Series stops so far and ranking behind only New Zealand and Australia, the winners of the first two Olympic women’s rugby sevens tournaments.

The U.S. also finished fourth at last September’s World Cup.

Three months after the Tokyo Games, Emilie Bydwell was announced as the new U.S. head coach, succeeding Olympic coach Chris Brown.

Soon after, Tokyo Olympic co-captain Abby Gustaitis was cut from the team.

Jaz Gray, who led the team in scoring last season and at the World Cup, missed the last three World Series stops after an injury.

The U.S. men are ranked ninth in this season’s World Series and will likely need to win either a North American Olympic qualifier this summer or a last-chance global qualifier in June 2024 to make it to Paris.

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Oscar Pistorius denied parole, hasn’t served enough time

Oscar Pistorius
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Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius was denied parole Friday and will have to stay in prison for at least another year and four months after it was decided that he had not served the “minimum detention period” required to be released following his murder conviction for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp 10 years ago.

The parole board ruled that Pistorius would only be able to apply again in August 2024, South Africa’s Department of Corrections said in a short, two-paragraph statement. It was released soon after a parole hearing at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre prison where Pistorius is being held.

The board cited a new clarification on Pistorius’ sentence that was issued by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal just three days before the hearing, according to the statement. Still, legal experts criticized authorities’ decision to go ahead with the hearing when Pistorius was not eligible.

Reeva Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, are “relieved” with the decision to keep Pistorius in prison but are not celebrating it, their lawyer told The Associated Press.

“They can’t celebrate because there are no winners in this situation. They lost a daughter and South Africa lost a hero,” lawyer Tania Koen said, referring to the dramatic fall from grace of Pistorius, once a world-famous and highly-admired athlete.

The decision and reasoning to deny parole was a surprise but there has been legal wrangling over when Pistorius should be eligible for parole because of the series of appeals in his case. He was initially convicted of culpable homicide, a charge comparable to manslaughter, in 2014 but the case went through a number of appeals before Pistorius was finally sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison for murder in 2017.

Serious offenders must serve at least half their sentence to be eligible for parole in South Africa. Pistorius’ lawyers had previously gone to court to argue that he was eligible because he had served the required portion if they also counted periods served in jail from late 2014 following his culpable homicide conviction.

The lawyer handling Pistorius’ parole application did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

June Steenkamp attended Pistorius’ hearing inside the prison complex to oppose his parole. The parents have said they still do not believe Pistorius’ account of their daughter’s killing and wanted him to stay in jail.

Pistorius, who is now 36, has always claimed he killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law student, in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 after mistaking her for a dangerous intruder in his home. He shot four times with his licensed 9 mm pistol through a closed toilet cubicle door in his bathroom, where Steenkamp was, hitting her multiple times. Pistorius claimed he didn’t realize his girlfriend had got out of bed and gone to the bathroom.

The Steenkamps say they still think he is lying and killed her intentionally after a late-night argument.

Lawyer Koen had struck a more critical tone when addressing reporters outside the prison before the hearing, saying the Steenkamps believed Pistorius could not be considered to be rehabilitated “unless he comes clean” over the killing.

“He’s the killer of their daughter. For them, it’s a life sentence,” Koen said before the hearing.

June Steenkamp had sat grim-faced in the back seat of a car nearby while Koen spoke to reporters outside the prison gates ahead of the hearing. June Steenkamp and Koen were then driven into the prison in a Department of Corrections vehicle. June Steenkamp made her submission to the parole board in a separate room to Pistorius and did not come face-to-face with her daughter’s killer, Koen said.

Barry Steenkamp did not travel for the hearing because of poor health but a family friend read out a statement to the parole board on his behalf, the parents’ lawyer said.

Pistorius was once hailed as an inspirational figure for overcoming the adversity of his disability, before his murder trial and sensational downfall captivated the world.

Pistorius’s lower legs were amputated when he was a baby because of a congenital condition and he walks with prosthetics. He went on to become a double-amputee runner and multiple Paralympic champion who made history by competing against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, running on specially designed carbon-fiber blades.

Pistorius’ conviction eventually led to him being sent to the Kgosi Mampuru II maximum security prison, one of South Africa’s most notorious. He was moved to the Atteridgeville prison in 2016 because that facility is better suited to disabled prisoners.

There have only been glimpses of his life in prison, with reports claiming he had at one point grown a beard, gained weight and taken up smoking and was unrecognizable from the elite athlete he once was.

He has spent much of his time working in an area of the prison grounds where vegetables are grown, sometimes driving a tractor, and has reportedly been running bible classes for other inmates.

Pistorius’ father, Henke Pistorius, told the Pretoria News newspaper before the hearing that his family hoped he would be home soon.

“Deep down, we believe he will be home soon,” Henke Pistorius said, “but until the parole board has spoken the word, I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

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