Sam Mikulak, Yul Moldauer, Brody Malone highlight U.S. Olympic men’s gymnastics team

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Brody Malone went from sitting outside the picture for the U.S. Olympic men’s gymnastics team to being the first to lock in his trip to Tokyo in a matter of weeks.

The 21-year-old won the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials in St. Louis to automatically qualify for the four-person team. He is the youngest member of the five U.S. men’s gymnasts who will compete in Tokyo.

“So much was going through my head,” Malone said of knowing he was going to the Olympics. “I was just thankful for my coaches. I ran up and thanked them for everything they’ve done for me.”

Yul Moldauer also guaranteed his Olympic debut by meeting both requirements of the second spot — second in the all-around and finishing top three on at least three apparatuses.

After the selection committee met to decide the two remaining team members, it was determined Shane Wiskus and Sam Mikulak who were announced and will make up the strongest U.S. team.

Alec Yoder was chosen for the individual spot — new to this year’s Olympic program — and will vie for a pommel horse medal in Japan. He also competes on parallel bars, though was eighth in the nation at both the 2021 U.S. Championships and Olympic Trials.

Mikulak is headed to his third Olympics and will join a list of just 10 other Americans who have competed at three or more Olympic Games. At 28, he is younger than any of the men on that list were at their third Games — even with the one-year Olympic postponement.

Blaine Wilson was the last U.S. gymnast to make three Olympic teams, in 2004, when he won his first and only medal. Mikulak will hope to do the same at what he has promised will be his final Olympic appearance. His best result to date was fourth on high bar in Rio, and he has since won bronze on the event at the 2018 Worlds.

GYMNASTICS TRIALS: Results | TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview

Malone won the U.S. junior title in 2017 but had never competed against the nation’s best at the senior level until earlier this month at the 2021 U.S. Championships. He missed the 2018 and 2019 editions, first while moving from his small Georgia hometown to Stanford and then to compete at the Pan American Games.

The rising Stanford senior was a star at the collegiate level, though, winning the NCAA title as a freshman in 2019 and defending his crown in 2021 (both NCAAs and U.S. Championships were not held in 2020 due to the pandemic).

He made headlines at nationals in Fort Worth, Texas, both for his gymnastics excellence and his background. Malone won nationals among a deep field that included six-time U.S. champion Mikulak and 2017 U.S. champ Moldauer. Of note, only Mikulak and Moldauer had won the NCAA men’s championship as freshmen before Malone.

It then became well known that Malone grew up competing in rodeo — team roping with younger brother Cooper, to be exact — and that his hobbies include ‘frog gigging’ (hunting frogs with a long, pronged spear, in his case for the purpose of a frog fry), a term he helped introduce to many.

He remained his calm, cool, collected and unfazed self at Trials, leading from the fifth rotation on Thursday’s Day 1 all the way through to the 12th and final rotation Saturday afternoon. His final score of 171.6 points was 3 ahead of Moldauer (168.6).

“Everything from the past, all my accomplishments, it doesn’t matter anymore,” Malone commented on his massive breakthrough year. “It’s a clean slate at each meet, so I just try to take it one event at a time.”

Malone won high bar with a two-day score of 29.25, and was second on both floor exercise (29.1) and still rings (28.45).

He is expected to contend for an Olympic medal on high bar at that event final in early August.

“That was as perfect as any routine I’ve seen,” NBC commentator and Olympic medalist Tim Daggett said of Malone’s routine, adding that it was “spectacular.”

Now 24, Moldauer first made his name known by winning the 2017 American Cup and 2017 U.S. Championships, when Mikulak was only competing two events, and then going on to earn bronze on floor at the 2017 Worlds.

Moldauer remained one of the top men throughout this Olympic quad, as U.S. all-around runner-up in both 2018 and 2019, and helped the U.S. team to fourth at the past two world championships.

Five years after his first Olympic Trials, where he was no better than fifth on any given event, this time Moldauer won parallel bars with a score of 28.95, was second on pommel horse (28.35) and third on floor (29.05).

The 22-year-old Wiskus, who was second on Thursday and traded spots with Moldauer throughout Saturday, finished third with 168.15 points. He was second on parallel bars (28.85) and third on high bar (27.4).

“I dropped to the floor and hugged my coach,” he said of making the team. “I still really haven’t had time to process it, so generally overwhelmed. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight; so many things running through my head right now.”

Mikulak was fourth (166.75), but a fall on pommel horse seemed to make his Olympic chances a little dicey.

Still, Malone, Moldauer, Wiskus and Mikulak make up the most competitive team based on their Trials scores.

Mikulak had the highest score on floor (29.3) and second best on high bar (28.6).

“The whole time [we waited to find out the team], pommel horse was on my mind. Was that the one moment that blew it for me?” Mikulak said.

Then he learned his fate.

“I’ve been living in the moment for so long. … All of a sudden that moment came, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I actually did it.’ Everything got emotional.”

At the Olympics, three men will compete on each apparatus in the team final and all three scores will count.

The U.S. men were fifth at the last two Olympics and are seeking their first team medal since 2008. Powerhouses Japan, China and Russia have made up every Olympic and World podium since 2016; Japan and China have been on the last 11.

“This team is very same-goal-oriented,” Moldauer said. “We all know in previous years the U.S. hasn’t done as well, and we’re all hungry. Shane’s a young guy, Brody’s a young guy, and then we have Sam who’s been to a lot of Olympics. …

“The mindset is always trying to get on the podium. That’s a challenge and that’s the challenge I like to take on.”

As for Yoder, the specialist spot appeared to come down to himself, fellow pommel swinger Stephen Nedoroscik and two-time U.S. rings champion Alex Diab.

Reigning national champion and 2020 Melbourne World Cup winner Nedoroscik fell off the horse on Thursday, but on Saturday he outscored Yoder, who had a few minor errors of his own.

“I was really scared,” Yoder laughed of waiting to learn his fate. “I had a really, really good routine Day 1, and I think Day 2 was a little more wobbly. I was pretty nervous. I know Alex Diab had some killer sets, I know Stephen had a good set today, and so in my mind I was just crossing my fingers and trying to ignore all the text messages I was getting asking if I made the team. I feel like there was too much going through my mind, honestly.”

Men’s high performance director Brett McClure, himself a 2004 Olympic team silver medalist, said the decision came down to Yoder or Diab.

“The start values were definitely something that we really looked at moving forward,” McClure explained. “Rings, you need that 6.3, and pommel horse anywhere from a 6.3-6.6.”

Yoder’s pommel horse difficulty was 6.5 on Day 1 and 6.4 Day 2. Diab’s on rings was 6.0 both days.

Yoder, 24, competed at the Youth Olympic Games in 2014, taking bronze in the all-around, but now with his Olympic debut locked up, he’s set a new goal.

“The next goal is an Olympic pommel horse medal,” he proclaimed.

Five traveling replacement athletes were also named.

Brandon BrionesCameron BockAllan Bower and Akash Modi were chosen to form a strong alternate team, should, for example, one of the Olympic team members test positive for COVID-19 and the entire team have to be removed due to contact tracing. 2018 Youth Olympian Briones, 2016 Olympic alternate Modi and three-time world team alternate Bower were fifth through seventh in the all-around. Bock was 10th but had the fourth-best scores on parallel bars and high bar; he was fifth on pommel horse.

Diab is the alternate for Yoder.

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Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal for most men’s Slam titles

Novak Djokovic Australian Open
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic climbed into the Rod Laver Arena stands to celebrate his 10th Australian Open championship and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title Sunday and, after jumping and pumping his fists with his team, he collapsed onto his back, crying.

When he returned to the playing surface, Djokovic sat on his sideline bench, buried his face in a white towel and sobbed some more.

This trip to Australia was far more successful than that of a year ago, when he was deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. And Djokovic accomplished all he could have possibly wanted in his return: He resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and made it back to the top of tennis, declaring: “This probably is the, I would say, biggest victory of my life.”

Only briefly challenged in the final, Djokovic was simply better at the most crucial moments and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). As a bonus, Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

“I want to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life, considering the circumstances. Not playing last year; coming back this year,” Djokovic said, wearing a zip-up white jacket with a “22” on his chest. “And I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable, to be in Melbourne, to be in Australia.”

The 35-year-old from Serbia stretched his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest run there in the Open era, which dates to 1968. He adds trophy No. 10 to the seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open — where he also was absent last year because of no coronavirus shots — and two from the French Open, to match rival Rafael Nadal for the most by a man.

Only two women — Margaret Court, with 24, and Serena Williams, with 23 — are ahead of him.

This was also the 93rd ATP tour-level title for Djokovic, breaking a tie with Nadal for the fourth-most.

“I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far,” Tsitsipas told Djokovic.

Djokovic was participating in his 33rd major final, Tsitsipas in his second — and the 24-year-old from Greece also lost the other, at the 2021 French Open, to Djokovic.

On a cool evening under a cloud-filled sky, and with a soundtrack of chants from supporters of both men prompting repeated pleas for quiet from the chair umpire, Djokovic was superior throughout, especially so in the two tiebreakers.

He took a 4-1 lead in the first, then reeled off the last three points. He led 5-0 in the closing tiebreaker and, when it finished, he pointed to his temple before screaming, a prelude to all of the tears.

“Very emotional for us. Very emotional for him,” said Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “It’s a great achievement. It was a really tough three weeks for him. He managed to overcome everything.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Tsitsipas was willing to engage in the kind of leg-wearying, lung-searing back-and-forths upon which Djokovic has built his superlative career. How did that work out? Of points lasting at least five strokes, Djokovic won 43, Tsitsipas 30.

Then again, on those rare occasions that Tsitsipas did charge the net, Djokovic often conjured up a passing shot that was too tough to handle.

It’s not as though Tsitsipas played all that poorly, other than a rash of early miscues that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything.

It’s that Djokovic was too unyielding. Too accurate with his strokes, making merely 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his foe. Too speedy and flexible chasing shots (other than on one second-set point, when, running to his left, Djokovic took a tumble).

“I did everything possible,” said Tsitsipas, who also would have moved to No. 1 with a victory, replacing Carlos Alcaraz, who sat out the Australian Open with a leg injury.

Perhaps. Yet Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes some more, until it’s the opponent who is something less than perfect on one swing, either missing or providing an opening to pounce.

That’s what happened when Tsitsipas held his first break point — which was also a set point — while ahead 5-4 in the second and Djokovic serving at 30-40. Might this be a fulcrum? Might Djokovic relent? Might Tsitsipas surge?

Uh, no.

A 15-stroke point concluded with Djokovic smacking a cross-court forehand winner that felt like a statement. Two misses by Tsitsipas followed: A backhand long, a forehand wide. Those felt like capitulation. Even when Tsitsipas actually did break in the third, Djokovic broke right back.

There has been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.

There was the not-so-small matter of last year’s legal saga — he has alternately acknowledged the whole thing served as a form of motivation but also said the other day, “I’m over it” — and curiosity about the sort of reception he would get when allowed to enter Australia because pandemic restrictions were eased.

He heard a ton of loud support, but also dealt with some persistent heckling while competing, including applause after faults Sunday.

There was the sore left hamstring that has been heavily bandaged for every match — until the final, that is, when only a single piece of beige athletic tape was visible.

And then there was the complicated matter of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of people with Russian flags — one with an image of Vladimir Putin — after Djokovic’s quarterfinal. The tournament banned spectators from carrying flags of Russia or Belarus, saying they would cause disruption because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Djokovic and his father said it was a misunderstanding; Srdjan thought he was with Serbian fans.

Still, Srdjan Djokovic did not attend his son’s semifinal or the final.

No matter any of it, Djokovic excelled as he so often has.

“He is the greatest,” Tsitsipas said, “that has ever held a tennis racket.”

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