Artur Dalaloyan

Nikita Nagornyy wins gymnastics world all-around; Sam Mikulak misses medal

Leave a comment

STUTTGART, Germany — Russia is dominating men’s gymnastics like no other time since the breakup of the Soviet Union. It’s bringing swagger back, too.

“It’s just a different time, get used to it,” Nikita Nagornyy said after leading a Russian one-two in the world championships all-around final on Friday, two days after Russia won its first world team title since the Soviet era. He planned to celebrate with a cup of coffee and pasta bolognese.

Nagornyy and Artur Dalaloyan, the gold and silver medalists, represent a new, victorious time for the Russian program. They are young, 22 and 23, They are tattooed. Nagornyy is married to fellow Olympic medalist Daria Spiridonova. Dalaloyan is engaged with a daughter.

“I don’t have any more emotions because we put all of them into the team competition,” Nagornyy said after winning the all-around by 1.607 points over Dalaloyan, the 2018 World all-around champion who nearly sat down his vault.

Ukrainian Oleg Verniaiev, who missed gold in Rio by .099, took bronze after seeing 2017 World champ Xiao Ruoteng of China and American Sam Mikulak drop in the standings.

GYM WORLDS: TV Schedule | Finals Results

Mikulak was seventh, again seeing medal hopes dashed by a critical late mistake, coming off the pommel horse. He was 1.282 points out of a medal after incurring that point penalty for falling on a skill he believed he needed to contend.

It was kind of just rolling the dice a little bit,” said Mikulak, who has finished fifth, sixth and seventh (twice) in Olympic or world all-arounds, but never made the medal stand. “If [it] had been the perfect skill, I would have been second or third.”

Mikulak, a two-time Olympian and six-time U.S. champion, led at the halfway point and was in fourth place when he came off the horse in the fifth of six rotations. He eked into the final in 27th place in qualifying, where he fell four times.

He left the competition with an award, though, a watch in a box for the Longines Prize for Elegance. However, if Mikulak does not earn a medal in Sunday’s high bar final, it will mark the first Olympics or world championships that the U.S. failed to make a men’s event podium since 2009.

Nagornyy will like this statistic going into the Tokyo Games: The last four men to win the world all-around title the year before the Olympics went on to win the Olympic title: Paul HammYang Wei and Kohei Uchimura twice.

Uchimura, the Japanese legend with a record six world all-around titles, is absent from a worlds for the first time since 2007, missing the Japanese team while injured. He is questionable to make the Olympic team despite being one of Japan’s most recognizable athletes.

This is the first year China and Japan were shut out of the team and all-around gold medals at an Olympics or worlds since 1992.

Japan’s results the last two years have been especially concerning a year before it hosts the Olympics — bronze in the team event and a top finish of sixth in the all-around, its worst collective results since 2001.

Nagornyy, though young, saw that Japanese dominance up close at the Rio Games. He has the date of the Rio Olympic team final tattooed in Roman numerals on the inside of his left forearm, celebrating Russia’s first Olympic team medal since 2000 (a silver).

He has another tattoo on his ribs, “salvame y guardame,” which roughly translates to “save and protect me” in Spanish and is a common Russian Orthodox phrase.

Will he get another to commemorate these last two gold medals, or perhaps one in Tokyo?

“I will think about it,” he said. “We should not say anything in advance. We just need to work, and our work will show if it is possible or not.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

GYM WORLDS: Women’s Finals Qualifiers | Men’s Finals Qualifiers

Russia wins first men’s gymnastics world team title since Soviet breakup

1 Comment

STUTTGART, Germany — Russia earned its first world men’s gymnastics team title since the breakup of the Soviet Union, while the U.S. just missed the podium to extend its longest global medal drought this millennium.

Russia overtook China, the top men’s gymnastics nation of the last 20 years, on the final rotation and ended up winning by a comfortable .997. Japan took bronze, followed by the U.S. and Great Britain in a repeat of places three through five from 2018.

The Chinese led by 1.394 points going to the last rotation on high bar, but Sun Wei fell on the first routine. Russia seized the opening, moving ahead by .506 after its first of three gymnasts performed.

A year ago, a mistake from Russian leader Nikita Nagornyy on the very last routine on high bar handed China the title by .049, the smallest winning margin in an Olympic men’s or women’s team final since the perfect-10 scoring system was replaced in 2006. On Wednesday, Nagornyy closed it out with a stuck high bar finale.

Russia’s last Olympic title came in 1996, when it boasted the likes of future Olympic all-around champion Alexei Nemov and future world all-around champion Nikolai Kryukov. Its last world title came in 1991, when its roster included Nastia Liukin‘s father, Valeri, and Vitaly Scherbo, a Belarusian who went on to win six golds at the 1992 Olympics.

Here, Russia has similar star power: Nagornyy, who qualified first into Friday’s all-around, and the defending all-around champion Artur Dalaloyan.

“For a whole year I couldn’t sleep soundly because I didn’t have that medal. A year ago we let it go with our errors when we were competing with the Chinese,” Dalaloyan said, according to an Associated Press translation, after embracing the Chinese team, including Sun, who was in tears and hiding his face in his jacket.

GYM WORLDS: TV Schedule | Finals Results

The U.S. extended its longest span without an Olympic or world team medal since a 17-year break from the 1984 Olympics to 2001 World Championships. The Americans’ last medal was a bronze in 2014.

The Americans were not expected to make the podium after struggling to a seventh-place finish in qualifying. Russia, China and Japan have been in a class of their own in this Olympic cycle.

The U.S. had no falls in a team final for the first time since 2015 but were still a considerable 3.581 points out of bronze.

“We performed to our expectations,” two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak said. “We didn’t really think we had the start value [degree of difficulty] to get into that medal podium spot.”

The U.S. must hope to benefit from the change from a five-person team to a four-person team in Tokyo.

It relies largely on Mikulak, who has the ability to challenge the world’s best when he hits. His all-around score Wednesday — 86.931 — would have placed second in the qualification round.

Mikulak fell four times in qualifying, scored 81.598, and thought he would miss Friday’s 24-man all-around final. He stopped watching the final nations compete and began playing Roomscape on his computer. Teammate Akash Modi informed him that he made the final in the last spot on a tiebreaker. Scores reset for finals.

“I was sweating real hard,” he said. “The gym gods were looking out for me.”

The other U.S. men — Yul Moldauer, Trevor HowardShane Wiskus and Modi — have no Olympic experience and a fraction of Mikulak’s accolades.

If as few as two Americans can step up in difficulty and consistency in the next 10 months, the U.S. could return to the medal-challenging status it had in the last four Olympic cycles.

“It will be difficult for us to jump up enough to be in that same realm,” U.S. head coach Mark Williams said. “We have to sort of rely on some other teams to have problems, which isn’t a great strategy, but it’s also better than feeling like you don’t get to the finals.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

GYM WORLDS: Women’s Finals Qualifiers | Men’s Finals Qualifiers

Four thoughts off 2018 World Gymnastics Championships

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Four thoughts off the 2018 World Gymnastics Championships, where Simone Biles scribbled through the record book with medals on every event, including four golds, in her first international meet since the Rio Olympics …

1. Simone Biles, greatest athlete of 2018?
Many top sports countries have Sportsperson of the Year Awards, which usually honor athletes in individual sports. It’s a little different in the U.S., where team sports dominate, and there are multiple marquee year-end honors from the likes of Sports Illustrated and The Associated Press. Those outlets typically choose American athletes, but not always (see Johann Olav Koss and Martina Hingis, for instance).

Voters who take a close look for this year’s awards have a few deserving female candidates. Biles, the 2016 AP Female Athlete of the Year, is of course on that short list, after arguably the greatest meet of her career and the most trying year.

Biles returned to training under a new coach on Nov. 2, 2017, after a 14-month break. She still traveled frequently for sponsors until mid-December and struggled mentally as recently as May, coach Cecile Landi said, according to Olympic Channel.

“She was in the gym for two, three days, she started to feel better,” Landi said of last fall’s training, according to the report. “And then she had to start all over again, and she was like, ‘I tried, I think I need to quit. That’s it. It’s too hard.’ She would quit every three days.”

In January, she came forward as one of hundreds of Larry Nassar survivors. She and many other U.S. gymnasts trained for the major summer and fall meets while USA Gymnastics underwent leadership change after leadership change.

Biles returned to competition in July, then swept the gold medals at nationals for the first time in August. Then in Doha, she led the U.S. women to a sixth straight Olympic or world title, this time by the largest margin of victory under a 12-year-old scoring system. That was the first of her six medals in six events at worlds, a feat not seen in 31 years.

Others who had incredible years? Breanna Stewart, who led the Seattle Storm to the WNBA title and the U.S. to a world title. She was MVP of the WNBA regular season and WNBA Finals and the MVP of the world championship. Not much more one can ask of a basketball player.

There’s Swiss triathlete Daniela Ryf, who overcame jellyfish stings under both armpits minutes before the Kona Ironman World Championship last month. Ryf then shattered her course record by 20 minutes in perfect weather (the men’s course record also fell by nine minutes in Kona). Ryf also won her two other major races this year, taking 12 minutes off her Ironman European Championship course record and earning her fourth Ironman 70.3 world title.

Let’s not forget about the Winter Olympics, where the majority of dominating performances came from women (such as Ester Ledecká, Marit Bjørgen and Chloe Kim).

MORE: 2018 Gym Worlds Results

2. The U.S. women’s rebuilding was a reloading
The first worlds with a team event since the Olympics taught us that the U.S. is more dominant than ever, even with a whole new team aside from Biles. If Biles’ team-final scores are substituted for the U.S.’ fourth athlete from qualifying, the Americans still win by five points over Russia, nearly the margin of victory from 2015 Worlds.

Morgan Hurd confirmed this year that her 2017 breakout (with a world all-around title in Biles’ absence) was no fluke. She earned a medal of every color in Doha. Riley McCusker, after some errors in qualifying, had an uneven bars score in the team final bettered only by Biles of the 23 other gymnasts.

The other two world team competitors, Kara Eaker and Grace McCallum, were third and 11th, respectively, at the 2017 U.S. Junior Championships.

Some of the U.S.’ most promising gymnasts — including Ragan SmithEmma MalabuyoMaile O’Keefe and Gabby Perea— were significantly affected or sidelined altogether by injuries in 2018. Jade Carey, who last year went from not being an elite gymnast to earning two world championships medals, skipped worlds in favor of maximizing her Olympic team chances.

A comeback from any of the other Rio Olympians for Tokyo 2020 would be a daunting exercise.

3. Artur Dalaloyan, from kicked off the team to world’s best gymnast
Not Alexei Nemov. Not Paul Hamm. Not even Kohei Uchimura. None of those Olympic all-around champions accomplished what Dalaloyan did at a world championships — earning five medals in one week (Dalaloyan’s included all-around gold). Nobody had since Vitaly Scherbo in 1991.

The 22-year-old had no high-pressure, global experience before Doha. He was not on the Olympic team. Limited by a broken foot, he competed in one final at 2017 Worlds, finishing last on vault after getting into the event due to another gymnast’s injury.

In fact, Dalaloyan was once kicked off the national team for disciplinary reasons at age 15, according to the International Gymnastics Federation. He missed the Rio team after not taking the sport seriously upon his return to the Russian program.

“When you are 18 or 19 years old, it is difficult to lock yourself in the gym and only train. I wanted to have fun, dance with girls, go for walks, and much more,” Dalaloyan said earlier in 2018, according to the FIG. “I thought, ‘Why limit myself? After all, I’m already in the national team!’ Then I began to notice that the other guys were all progressing, and I was wasting time. When I realized that I really could not get to Rio, I discarded all unnecessary and went to work. It was like something clicked in my head. I really understood a very simple thing: I need gymnastics.”

4. Sam Mikulak changed by medal breakthrough
When Mikulak had his first medal miss at the 2013 World Championships, he said, “You’ve got to learn to lose before you can learn to win.” After Mikulak earned his first individual medal in his sixth Olympic/world champs appearance last week, he sounded like a changed athlete.

“It wasn’t the epitomizing moment that I thought it would be,” he said. “There’s a lot more to life than getting these things.”

Will that change how the 26-year-old approaches the sport? Who knows. In the summer, Mikulak was so invested in earning a medal that he said he couldn’t retire without one. It conjured images of Blaine Wilson pacing and racking during the 2004 Olympic team final. There was still some of that fire in Mikulak as he wore the high-bar bronze Saturday.

“I feel like I finally broke the barrier, and I’m going to go home, and I’m going to want to get more of these,” he said.

He certainly has the talent. Mikulak qualified for five individual finals at worlds, the most by a U.S. man since 1979. He would have earned an all-around medal if not for errors on his last and best event, high bar. He led an otherwise young U.S. men’s team to fourth place, the best it could have hoped for barring collapse from China, Japan or Russia. He did so after being limited at nationals and worlds in 2017 due to his second left Achilles tear in two years.

Next year, Mikulak can break his tie with Wilson with a sixth U.S. all-around title. Then in 2020, he can become the first U.S. male gymnast since Wilson to compete in three Olympics. Maybe, like Wilson, he can finally earn an Olympic medal in his third try.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Why Simone Biles can win with two falls