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Written by dwight normile    Sunday, 24 August 2014 14:19    PDF Print
Mikulak Rallies to Claim Back-to-Back National Titles
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)

Well that was entertaining. What a difference two days can make. On Friday the defending champion looked out of sorts with poor efforts on two events. But at the P&G Championships today, Sam Mikulak looked like a different gymnast altogether, and earned the big scores that enabled him to leap from fourth to first (180.650). Going six-for-six helped, of course, especially since the trio ahead of him all made mistakes.

First-day leader John Orozco (second, 180.200) performed a handspring-double-twisting front that was devalued to a tuck, and he got a bit tight on parallel bars and was unable to follow a Healy with a reverse pirouette.

"I got ahead of myself," Orozco said. "I started trying to be too perfect."

Jake Dalton (third, 179.850), Friday's runner-up, had a good chance to win his first nationals, but he landed his Kasamatsu-double twist low and staggered out of bounds. "I opened a bit early and that led to the steps," Dalton said.

And Danell Leyva (fifth, 177.500), third two days ago, struggled a bit on high bar (bent-arm giant after a layout Kovacs and his half-Takemoto finished on the wrong side of the bar).

"If it wouldn't have been for that, for me it would have been a perfect day," Leyva said.

So all of that, plus Mikulak's incredible balance across every apparatus (and his ability to stick dismounts), gave the former Michigan gymnast back-to-back national titles, the first to do so since Jonathan Horton in 2009 and 2010. His 92.25 was the day's highest, and 0.60 higher than his best total last year in Hartford, Conn.

Heading into vault in the last rotation, Mikulak, Dalton and Orozco all had a chance to win.

"I knew it was close," Mikulak said. "I'm not going to change my gymnastics … just make sure I didn't fall on my butt (on vault)."

That's also the event that started Orozco's downfall. He had been training a double front, but he said his coach said to stick with the double-twisting front.

"After vault I caught myself glancing [at scores] but it didn't help me so I stopped," Orozco said. Asked about Mikulak, and Orozco had nothing but praise. "Sam is Sam. He's such a gamer. He does it when the time is right. Everything he does seems so effortless, and it inspires me."

As good as Mikulak was, there was definitely a new star in the making. Donnell Whittenburg, who started the day in sixth, climbed to fourth with some amazing amplitude and difficulty. He's incredibly strong and rings and he put down two of the hardest vaults in the Code: a Dragulescu and Ri Se Gwang (Tsukahara-full-in, back-out). High bar may be his weak event, but his potential seems off the charts.

Whittenburg says pommel horse and high bar are his weak events right now, and that he "needs to control my nerves" on the former. "There's always pressure at this event," he said. "But I try to stay in my own bubble."

Rounding out the top 10 in order were Alex Naddour, Paul Ruggeri, Jonathan Horton, Brandon Wynn and CJ Maestas.

So for another year, Mikulak is the top U.S. all-arounder, and his coach Kurt Golder said this year's win was better than in 2013.

"That's sweet to pull out a championship coming from behind," said Golder, adding that Mikulak's demeanor contributes to such a turnaround. "He doesn't put all that undue pressure on himself [after mistakes] like some guys do."

Mikulak, however, will savor something else from his meet in Pittsburgh.

"To be able to hit two great pommel horse routines was the best part of my weekend," he said.

Event champions: Dalton (floor), Mikulak (pommels), Wynn (rings), Whittenburg (vault), Leyva (parallel bars), Orozco (high bar).

Though the 2014 U.S. world team hasn't been announced yet, the top six from the all-around looks like a formidable squad. Stay tuned.

National Team: Mikulak, Orozco, Dalton, Whittenburg, Leyva, Naddour, Ruggeri, Horton, Wynn, Eddie Penev.

Check out the IG Facebook page for Quick Hits.

 
Written by dwight normile    Saturday, 23 August 2014 20:07    PDF Print
Biles Wins Second Consecutive All-Around National Title
(5 votes, average 3.40 out of 5)

Starting Saturday night with a 3.15 advantage, defending U.S. champion Simone Biles was in a rare place. And after four rotations, she had matched Jordyn Wieber's double win from 2011-12.

Wieber ran away from the field for her first victory, but in 2012 she edged Gabby Douglas by only 0.20. Biles' back-to-back was just the opposite. Last year she defeated Kyla Ross by 0.20, but this year she beat her by 5.25. And all with a smile on her face.

It wasn't a fair fight. Biles began her night on floor with another sensational effort, opening with a tucked double-double, following with a Biles (double layout-half), a double layout and tucked full-in (15.50). On vault she matched her 15.90 for what is easily the highest, cleanest Amanar on the planet right now. She improved on bars from Thursday with a tidy 14.750 and closed her night on beam, where a wolf hop to side aerial left her standing on the mat.

"I've been having problems with my side aerial, but it's fixable," said Biles.

Said Marta Karolyi, U.S. national team coordinator: "A fall is a fall, and we definitely need to take care of that."

So Biles, coached by Aimee Boorman, is human after all. Knowing her, that mistake will make her better next time, which will likely be in Nanning, China, in October, to defend her world title.

For the record, Biles' 122.550 was 2.10 higher than last year's winning total, and Ross's 118.300 was about 2.0 lower. Sense a trend?

Ross also opened on floor and replaced her whip to Arabian double front with a flip-flop Arabian double front, stag jump. She was clean elsewhere, improved on bars from day one, and closed with a 15.350 on beam, looking as calm as ever.

"I know, after worlds, I need to get back in the gym and work on my difficulty," said Ross, who plans to start college after the 2016 Olympics.

Following Ross were Maggie Nichols (117.900), Alyssa Baumann (116.100), MyKayla Skinner (115.450), Amelia Hundley (112.200), Madison Desch (111.200) and Macy Toronjo (109.150).

Event winners were Biles on vault and floor, Ashton Locklear on bars (strong inside Stalder work, Pak-Maloney, Jaeger, clean full-out), and Ross on beam.

The 13-gymnast field included five gymnasts who did not do all four events, and some of them could end up making the 2014 world team, which will be named at a selection camp in September. Those gymnasts were Felicia Hano, Madison Kocian, Ashton Locklear, Veronica Hults and Brenna Dowell. Hano worked every apparatus but bars; Kocian, Locklear and Hults competed bars and beam; and Dowell did bars only.

Until then, Biles is clearly the top gymnast in the country and, according to her, it doesn't mean all that much.

"Winning is not what I focus on," she said. "I focus on having fun."

 
Written by dwight normile    Saturday, 23 August 2014 14:56    PDF Print
Foberg Wins Junior P&G Championships
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Whether it's a Level 4 meet or the Olympic all-around final, it always helps to hit all your routines. And that was the recipe Jazmyn Foberg followed in claiming the 2014 junior title at the P&G Championships in Pittsburgh. It also helped that she showed no weak event, and each routine had plenty of punch.

Coached by Maggie Haney at MG Elite, Foberg led by 0.60 after Thursday's competition, and held on for the win over Nia Dennis, 114.950-114.500. She also topped the bars standings (Maloney-half, Ricna, Maloney, half-in half-out). Not bad for someone who failed to even qualify to this meet last year.

"It feels great," she said. "I'm so excited."

Even with the title on the line, Foberg said she was more relaxed today.

"I was actually less nervous because I got all the kinks out [on day one]," she said.

Dennis (Buckeye) certainly had the goods to win, but she fell on her double layout off bars on Thursday, and on her standing Arabian front on beam both days. She won vault (Yurchenko-double twist) and floor (double layout, double Arabian, 1.5 twist through to double tuck, double pike), however. Even with the mistakes, she was all smiles afterward.

"I feel really good," she said. "I tried my best."

Third-place Norah Flatley (Chow's) also missed an opportunity to win. Ironically, it happened on her best event, balance beam, where she fell on a sheep jump Thursday and a layout to two feet today (112.550).

"It wasn't my best," she said of her beam effort. "I'm going to go back in the gym and work on it."

U.S. Classic winner Jordan Chiles did well after missing her first event Thursday (bars). With two events remaining today she was still in ninth, so she hit vault and bars to climb to fourth (111.600).

Flatley's teammate Alexis Vasquez posted the top beam total (29.400; flip-flop, layout, layout; switch ring leap; 2.5 twist dismount) to help lift her to fifth, while Emily Gaskins (Cincinnati), second after day one, fell from bars today and finished sixth.

The top six gymnasts made the junior national team.

Notes:

• 2012 Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman has been training at her old gym, Brestyan's, since last September. Her goal is to return to competition at the 2015 U.S. Classic and make the 2016 Olympic team. She plans to attend her first national team training camp in October, after the 2014 world championships. She met with a group of reporters at the Consol Energy Center prior to the junior competition Saturday afternoon. Here are a few quotes:

"I'm happy to be back in the gym. I'm taking it slow. I have a better relationship with Silvia and Mihai (Brestyan) than ever before."

"My goal is to do all-around … and clean up bars…."

"[Having already won Olympic gold] I feel like I have a huge weight lifted off my shoulders."

Her advice for young gymnasts: "Love what you do … and never give up."

Oh, one more note: Aly said that after her interview she was headed to Kyla Ross's room to do her makeup for tonight's competition.

Shilese Jones' (Auburn) floor mount of full-in half out is really cool. It's looks like a full to Arabian front.

• Chow's trio of gymnasts on beam were superb in terms of leap quality, extension and presence: Alexis Vasquez, Victoria Nguyen and Norah Flatley.

Tiny Morgan Hurd (First State), who wears glasses, showed excellent technique on bars.

Taylor Lawson (Parkettes) partially missed the beam on her takeoff and landed on the back of her neck. She was able to walk away under her own power after being evaluated. She scratched her final three events.

• 100.000: Jazmyn Foberg's score with one event remaining.

• After each gold medal was given to the winner during the event awards ceremony, a replay of the champion's routine was shown on the jumbotron. Nice effect.

 
Written by dwight normile    Friday, 22 August 2014 20:49    PDF Print
Orozco Takes First Day Lead as Mikulak Struggles
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Last year Sam Mikulak won the P&G Championships by about 3.0, with a couple of falls on his last event. This year he would not have that luxury given the growing depth of the U.S. men's program. So when he spotted the field that amount after his first three events tonight at the P&G Championships in Pittsburgh, a few gymnasts took advantage.

One of them was John Orozco, who posted a 90.750 and the top scores on parallel bars (15.60) and high bar (15.75). He also was the U.S. champion in 2012 and someone who won three consecutive national titles over Mikulak when the two were juniors. The former is not looking to get his title back, while the latter still thinks he has a chance.

"I wasn't even thinking about that," Orozco said of his first senior title in St. Louis two years ago. "The title is great, but it doesn't mean that much to me. I just want to do my best on every event. I know that sounds generic…."

Mikulak started his night with a blown parallel bars set in which he lost his grip after a giant-Suarez. After nailing high bar, he sat down a double front on floor two rotations later. Surprised his 88.40 still ranked fourth, Mikulak was his usual upbeat self afterward. Asked if he still felt like he could defend his national title, he didn't hesitate with his answer.

"Oh yeah," he said. "We're only halfway there."

Jake Dalton (90.250) rallied with the top floor score in the final rotation (15.65) to grab second. But what Dalton was most pleased with was his first, and weakest, event.

"Pommel horse, starting with a clean hit," he said.

And he built off that momentum with five scores from 15.20 on vault to 15.70 on high bar.

Finishing in third was Danell Leyva, who has had his share of disappointments recently. But he was solid from his first event, vault, to his clean effort on rings. His 88.90 total included a share of the top high bar score of 15.75 with Orozco. Leyva said he "trusted himself more" this year, but he knows there is still a lot of work ahead to make the world team.

"As far as the other guys, they look amazing," he said.

Placing fifth was Alex Naddour, who placed second to Mikulak in 2013, thus ending his reputation of a pommel horse specialist. And here, he scored only 14.600, while Mikulak took the top mark on the event with 15.150.

Donnell Whittenburg held the lead for the early part of the meet, and was near the top until he slid off pommel horse in the final rotation. He finished sixth (88.00), but posted the top vault score with an excellent Dragulescu (15.65). Brandon Wynn ranked seventh (87.90) and earned the best rings score (15.50).

The finals will be intense, with each gymnast trying to find a strategy to climb higher in the rankings and get onto the world championship team. Orozco, of course, has nowhere to go but down, but he's determined to stay put. He looked calm throughout a pressure-packed meet, and later revealed why he thought he did so well.

"I felt like [God] guided me through tonight," he said.

Perhaps it's a good omen that the finals are on a Sunday.

Notables:

• Coming off shoulder surgery and then a torn pectoralis muscle, Jonathan Horton (12th) had not competed since the London Olympics. Prior to the meet he said he felt good but admitted that he had not hit six-for-six in training. He began his meet on parallel bars and looked sensational, showing superb technique and great amplitude. He made it through high bar but struggled to keep his swing going after a couple of his releases. He hit his floor set but went out of bounds twice and appeared to tire at the end. He also got through pommel horse but looked gassed by the dismount. Horton was strong on rings and ended his night with a clean handspring-double front.

Marvin Kimble (13th), who plans to start at Michigan in January, had a few rough spots Friday. One hand slipped off high bar on a regrasp, he fell off pommel horse, and his handspring-double front on vault overrotated and the momentum sent him running off the end of the podium.

• Also coming off a torn pectoralis muscle was Steven Legendre (20th), who began the night on his weakest event, pommel horse. He nailed the set and looked pumped. He had to muscle a front giant on rings but followed with a strong handspring-double front vault. He looked labored on p-bars and then had two falls on high bar and another on floor.

 

 
Written by dwight normile    Friday, 22 August 2014 14:11    PDF Print
Baker, Strech Lead Junior Men After Day One
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)

The junior men took the floor at the P&G Championships in Pittsburgh Friday afternoon, and the field included 29 in the 15-16 age group and 11 in the 17-18 division.

In the former, Marty Strech (Azarian) edged Anthony McCallum (USOTC), 83.950-83.900, for the midway lead, and WOGA's Tristan Burke scored 82.000 for third.

In the older age group, incoming Illinois freshman Bobby Baker posted 84.450 for a comfortable lead over the 2013 15-16 champ, Hunter Justus (83.40), a freshman at Oklahoma. Kiwan Watts (Above the Bar) sits in third with 82.600.

Strech, who placed second a year ago, had only one fall when he put his right hand down after a Kasamatsu-1.5 twist vault.

"My plan coming in here was to hit six for six," said Strech, who will start his freshman year at Michigan right after Sunday's finals. "I've been working on [the Kasamatsu-1.5] for two years and it's been on and off … I was landing every one here in training."

McCallum, who used to train at Hayden's Gymnastics, showed immaculate form and great amplitude in places. And like Strech, his only mistake came on vault, where he over rotated a huge Tsukahara-double pike.

Baker, who actually took some classes at Illinois over the summer, hit all six events but realizes the competition is far from over.

"Today I'm happy with where I am," he said. "I just have to do the same thing on Sunday."

The powerful Justus struggled a bit on high bar (12.800) but boomed an incredibly high handspring-double front in the final rotation (15.000). That pushed him 0.80 ahead of Watts, whose long lines and excellent form contributed to solid scores across the board.

Notes:

• Last night the 2004 U.S. Olympic teams were honored after the meet. Both the men's and women's teams won the silver medal in Athens, and Paul Hamm and Carly Patterson won the all-around golds. Hamm is now a boys' coach at Premier Gymnastics in Chicago. (He will be coaching Alex Diab, a junior, who will compete in the senior session tonight.) Patterson is happily married and living in the Dallas area.

Peter Daggett, son of 1984 Olympic gold medalist Tim Daggett, is in the field. He was named after Peter Vidmar, Daggett's close friend from UCLA. Vidmar has a son named Timothy.

• 1992 Olympic champion Vitaly Scherbo is in the arena, coaching Fabian DeLuna.

• Speaking of great Belarusian gymnasts, Andrei Kan is here as a coach for Swiss Turners, and his son Vitali is in the field.

• Also in the field is David Jessen (TAG USA), son of Czech great Hana Ricna.

 


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