US Male Gymnasts Advance in Tokyo Olympics

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TOKYO — Before qualifying for Saturday’s Tokyo Games, the men on the US Olympic gymnastics team held their own pep rally.

They were in the warm-up room and had installed a portable speaker. They played rap, country, rock ‘n’ roll, techno, any kind of music that would relax them enough to compete at their best.

They thought there would be no fans in the stands due to Covid-19 restrictions, so why stress? His theories seemed to have worked.

The American men finished fourth overall, enough to advance to the team final next week. Still, the finish was miles behind the top three teams from Japan, China and Russia by nearly three-tenths of a point. Still, the Americans said they were proud and had fun with their performance, and that’s what they wanted from these Olympics.

“We were kidding, we weren’t taking things too seriously, we were keeping it light,” said Sam Mikulak, who participated in his third Olympics and is a six-time national champion all over. He and Brody Malone, a rising veteran at Stanford, qualified for the Top 24 on Saturday, enough to qualify for the all-around finals.

US men have not won a medal at the Olympics since third place at the 2008 Beijing Games. In the next two Olympics, they finished fifth both times. Mikulak said it would be a “perfect reunion” for them to take the podium this year, with “perfect competition” from the United States and “terrible competition” from countries that qualified before them.

Shane Wiskus of Minneapolis looked at it this way: “It actually takes the pressure off. We have nothing to lose at this point, you know?”

Helping their performance was the unexpected cheer episode that popped up in one corner of the arena. Although paying fans were barred from attending the event, the women’s Olympic team, including Simone Biles, was there to cheer on their male counterparts.

Alec Yoder, the team’s pommel horse expert, appreciated their support. As he finished a spectacular routine on the pommel horse and qualified for the event finale, Biles and the others shouted for joy, raising his arms in the air and signaling the cheer section. Yoder and Biles, both 24 years old, have been close friends for years since their teenage years.

“It meant a lot to us that they came to support us,” Yoder said. “It was just a little cool.”

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