Simone Biles

Simone Biles a tall favorite at P&G Championships; women’s preview

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PITTSBURGH — Simone Biles flinched and froze at a startling sight before walking out of Pittsburgh International Airport on Monday.

“Yeah, you’re on the wall,” Biles’ coach, Aimee Boorman, said about a large sign promoting the P&G Championships. “And you’re 30 feet tall in the arena.”

The real Biles’ feet don’t touch the floor in sitdown interviews, but everything about the Texan is bigger in and around the site of the P&G Championships.

Look up, and she’s a banner above a bridge crossing one of the three rivers. Look down, and she’s sidewalk art directing downtown foot traffic to the Consol Energy Center for the meet. The women’s competition at the P&G Championships starts Thursday and wraps Saturday (8 p.m. ET, live on NBC).

“It’s really weird seeing my face everywhere,” Biles said.

She said she isn’t immune to nerves, but Biles feels the same as last year in Hartford, where she entered P&Gs as a relative unknown and won the all-around title.

Biles, who is printed on room keys at one downtown hotel, is favored to successfully defend her crown. (Biles’ family, which is not staying at that hotel, made sure to take a key as a souvenir.)

“I find it a little weird,” Boorman said, “because she’s just Simone. She’s not a star at home.”

Biles stopped again walking into the arena Monday. Fans were waiting for her outside the athlete entrance. One gave her a card.

“It freaks her out,” Boorman said, “because she’s very humble.”

And very accomplished.

The home-schooled Biles became the third American woman to win four medals at a single World Championships last October, including the most coveted, all-around gold. She’s been compared to Shawn Johnson for her powerful, athletic skills and strengths on floor exercise, balance beam and vault.

Biles bought a belly ring and lost her braces after Worlds, went back to driving her little sister to school and returned to competition at the Secret Classic on Aug. 2 and ran away with the all-around title.

That cemented her ultra-favorite status for Pittsburgh, though she modestly said her goal this week is top three in the all-around. Perhaps only 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross, often Biles’ roommate at camps and competitions, could challenge her this week.

If Biles makes the six-woman team for the World Championships in Nanning, China, in October (chosen not in Pittsburgh but after a later selection camp), she will attempt to end a trend.

In the last 10 years, 10 different women have been the top American all-around finisher at the year’s biggest competition — Worlds or the Olympics.

Speaking of the Olympics, Biles may currently be the world’s greatest gymnast, but that is no guarantee she will wear red, white and blue in Rio de Janeiro in two years.

The best U.S. gymnast in 2010 was Rebecca Bross, who didn’t make the London Olympic team in 2012. Biles will turn 19 before the Rio Games in 2016. The oldest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team that won gold was 18.

“Not only getting to the top is important, but staying on the top is sometimes even harder,” U.S. National Team coordinator Martha Karolyi said. “In order to stay up there and repeat, you have to keep the discipline, the lifestyle the same. … It takes some sacrifices.”

Karolyi spoke of the sport’s rapid turnover rate after the 2013 World Championships when she said there were “several 13-year-olds gearing up for Rio.”

They aren’t ready to challenge Biles yet. The 2011, 2012 and 2013 U.S. junior all-around champions are all out of this week’s competition with injuries (an indication of another reason why it won’t be easy for Biles to sustain the next two years.)

Eight senior women are scheduled to compete on all four events on Thursday and Saturday, the lowest number since at least 1986, USA Gymnastics said. Thirteen in total are in the field.

One would think such a small pool to select from would hurt the overall U.S. team going into Worlds, but Karolyi doesn’t see it that way.

Only three routines per apparatus are needed in Nanning.

Biles and Ross were the world’s two best all-around gymnasts last year, and Karolyi pointed to others competing in Pittsburgh who could fill in the gaps — mentioning Brenna Dowell (strong on uneven bars), MyKayla Skinner (vault) and Madison Kocian (also bars) by name.

“I think, at this moment, we’re still standing pretty good in that direction,” Karolyi said. “We have the pieces that we need.”

U.S. gymnast wins all-around bronze at Youth Olympics

Skate Canada preview, broadcast schedule

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 17:  Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada compete in the Figure Skating Ice Dance Free Dance on Day 10 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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Last we saw Scott Moir in top-level international competition, he smooched the Olympic rings for a second straight Winter Games.

Turns out it wasn’t a kiss goodbye.

Moir and partner Tessa Virtue make their Grand Prix series return this weekend at Skate Canada in Mississauga, Ontario, after two full seasons away from competition.

The Canadian ice dancers won Olympic gold at Vancouver 2010 — when Moir said he “french-kissed” the Pacific Coliseum ice rings — and silver in 2014 behind American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White. (Davis and White also took a post-Sochi break and remain sidelined but not retired)

Virtue and Moir, who have been performing in ice shows the last two years, reportedly decided in July 2015 to come back but kept it silent until last February. Moir said they wanted one more shot at an Olympics, but he had to lose his “beer gut” first.

They officially returned at a lower-level event in Canada four weeks ago, easily winning with the highest-scoring short dance of their career (in international competition) and the highest total score in the world this season.

“There’s a little bit of rust,” Moir told media then. “Nerves, a lot of tension and a lot of pressure that comes with this quote-unquote comeback.”

The attention will only increase.

Virtue and Moir face a field this week that includes Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who earned medals at the last two world championships, and Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, the 2014 World champions.

A sixth Skate Canada title would set them up for a showdown with two-time reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France in their next Grand Prix start at NHK Trophy on Thanksgiving weekend. The two couples happen to train together in Montreal.

“I think we have to earn that term to be associated as rivals to Gabriella and Guillaume, we are not quite there yet for sure, but they have taken the ice dance world to an entirely different level in the last few years,” Virtue said, according to the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Also at Skate Canada, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and three-time world champion Patrick Chan duel for a second straight year. Chan upset Hanyu last season in Chan’s first Grand Prix since he took silver behind Hanyu at the Sochi Olympics.

Chan was not as smooth the rest of his comeback season, placing fourth at the Grand Prix Final and fifth at the world championships. Hanyu dominated after his Skate Canada defeat until being upset by Spanish training partner Javier Fernandez at a second straight world championships.

In lower-level events earlier this fall, Chan took second to 17-year-old American Nathan Chen, while Hanyu became the first skater to land a quadruple loop in competition en route to a victory.

The last two women’s world champions face off at Skate Canada in Russians Yevgenia Medvedeva and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.

Medvedeva, 16, hasn’t lost in nearly one year, winning her early-season event, the free-skate-only Japan Open, over the rest of the top five from last season’s worlds.

Tuktamysheva won the 2015 World title in the most dominating performance outside of Yuna Kim‘s heyday. She landed a triple Axel en route to that gold and talked of adding a quadruple jump for 2015-16.

But she struggled last season, failing to qualify for the Grand Prix Final and placing eighth at the Russian Championships. This fall, she placed second and fourth in lower-level events, keeping her firmly behind Medvedeva in the Russian pecking order.

In pairs, world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford go for their third straight Skate Canada title. Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier can all but clinch a Grand Prix Final berth if they match their runner-up finish from Skate America last week.

Skate Canada broadcast schedule (all times Eastern):

Friday Women’s short program 2:57 p.m.
Friday Pairs short program 4:48 p.m.
Friday Short dance 7:30 p.m.
Friday Men’s short program 9:08 p.m.
Saturday Women’s, men’s short programs midnight-2 a.m. UniHD
Saturday Women’s free skate 2:27 p.m.
Saturday Pairs free skate 4:34 p.m.
Saturday Men’s free skate 6:57 p.m.
Saturday Free dance 9:15 p.m.
Sunday Free skates midnight-3 a.m. UniHD
Sunday Women’s free skate 5-6 p.m. NBC
Monday Women’s free skate (re-air) 8-9 p.m. UniHD

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule

Six more Olympic medalists stripped in Beijing 2008 retests

BEIJING - AUGUST 08:  The Olympic flame is lit by Li Ning, former Olympic gymnast for China, during the Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics at the National Stadium on August 8, 2008 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Nine more athletes, including six medal winners, were retroactively disqualified from the 2008 Beijing Olympics on Wednesday after failing retests of their doping samples.

The International Olympic Committee announced the decisions in the latest sanctions imposed on athletes whose stored samples came back positive after being retested with improved methods.

Four athletes were stripped of silver medals and two of bronze medals in weightlifting, wrestling and women’s steeplechase. All six athletes come from former Soviet countries — Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan — and all tested positive for steroids.

The IOC stores doping samples for 10 years to allow them to be reanalyzed when enhanced techniques become available. The IOC recorded a total of 98 positive cases in recent resting of samples from Beijing and the 2012 London Olympics.

Stripped of silver medals Wednesday were freestyle wrestlers Soslan Tigiev of Uzbekistan (66-74 kilogram division) and Taimuraz Tigiyev of Kazakhstan (84-96 kg) and weightlifters Olha Korobka of Ukraine (75 kg) and Andrei Rybakov of Belarus (85 kg).

It’s the second time Tigiev has been stripped of an Olympic medal for doping. He lost his bronze medal from the 74 kg event at the London Games after failing a drug test.

The IOC stripped Beijing bronze medals on Wednesday from Russian steeplechaser Ekaterina Volkova and Belarusian weightlifter Anastasia Novikova (53 kg).

The IOC asked the international weightlifting, wrestling and track and field federations to modify the Olympic results and consider any further sanctions against the athletes. Decisions on reallocating the medals have not been finalized.

The IOC said all six medalists tested positive for the steroid turinabol. Rybakov and Novikova also tested positive for stanozolol. Both substances are traditional steroids with a history dating back decades. The new IOC tests used a technique that could detect the use of those drugs going back weeks and months, rather than just days.

Also disqualified Wednesday were Cuba’s Wilfredo Martinez, who finished fifth in the men’s long jump; Nigerian-born Spaniard Josephine Onyia, who was eliminated in the semifinals of the women’s 100-meter hurdles; and weightlifter Sardar Hasanov of Azerbaijan, who competed but did not finish in the men’s 62-kg division.

The IOC said Hasanov tested positive for turinabol, Martinez for the diuretic and masking agent acetazolamide, and Onyia for the stimulant methylhexanamine.

Last week, the IOC announced that Russian weightlifter Apti Aukhadov had been stripped of his silver medal from the London Olympics on Tuesday after testing positive for turinabol and drostanolone.

VIDEO: Yao Ming reflects on Beijing Olympics