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

Belarus says athletes village unsanitary, but Australia set to move in

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 23: A general view of the Olympic and Paralympic Village for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Barra da Tijuca. The Village will host up to 17,200 people amongst athletes and team officials during the Games and up to 6,000 during the Paralympic Games on July 22, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
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MOSCOW (AP) — The Olympic team of Belarus has branded the athletes’ village in Rio de Janeiro unsanitary, a day after Australia refused to check its athletes in over health concerns.

It has complained about having no hot water, only sometimes cold water, and a failing sewage system.

Posting pictures on its website of dirty windows and a filthy shower the Belarus Olympic Committee says “there remains much for the Rio organizing committee to do so that the living conditions meet sanitary requirements.”

Australia’s athletes refused to move into the village on Sunday, with delegation head Kitty Chiller saying water leaks and electrical problems had “endangered” athletes.

However, Chiller since said she expects the Australians to move in Wednesday, after having paid for hotel accommodation for athletes and cleaning services.

Sidney Levy, the CEO of the Rio organizing committee, told The Associated Press that half of the 31 apartment buildings in the village complex were ready on Monday.

“The rest will be delivered in the next few days,” Levy said, adding that each building might have a few apartments with problems “that might take a bit extra to solve.”

Rio spokesman Mario Andrada said 630 people are “working around the clock” so the village’s 3,600 apartments can be ready on Thursday, barely a week before the Olympics open on Aug. 5.

Rio officials said 1,600 people from 115 countries were living in the village on Monday — including 400 athletes. The village will accommodate about 18,000 athletes and officials at its peak.

Many teams are already in Brazil but are attending private training camps and may not need to move into the village for another few days.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, after harshly criticizing Chiller on Sunday, has acknowledged that Australia had the worst prepared building in the vast complex that contains seven swimming pools, tennis courts and a dining area to serve 60,000 meals daily.

Chiller listed seven other delegations — Britain, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, Brazil, Japan and the Netherlands — that arrived early and worked with Australia on varied problems.

The president of the Argentine Olympic Committee, Gerardo Werthein, on Monday called two of the five floors for his delegation “uninhabitable.”

Chiller said speaking out probably put “pressure” on the organizing committee. Then she changed her word choice.

“I wouldn’t like to use the word pressure,” she added. “The resources were made available.”

MORE: Not everyone unhappy with housing in Rio Olympic village

Kenya’s doping program inept, but not corrupt

BEIJING - AUGUST 24:  Sammy Wanjiru (#2263) of Kenya leads a group of runners during the Men's Marathon on the way to the National Stadium during Day 16 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 24, 2008 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Never before have Kenya’s fabulously successful runners gone to the Olympics in such a negative light.

Kenya has a doping problem, no doubt, but seemingly not on the same scale as Russia. There’s no indication that the East African country has a state-sponsored conspiracy to hide cheating.

While Russia’s anti-doping program appears corrupt – leading to a ban for its track and field team and a narrowly-avoided blanket ban for all Russian competitors from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics – Kenya’s drug-testing program is best described as inept.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t serious issues and allegations in Kenya. The country’s track team goes to Rio – there was a moment when it also might have been thrown out – with its reputation at stake.

The Kenyan doping mess explained:

THE PROBLEMS: – At least 40 Kenyan track and field athletes have failed doping tests and been banned since the 2012 Olympics in London.

Four senior officials at the Kenyan track federation, including the top two, have been suspended by the IAAF – track and field’s international governing body – after being accused of trying to corrupt the anti-doping process.

It’s almost three months since Kenya’s entire drug-testing program was declared non-compliant and suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency because of problems with how it’s run.

Seven men – five Kenyans, an Italian coach and an Italian agent – are facing criminal charges in two separate cases in Kenya related to allegations of supplying and administering banned substances to runners.

THE CONTEXT: – Although 40 doping cases in four years is a significant number, the vast majority so far have been lower-level runners who haven’t won major titles. There are a couple of exceptions: Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo and two-time cross-country world champion Emily Chebet are among those banned.

Kenyan authorities promised extensive testing of their Olympic athletes to show that the stars – such as 800-meter world-record holder David Rudisha – are clean. In the last few weeks, the sports minister said, around 400 tests were conducted on Kenya’s full Olympic team of just over 100 athletes.

The Kenyan track federation president, vice president, the former track team manager and federation chief executive are all being investigated by the IAAF over allegations they sought to hide positive doping tests or arrange lenient bans while seeking bribes from the athletes involved. Unlike Russia, the anti-doping agency and government departments haven’t also been implicated.

While Kenya’s anti-doping program is currently declared non-compliant by WADA, so is Spain’s. Non-compliance doesn’t immediately mean a country should be banned from competition. It does mean that the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya wasn’t able to do tests in the run-up to the Olympics, leaving it to one of WADA’s regional bodies to do so.

The court cases involving Kenyan men accused of supplying banned substances to athletes appear to be getting to the heart of Kenya’s problem. Allegations were made as far back as 2012 that people were selling banned substances to athletes in remote training bases. Kenyan police and anti-doping authorities have clearly been slow in shutting that drug supply line down.

WHAT SPORTS AUTHORITIES HAVE DONE: – WADA described Kenya’s anti-doping regulations as “a complete mess” when it declared the country non-compliant in May, but WADA doesn’t have the power to ban Kenya’s track and field team from international competitions.

That falls to the IAAF and, in the case of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee. The IAAF stopped short of throwing out Kenya, but placed the country on a doping “monitoring list” until the end of the year. If there aren’t significant improvements, the IAAF could decide on sterner punishment.

In June, the IOC told international sports federations to test individual athletes in Kenya to make sure they are clean before Rio.

REPUTATION AT STAKE: – Kenya’s sporting pride revolves around its world-beating distance runners. If just one of Kenya’s athletes fails a drug test at the Rio Olympics, then all of them – maybe unfairly – are going to be under suspicion. It’ll also probably revive the question of why Kenya’s track team was given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to go to the Olympics.

Kenya’s javelin world champion Julius Yego said the scrutiny is going to be severe: “Everybody will be looking at the Kenyans and all sorts of bad things will be mentioned about Kenya.”

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta repeatedly warned the athletes against doping when he addressed the Olympic team last week.

“Show them we can win clean. Even if we don’t win, show them we can play clean,” Kenyatta said.

MORE: Kenyan police search agents’ hotel rooms at Olympic Trials