Sam Mikulak

Sam Mikulak leads one of most decorated P&G Championships fields ever

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PITTSBURGH — The men’s field at the P&G Championships is so accomplished and deep that there are seven gymnasts who own Olympic or World Championships medals.

And the favorite to take home the most coveted title Sunday, the U.S. all-around crown, is not part of that septet.

That’s Sam Mikulak, who won last year’s title by a whopping 2.9 points, the largest margin of victory in 14 years.

Mikulak has plenty of international experience, making the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team at 19 and finishing sixth in the all-around at his first World Championships last fall.

The spiky haired NCAA champion from the University of Michigan knows much is expected of him this year, beginning with the first night of competition Friday at 7 ET (NBCSN will have coverage at 11:30 p.m.).

“It’s always different being someone who’s defending versus someone who’s fighting for that first-place spot,” Mikulak said. “It’s different, but nothing’s really changing when it comes to my mentality.”

Mikulak’s task, to repeat, is complicated by the healthy presence of the three previous U.S. all-around champions. The field includes at least four past champions for the first time since 2008.

The 2012 U.S. champion, John Orozco, finished fourth in the all-around last year while wearing a knee brace after tearing an ACL and meniscus in October 2012. Orozco also tore an Achilles in 2010.

But there are no major injury worries this year. Just a funny left pinkie that he can’t feel when gripping parallel bars. Orozco won World Championships bronze on bars last fall.

Orozco diverted his answer when asked if he sees Mikulak as a favorite.

“I don’t really think about coming into beat anybody because that has been my downfall in the past, whenever I look around and I think I have to beat this person, or I have to do better than this score or that score. ” said Orozco, an Olympian and Bronx, N.Y., native. “I’m thinking inward.”

A gymnast well known for self reflection is 2011 U.S. champion Danell Leyva, often seen hidden under a towel between routines. He’s barely been visible since winning Olympic all-around bronze in 2012.

He finished seventh in the all-around at the 2013 P&G Championships, yet still made the World Championships team. However, he withdrew from the Worlds team due to a shoulder injury one day after being named.

In February, he placed ninth in the Winter Cup all-around.

“It’s been not what was planned, at all,” since the Olympics, said Leyva, the only U.S. man to bag a medal at an otherwise forgettable London Games.

The problem? Pressure. Leyva hopes he’s figured out the solution, not weighing himself down with expectations.

One man who said he has really low expectations in Pittsburgh is 2009 and 2010 U.S. champion Jonathan Horton. Horton, a two-time 2008 Olympic medalist, will raise his hand and perform routines in front of judges Friday for the first time since the 2012 Olympic high bar final.

“So I’m pretty nervous,” said Horton, 28 and a married father. “I’m the old man here.”

Horton, also plagued by injury since the Olympics, said he’s still three or four months away from being as strong as he used to be.

The entire 2012 U.S. Olympic team is in the field, including Jake Dalton.

So is the entire 2013 World Championships team, which had four different individual medalists in Antwerp, Belgium, last fall, matching Japan (though Japan had more overall medals, and the U.S. won no golds).

There is little room for breakthrough, but Donnell Whittenburg is powerful enough to beat the veterans and make his first World Championships team with a strong weekend.

Whittenburg, 20 and built like he should be competing across the Allegheny at Heinz Field, placed second in the all-around at the Winter Cup and won a national qualifier in Colorado Springs, Colo., on July 20. He beat Orozco and Leyva at the latter competition.

Simone Biles larger than life as defending champion

World Cup champ lands first quad cork 1800 (video)

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Switzerland’s Andri Ragettli landed what’s being touted as the first ski quad cork 1800 in a video published recently.

Ragettli, 18, is one of the leading slopestyle skiers in the world. He won the World Cup season title in 2015-16 and placed second this year, in addition to fifth- and sixth-place finishes at the last two Winter X Games.

Previously, Ragettli became the first slopestyle skier to land back-to-back triples in a full competition at the 2016 Winter X Games, according to ESPN.com.

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MORE: McMorris’ brother details life-threatening crash

Mark McMorris’ brother details snowboarder’s life-threatening crash

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Mark McMorris‘ life was in danger after the snowboarder crashed into an area of trees riding in the backcountry in British Columbia on Saturday, according to Postmedia News, quoting older brother Craig.

Craig was there when McMorris, the Sochi slopestyle bronze medalist, suffered a fractured jaw, fractured left arm, ruptured spleen, stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung.

McMorris was found conscious, but he was struggling to breathe with blood in his mouth, according to Canadian media.

“You can die from that, from bleeding out,” Craig said, according to Postmedia News. “But it was so hard for him to breathe, so that was my biggest concern with time. I communicated that to the search and rescue, and that’s why they got there as fast as they possibly could. Mark knew it was super bad. I knew it was super bad. But you just have to think positive, and that’s why he is still here.

More details of the rescue, via Postmedia News:

Craig McMorris and a handful of friends on site peeled off their jackets to create a nest for the injured Olympian. The couldn’t move him for fear of a spinal cord injury, and hypothermia was a real danger while waiting about 90 minutes for search and rescue personnel to arrive. Every minute counted due to the ruptured spleen.

“I’ve been involved in backcountry rescues before,” Craig said, according to the Canadian Press. “This was by far the gnarliest and most severe.”

An airlift to a hospital, two surgeries and two days later, McMorris was looking more upbeat in his hospital bed on both brothers’ Instagram pages Monday.

He has been named to Canada’s Olympic team for PyeongChang, and Craig believes he will be there to compete. Before the accident, McMorris was considered a gold-medal threat in slopestyle and the new event of big air.

“It’s been 48 hours, and he’s gone from being the most broken human to talking and communicating,” Craig said, according to Postmedia News. “In his mind, he’s going to the Olympics. In my mind, he’s going to the Olympics. There’s no reason why he can’t.”

McMorris has come back from injury before, but not this severe.

He won bronze in the first Olympic snowboard slopestyle event in Sochi, competing 12 days after breaking a rib.

He has already come back in this Olympic cycle from breaking his right femur in an Air and Style big air run in Los Angeles on Feb. 21, 2016.

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MORE: McMorris, after horrible injury, ups risk for 2 golds in PyeongChang

Kids tough as nails. All good news from here on out. So much love

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