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

Dagestan wrestlers boycott Russia Olympic Trials after riot police break up scuffle (video)

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MOSCOW (AP) — Riot police had to be sent in when a scuffle erupted after a Russian Wrestling Championships bout.

Viktor Lebedev of Russia’s northern region of Yakutia on Friday beat Ismail Musukayev of Dagestan in a 57kg semifinal bout at the competition that decides who represents Russia at the Rio Olympics. The championship was held in Yakutsk, the province’s capital.

State television showed Musukayev’s coaches and supporters pouring onto the ring and starting a scuffle with Lebedev. Several minutes later, riot police were sent in to stop the fight.

The Russian Wrestling Federation said all wrestlers from Dagestan have now boycotted the competition in protest and were handed a technical defeat.

Wrestling is a source of pride in Dagestan, a province in Russia’s North Caucasus known for its Islamic insurgency.

MORE: Wrestler goes from living in pickup truck to Olympic team

London Olympic doping retests say 23 athletes positive

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LONDON (AP) — Nearly two dozen athletes tested positive in reanalysis of their doping samples from the 2012 London Olympics, adding to the more than 30 already caught in retesting from the 2008 Beijing Games.

The International Olympic Committee said Friday that 23 athletes from five sports and six countries had positive findings in retests with improved techniques on 265 samples from the London Games.

The IOC did not identify the athletes, their sports or their nationalities.

“The reanalysis program is ongoing, with the possibility of more results in the coming weeks,” the IOC said.

The 23 London athletes are in addition to the 31 who tested positive in retesting from the Beijing Olympics. The IOC said Friday that another sample from Beijing has since shown “abnormal parameters,” and the case was being followed up.

Overall, up to 55 athletes from the past two Summer Olympics could be retroactively disqualified and have their results, and any medals, stripped.

The IOC stores Olympic doping samples for 10 years so they can be reanalyzed when new testing methods become available.

The current retesting program targeted athletes who could be eligible to compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.

“These reanalyses show, once again, our determination in the fight against doping,” IOC President Thomas Bach said. “We want to keep the dopers away from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. This is why we are acting swiftly now.”

Bach said he has appointed a disciplinary commission which “has the full power” to sanction athletes.

The IOC still has to retest the athletes’ “B” samples. Formal positive cases are not declared until the “B” samples confirm the original findings.

The IOC said the athletes, their national Olympic committees and their international sports federations were being informed ahead of formal disciplinary proceedings.

“All athletes found to have infringed the anti-doping rules will be banned from competing at the Olympic Games” in Rio, it said.

The IOC said the retests were carried out using “the very latest scientific analysis methods.”

The IOC retested 454 samples from Beijing. Of those original 31 positives, the Russian Olympic Committee confirmed that 14 involved Russian athletes.

Russian state TV said they included 10 medalists, among them high jumper Anna Chicherova. She won the bronze medal in Beijing and went on to take gold in London.

Match TV said 11 of the 14 athletes from Beijing were from track and field, including 4x100m relay gold medalist Yulia Chermoshanskaya.

Spanish hurdler Josephine Onyia has been identified in Spain as being one of the athletes whose samples from Beijing was positive.

VIDEO: Race walker holds his own medal ceremony after Russia doping