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

Ten swimmers to watch at USA Swimming National Championships

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The U.S. team for the world swimming championships will be determined this week, and it’s going to include some new faces.

Absent are the retired Michael Phelps and Maya DiRado, suspended Ryan Lochte and recovering Missy Franklin.

Katie Ledecky is the headliner, but there are of course many others who will emerge this week as medal favorites for Budapest next month.

The top two per individual event at the USA Swimming National Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, are in line to make the world team. Plus extra swimmers in the 100m and 200m frees for relays.

MORE: Broadcast Schedule | Event Schedule/Results

Here are 10 swimmers to watch in Indianapolis from Tuesday through Saturday:

Mallory Comerford
No Olympic experience

The rising Louisville junior tied Katie Ledecky for the NCAA 200-yard freestyle title on March 17. Remember, Ledecky is undefeated in 15 individual finals at the Olympics, World Championships and Pan Pacific Championships. It was all the more surprising given Comerford, who is five months younger than Ledecky, was 12th and 13th in the 100m and 200m frees at the Olympic Trials. She enters nationals ranked Nos. 2 and 5 in the 100m and 200m freestyles, respectively.

Madisyn Cox
No Olympic experience

Cox is the best all-around female swimmer in the U.S. aside from Ledecky. She ranks second this year in both individual medleys and the 200m breaststroke. The former University of Texas standout is the direct beneficiary of Ledecky opting not to swim the 400m IM on Thursday, given Ledecky is fastest in the U.S. this year in that event. Cox was fourth in both IMs at the Olympic Trials.

Lilly King
Olympic 100m breast champion

Best known for finger-wagging Yuliya Efimova and then beating the Russian in Rio. King actually ranks No. 2 — in the U.S. — this year in the 100m breast behind Rio bronze medalist Katie Meili. Meili has also been 2.72 seconds faster than King this year in the 200m breast, an event King is trying to improve after being eliminated in the Olympic semifinals.

Katie Ledecky
Five-time Olympic champion

It would be shocking if Ledecky does not win the 200m, 400m, 800m and (if she races it) 1500m frees this week. The intrigue comes in the 100m free, which Ledecky did not contest at this meet four years ago. She lowered her 100m free personal best from 56.00 to 53.75 in the last four years and enters Tuesday’s event ranked No. 5 in the U.S. this year (same as her ranking last year). No doubt Ledecky has the talent to make the 4x100m free relay at worlds (as she did at the Olympics), but could she make the 100m free team outright by finishing top two?

Simone Manuel
Four-time Rio Olympic medalist

Manuel is comfortably the fastest U.S. woman this year in the 50m and 100m frees, where she earned silver and gold in Rio. She’s also ranked No. 4 in the 200m free, and only .18 behind No. 2, after handing Ledecky two defeats in the NCAA 200-yard free this past season.

Michael Andrew
No Olympic experience

Andrew, who turned professional at age 14 in 2013, is entered in nine events this week. No way he swims them all, but could this be the year Andrew fulfills promise and makes his first major international meet? He ranks fourth in the 50m free and third in the 200m individual medley nationally this year but has been best known in recent years for his breaststroke. His best Olympic Trials finish was fourth in the 100m breast.

Caeleb Dressel
Olympic 4x100m free relay champion

Dressel memorably delievered under pressure in Rio, setting a personal best in his first Olympic swim leading off the 4x100m free relay final. Dressel went even faster in his three 100m free swims, placing sixth overall. At age 20, Dressel already holds NCAA records in the 50- and 100-yard frees, plus the 100-yard butterfly. Is he ready to overtake Nathan Adrian as the top U.S. sprinter?

Anthony Ervin
Two-time Olympic 50m free champion

At 36, Ervin is the oldest swimmer at nationals by three years. He defied age most recently in Rio, becoming the oldest individual Olympic swimming champion in winning the 50m freestyle a whopping 16 years after sharing gold in the event in Sydney. Ervin hasn’t shown that kind of form this year. He ranks No. 16 in the U.S. in the 50m free.

Chase Kalisz
Olympic 400m IM silver medalist

No U.S. male swimmer has been more impressive this season than Kalisz. In a three-day span in May, he set personal bests in the 200m IM and the 200m breaststroke, swam the second-best 200m butterfly of his life and posted the then-fastest time in the world this year in the 400m IM. Kalisz is entered in three events this week and owns the fastest time in the U.S. this year in all of them — 200m and 400m IM and 200m butterfly.

Ryan Murphy
Three-time Rio Olympic champion

Murphy may have swept the backstrokes in Rio, but he is ranked second in the country this year in the 100m and 200m distances. London Olympic champion Matt Grevers has been faster in the 100m back. Rio Olympic teammate Jacob Pebley tops the 200m back. Still, it would be a shock to not see Murphy swimming both in Budapest, plus perhaps the 50m back.

MORE: King to be less vocal on Efimova topic this summer

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Tori Bowie does not want to double at world champs

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Add Tori Bowie to the list of sprinters not looking to double at the world championships in August.

Bowie won the 100m and finished third in the 200m at the USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

That put her on the U.S. team for worlds in London in both sprints.

But Bowie, who earned Rio 100m silver and 200m bronze, was exhausted after four days of racing in Sacramento heat that eclipsed 110 degrees.

“I for sure don’t want to do the double [at worlds],” Bowie said Sunday. “I just wanted to give myself an option [to race the 100m or the 200m].”

Bowie said she and her coaches will probably decide her racing schedule for worlds in the next two to three weeks.

“More than anything I wanted to try to get this 100m right and try to achieve a gold medal somewhere,” Bowie said, according to TeamUSA.org. “I don’t have a gold medal yet individually, so that’s my main concern right now.”

If Bowie drops the 100m, Olympian Morolake Akinosun is in line to take her spot. If she drops the 200m, it’s Ariana Washington.

“I already experienced that, I did the double in Rio,” Bowie said. “I collected my two medals that I wanted to collect in both events. Right now, I’m satisfied.”

Deajah Stevens and Christian Coleman also made the U.S. team in both the 100m and 200m and are expected to compete in both events.

Meanwhile, both Olympic 200m champions — Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson — are expected to sit out the 200m in London to focus on the 100m.

World 200m silver medalist Justin Gatlin, 2012 Olympic 200m champion Allyson Felix and LaShawn Merritt all pulled out of the 200m at USATF Outdoors, ruling out world championships doubles.

Gatlin doubled in 2015. Felix doubled in 2011 (200m and 400m) and tried to for Rio but finished fourth in the 200m at the Olympic Trials. Merritt raced the 200m and 400m in Rio.

Both Olympic 400m champions — Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa and Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas — plan to also race the 200m at worlds.

MORE: Centrowitz recovers from ‘rock bottom’ to make world team

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