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

Shaun White misses final at second Olympic qualifier

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Shaun White can’t qualify for the Olympics until mid-January.

The two-time halfpipe gold medalist missed the final at the second of four Olympic selection events in Breckenridge, Colo., on Thursday.

He was 14th in qualifying, where he needed to be top 12 to advance to Friday’s final. Full results are here. The third and fourth qualifiers are in January.

White is still in strong position to make the Olympic team after finishing second among Americans at the first qualifier last week.

The Olympic halfpipe team should include four men with the last spot available via discretionary selection by a U.S. Ski & Snowboard committee.

The Friday final in Breckenridge includes Ben Ferguson, who will wrap up the first Olympic men’s halfpipe berth if he is one of the top two Americans.

Also in the final are Sochi Olympians Danny Davis and Greg Bretz and Olympic gold and silver medalists Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland and Ayumu Hirano of Japan.

All of the top U.S. women qualified for the final, including 2002 Olympic champion Kelly Clark, 2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter and the last two X Games champions, Elena Hight and Chloe Kim.

A full Breckenridge preview and broadcast schedule and qualifying standings are here.

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Olympic team

Candace Parker not in 2017-2020 USA Basketball national team pool

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Candace Parker was not among 29 players named to the U.S. national basketball team player pool announced Thursday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s out of 2020 Olympic contention.

Players can be added or dropped from the national team pool between now and 2020.

USA Basketball director Carol Callan was asked Thursday if Parker, who was upset at being left off the Rio Olympic team, declined an invitation and what her situation is the next four years.

“We generally don’t talk about players that aren’t here because there’s a variety of reasons why they’re not. She’s one of them,” Callan responded. “We choose not to try to speak for them. So, I would simply suggest that you ask her. Candace has been an important part of our program over the years. We talked previously about the decision when she didn’t make the Olympic roster. I just think she’s better suited to say that. I don’t want to speak for her.”

For now, the pool is headlined by four-time Olympic champions Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who both recommitted to USA Basketball this year, one year after saying they believed Rio would be their Olympic farewells.

The pool includes every member of the Rio Olympic team except for the retired Tamika Catchings.

“The list of 29 [includes] players that were in the pool last quad from 2013-16 who want to continue,” Callan said, not mentioning Parker, who was in the pool in the last Olympic cycle.

It would not be a surprise if Parker never suits up for Team USA again after being left off the Rio roster.

The 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medalist said in May that she didn’t know if she wanted to go for the Tokyo 2020 team that will be coached by Dawn Staley, who succeeds Geno Auriemma.

Parker was also not among the 30 players who accepted invitations to a September/October national team camp. Five of her Los Angeles Sparks teammates did accept invites but none ended up attending because the team was playing in the WNBA Finals.

Staley will guide a 12-woman roster at the FIBA World Cup in September. Usually, the winner of the World Cup clinches the first Olympic basketball berth. The U.S. won the last two FIBA World Cups in 2010 and 2014.

Parker had said a primary motivation to play in Rio was that her daughter, Lailaa, then 7 years old, would have been able to watch her at the Olympics and remember it.

After missing the Rio team, Parker spoke of being caught off-guard, mad and upset. She would not commit to hypothetically being an injury replacement if one of the 12 named players had to bow out. That situation did not arise.

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U.S. women’s national basketball team player pool
Seimone Augustus
(Minnesota Lynx)
Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)
Tina Charles (New York Liberty)
Layshia Clarendon (Atlanta Dream)
Napheesa Collier (Connecticut)
Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics)
Skylar Diggins-Smith (Dallas Wings)
Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky)
Asia Durr (Louisville)
Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx)
Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury)
Tiffany Hayes (Atlanta Dream)
Jantel Lavender (Los Angeles Sparks)
Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm)
Kayla McBride (Las Vegas Aces)
Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream)
Kelsey Mitchell (Ohio State)
Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx)
Chiney Ogwumike (Connecticut Sun)
Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks)
Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces)
Katie Lou Samuelson (Connecticut)
Odyssey Sims (Los Angeles Sparks)
Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm)
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
Morgan Tuck (Connecticut Sun)
Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx)
Courtney Williams (Connecticut Sun)
A’ja Wilson (South Carolina)