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

Rio Olympic equestrian may be moved outside Brazil

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The head of the Brazilian Equestrian Confederation has warned that equestrian events at next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics might have to take place outside Brazil.

Luiz Roberto Giugni blasted the country’s Agriculture Ministry for delays in issuing documentation needed to allow horses brought into Brazil from Europe, the United States and Canada to leave the country.

He warned that if the ministry doesn’t act before the end of the month, “we run the risk of not having the event in Brazil.”

Regulations for bringing horses to and from Brazil are strict. The country is still subject to diseases affecting horses, including glanders, a lethal bacterial infection recently diagnosed in several horses here.

Guigni was speaking on Wednesday at an event in Sao Paulo.

Shaun White talks Olympic skateboarding, Air & Style at Forbes summit

Shaun White
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What do the next five years look like for Shaun White the businessman?

“I heard they just accepted skateboarding at the Olympics, so if I wasn’t busy enough,” White joked, rubbing his right ear while gripping an Aquafina water bottle, sitting in a white chair on a stage across from Forbes senior editor Kurt Badenhausen.

“I don’t know. Maybe there’s a summer medal in my future. Maybe another Winter Olympics. I’m hoping to go to [Pyeongchang, South] Korea [for the 2018 Winter Games], which would be great. I’ve still got to do the qualifying and everything. I’m going to grow Air & Style into the next big thing. Music, you’ll see me on the road. Record a new single. I think that’s what’s so great is the unknown.”

White took questions from Badenhausen for 28 minutes at the Forbes Under 30 Summit on Tuesday, discussing his business ventures and his snowboarding.

White mentioned skateboarding, which is among five sports that are finalists to be added to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic program. It’s not in the Olympics yet, but the International Olympic Committee will decide in August. White, a two-time Olympic snowboard halfpipe champion, won Summer X Games skateboard vert as recently as 2011.

Since finishing fourth in the 2014 Olympic halfpipe, White has said he’s hoping to be at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, which would be his fourth Winter Games.

White, now 29, was the oldest U.S. Olympic men’s halfpipe snowboarder at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics and, in 2018, would be older than any previous U.S. Olympic men’s halfpipe snowboarder. The sport debuted at the Olympics in 1998.

He’s barely competed since Sochi, also finishing fourth at last January’s Winter X Games halfpipe. He has said he will spend part of October training in New Zealand and plans to compete at this season’s Winter X Games, but it’s not locked in.

White’s relationship with the X Games changed when, before the Sochi Olympics, he purchased a majority share in Air & Style, a touring big air ski and snowboard event that also includes music. Air & Style events have been held in Europe, Beijing and, debuting last February, Los Angeles.

White laughed when Badenhausen said he had read that White put up $5 million to put on the Los Angeles event.

“I wish it was just five,” White responded.

White expanded on Air & Style on Tuesday, saying his acquisition came after his conversations with X Games organizers for a similar plan fell apart (part of his answer in a video here):

“That was a huge turning point to do this event,” White said. “I mean, it was like, wow, OK, you guys don’t want to do this. Then I’m going to have to run with this idea, do it myself.”

The Winter X Games made their European debut in 2010 with events in Tignes, France, for four straight years, as well as having Summer X Games events in Brazil and Europe. It all stopped after 2013, but an Oslo event is scheduled for this February.

“They [X Games] actually expanded globally, it was a huge failure [laughs], to be honest, a couple things happened, I think,” White said. “They didn’t really change their marketing platform. They used the same announcers, the same people, the same competitors, all the things every time around the world, which didn’t exactly translate in the foreign markets. And then again, it did another thing where it diluted the brand in the U.S. because X Games was on TV every day. It’s kind of like, oh wow, I get to see this all the time, what’s so special about it?”

White announced Air & Style’s debut in Los Angeles in late 2014, after he said agents and accountants advised against it.

“It’s something I felt like I had to do, win or lose,” White said.

White said Air & Style’s event in Los Angeles was boosted by the X Games’ decision in 2013 to shift its summer event from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas.

“That left a really nice opening in the market for people that like to attend this type of event — families, younger-aged kids that would attend and then, obviously, a huge market for music-goers,” White said. “So it was kind of that win-win of people that we would get at that event. Not just the hardcore music-goers.”

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