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Sunny Olympic host Sochi turns into World Cup playground

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Warm weather, beaches, amusement parks.

It’s not exactly what Australian fan Adam McKinley expected to find when he decided to make the trip to Russia for the World Cup.

But that’s exactly what he got in Sochi, the city introduced to the world as a winter destination during the Olympics four years ago, with its coastal location on the Black Sea and its majestic snow-capped peaks a short distance away.

“Whenever I think of Russia, I picture something like cold Siberia. I picture, like, real cold stuff,” McKinley said. “I’ve been blown away by this. We even went for a swim and it was lovely. It was just nice and warm. We’ve been pleasantly surprised.”

Sochi wasn’t so cold during the Olympics, either, with temperatures frequently climbing into the mid-50s in the Olympic Park. The chillier mountains are roughly an hour’s drive away.

But in the summer, the snow is replaced by sun, lots of it, as Russia’s seaside playground explodes into a scene more akin to Southern California or Miami Beach than Siberia.

“The moment we saw Peru was going to play in Sochi, we wanted to come here,” said Peru supporter Luis Medina, one of the thousands of World Cup fans who have come to the city. “We knew this was going to be the place to be.”

Even the teams based in Sochi were taking full advantage of the region’s attractions. Brazil was feeling right at home, enjoying the warm temperatures and a private beach at the team’s hotel in possibly the closest setting to what it had back home before traveling to Russia.

“We are having lunch and breakfast with a view of the sea. That’s a plus for us,” goalkeeper Alisson said shortly after Brazil arrived.

The Brazilians fought hard to secure Sochi as their base. The Austrian federation initially picked the five-star hotel where Brazil is staying, but luckily for the Brazilians, Austria did not end up qualifying for the World Cup.

Germany stayed in Sochi during the Confederations Cup last year, but this time it chose a different location in part because it said it couldn’t secure a proper private training field. After the opening loss to Mexico, some local media questioned whether the decision not to return to Sochi played a part in the team’s disappointing performance.

Poland also is based in Sochi. On a day off, the team visited the city’s dolphin park, one of the most famous in the region.

The micro-district of Adler, where the Olympic Park sits and the World Cup matches are played, is a hub of activities catering to tourists of all ages and tastes.

Many gather at the rock-covered beach by Fisht Stadium, which is hosting six World Cup matches, including one in the round of 16 and another in the quarterfinals.

But if sunbathing isn’t high on the agenda, there is plenty more to do.

Sochi Park, known as the Russian Disneyland, is walking distance from the stadium. Based on local fairy tales, it’s the country’s first modern theme park — and one of the biggest.

It was mostly empty during the Olympics, but four years later it has been popular among World Cup fans. Officials estimate the tournament has added about 2,000 people a day to the park, which annually receives 1 million visitors.

“It’s a shame we can’t stay longer and enjoy more of the park because we have to go to the game,” Panama supporter Nathalie Nielsen Atencio said.

The park includes a “roller-coaster” restaurant, with orders sliding down to customers on metal tracks. It’s believed to be the only restaurant of its type in Russia, and one of nine in the world.

Also near the park is the Sochi Autodrom, which hosts Formula One races but is open to people wanting guided tours and even a chance — for a price — to drive the circuit.

“There are so many things to do in Sochi,” said Alexey Titov, who is in charge of the company that organizes the Russian Grand Prix and operates the track. “It has developed greatly in the past four years since the Olympics have gone. You can see it has changed massively. This place went from a swamp in 2008 to a thriving park with restaurants, food, activities, things to do.”

By the track there’s also a go-karting circuit, and the remaining Olympic venues offer indoor sports like tennis, skating and hockey.

Sochi’s downtown is some 20 miles from the Olympic park, but activities there also revolve around the waterfront, including a lengthy promenade of storefronts, souvenir stands and water-related activities connecting the heart of the city with the seaport where the Fan Fest is taking place.

Beach clubs playing a mix of pop hits from Europe and the United States are mixed with more family-oriented places to enjoy the sun, like waterparks with slides and splash-pads on the shore of the Black Sea.

The train line connecting Adler and Sochi runs mostly along the shore and is filled with small pockets of land teeming with beachgoers.

All those waterfront activities don’t include the resorts of the Krasnaya Polyana mountain cluster 30 miles inland, where the Alpine events of the Winter Olympics were held. They offer a summer attraction for those not as interested in the beach.

Martin Fasth was visiting from Sweden for the World Cup and was impressed with all the options.

“We kind of expected something better than Sweden,” he said, “but not something this nice.”

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Sam Mikulak wins fifth U.S. all-around gymnastics title, ties record

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BOSTON — Sam Mikulak‘s record-tying fifth U.S. all-around title came by his largest margin of victory. What he’s really yearning for is a first individual world championships medal.

Mikulak, the only Olympian in the field, added to his lead from Thursday and easily won by 4.75 points at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Saturday. Yul Moldauer, the 2017 U.S. champion in Mikulak’s absence, improved from sixth to finish second.

“This is my favorite national championship that I’ve won so far,” Mikulak told Andrea Joyce on NBC. “I finally feel like I’m in peak shape.”

Full scores are here.

Mikulak, 25, joined Blaine Wilson as the only men to win five U.S. all-around titles. He also became the oldest champ since David Durante in 2007.

But Mikulak is no longer satisfied with gold medals at nationals. He is one of the best American gymnasts to never earn an individual Olympic or world medal (Wilson is also on this list). He called this title “a stepping stone.”

Mikulak is sure to be named to the five-man team for October’s world championships, his next chance for that first individual global podium. Tokyo 2020 would be his third and likely final shot at an Olympic medal (Wilson won his only Olympic medal at his third and final Games in 2004).

“I’m trying to look into the world and international scene a little bit more, and if this [national] title comes along in the process, that’s a little cherry on top,” Mikulak said before the meet. “Until I can check some of that off will I feel like I’ve earned my right to retire.”

Mikulak hit all six routines Saturday, including a 15.25 on parallel bars that was the highest score of the two-day meet. He totaled 87.75 points. That’s 2.6 more than Thursday, when Mikulak fell twice and still had the best all-around score thanks to major mistakes from the other favorites.

“If I can go out and do this [repeat Saturday’s routines at worlds], I think I can make a very strong case for [a world medal],” said Mikulak, who didn’t do the all-around at worlds and nationals last year coming back from a torn Achilles.

Nationals end Sunday with the last day of women’s competition live on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app from 8-10 p.m. ET. Simone Biles carries a huge lead, eyeing a record fifth U.S. women’s all-around title as the first non-teen winner since 1971.

GYMNASTICS NATIONALS: TV/Stream Schedule | Where Are The Final Five?

Next for the U.S. men? World championships in Doha in October. Usually, the world team would be named right after nationals, but this year a September selection camp has been added. Up to eight men will be invited to that camp, after which the five-man world team will be named.

It could be a very new-look squad aside from the likely leaders Mikulak and Moldauer. Allan Bower and Donothan Bailey, who were third and fourth Saturday, have never been to a worlds. Neither has Alec Yoder, who won the national title on pommel horse, making him valuable.

All but one of Mikulak’s teammates from the last two Olympics have retired. The one who hasn’t — Rio pommel horse bronze medalist Alex Naddour — has been suspended since June for unspecified reasons.

Another top American, Marvin Kimble, withdrew before nationals due to injury but is training at his Wisconsin gym. He is petitioning for a spot on the national team to get into the worlds selection camp.

Yet another, Eddie Penev, is out with a torn ACL. Olympic alternate Donnell Whittenburg, competed here, but only on parallel bars and still rings, not fully back from November torn rotator cuff surgery.

Kimble, Mikulak, Moldauer, Naddour, Penev and Whittenburg were the U.S. entries at the 2017 Worlds, which only had individual events. Only Moldauer came back with a medal, a floor exercise bronze.

U.S. high-performance director Brett McClure has team medal aspirations but said before nationals that China, Japan and Russia are in a different league in terms of routine difficulty.

The U.S. men were fifth at the Rio Olympics and at the last worlds with a team event in 2015. That marked the first back-to-back global championships without a medal since 2006 and 2007.

Mikulak has been a part of recent U.S. teams that underwhelmed. He hopes that what happened at nationals — everybody struggling on the first day but nailing routines on the second, will portend success.

“Usually we do well in qualifications and then choke in team finals,” at the Olympics and worlds, Mikulak said. “So if we do the opposite, I’m totally cool with that.”

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Christian Coleman wins Birmingham 100m in photo finish (video)

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In a matchup of two breakout U.S. sprinters, Christian Coleman beat Noah Lyles in a 100m for the second time this season at a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, Great Britain on Saturday.

Coleman, the 2017 World silver medalist, clocked 9.94 seconds. Lyles, the U.S. champion who is stronger at 200m, crossed in third in 9.98. Brit Reece Prescod was between them, also in 9.94 seconds and all but catching Coleman in the last half of the race.

Coleman is the fastest indoor 60m runner of all time, but the field usually closes on him in the last half of 100m races. Lyles is not a strong starter but makes up ground in the second half.

Lyles and another American, Ronnie Baker, are the fastest men in the world this year at 9.88 seconds. Coleman clocked 9.82 last year and could have broken 9.9 this year but missed all of June with a hamstring injury.

“It was a sigh of relief because you never know what to expect when you come back from injury,” Coleman said, according to meet organizers. “I got my rhythm back, and I came out with the win in a good time.”

Lyles said he thought he was last when he crossed the finish line and that it was his worst race.

Full results are here. The Diamond League concludes with finals meets in Zurich and Brussels on Aug. 30-31.

In other events Saturday, Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo emerged from one of the deepest 200m fields in history to win in 22.15 seconds.

Every woman in the field ranks in the top 60 all-time. Miller-Uibo upset Brit Dina Asher-Smith, the triple gold medalist from last week’s European Championships that included the fastest 200m in the world this year (21.89). The Bahamian Miller-Uibo is undefeated at all distances this year.

“The 200m isn’t a race that I love,” Miller-Uibo said. “I really do like it, but not as much as the 400m.”

London Olympic champion Greg Rutherford finished last in what may have been his last long jump competition. The 31-year-old Brit has said he will retire after this season after a series of injuries in recent years.

American Sandi Morris beat Greek Katerina Stefanidi in a reversal of their 2016 Olympic and 2017 World Championships finish. But Morris only cleared 4.62 meters in windy conditions, well off her 2018 world-leading clearance of 4.95 from July 27.

American Fred Kerley, the second-fastest 400m runner in the world last year, edged European champion Matthew Hudson-Smith of Great Britain to win in 45.54. Kerley ranks eighth int the world this season, with Michael Norman having the fastest time of 43.61.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan held off Ethiopian Gudaf Tsegay — 4:00.60 to 4:01.03 — in a battle of the Nos. 3 and 4 1500m runners this year. Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba and U.S. breakthrough Shelby Houlihan, not in Saturday’s field, remain the fastest women of 2018.

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