Skip to content

Sam Mikulak leads one of most decorated P&G Championships fields ever

Aug 21, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT

Sam Mikulak AP

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

Latest Posts
  1. Wallace Spearmon fails drug test, banned 3 months

    Sep 19, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT

    Wallace Spearmon Getty Images

    Spearmon lost a 2008 Olympic medal due to disqualification and finished fourth in the 2012 Olympic 200m.

  2. Viktoria Komova out of World Gymnastics Championships, report says

    Sep 19, 2014, 10:21 AM EDT

    Viktoria Komova Getty Images

    Komova won Olympic all-around silver behind Gabby Douglas.

  3. South Korea hockey teams given spots in 2018 Olympics

    Sep 19, 2014, 8:49 AM EDT

    South Korea hockey Getty Images

    There was concern Olympic host nation wouldn’t be able to qualify in hockey.

  4. Carolina Kostner skips hearing in ex-boyfriend’s doping case

    Sep 19, 2014, 8:02 AM EDT

    Carolina Kostner Getty Images

    Olympic medalist skater could be called in for later hearing.

  5. Jens Voigt bikes 31.7 miles in 1 hour, breaks record

    Sep 18, 2014, 4:50 PM EDT

    Jens Voigt Getty Images

    Three-time Olympian rides into retirement by entering history books.

  6. Rio Olympic Village more than 50 percent complete

    Sep 18, 2014, 3:06 PM EDT

    Rio Olympic Village

    Work expected to finish in the first half of 2016.

  7. Ato Boldon’s track and field season awards

    Sep 18, 2014, 1:39 PM EDT

    Justin Gatlin Getty Images

    NBC Olympics analyst hands out athlete of the year honors and more.

  8. Yelena Isinbayeva set to return to pole vault training, report says

    Sep 18, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    Yelena Isinbayeva Getty Images

    Russian Olympic champion gave birth to daughter in June.

  9. Analyzing the U.S. gymnastics women’s World Championships team

    Sep 18, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    Simone Biles, Kyla Ross Getty Images

    Can U.S. win second straight team title despite injuries, absences?

  10. Edmonton Oilers hire Olympic pairs champion as skating coach

    Sep 17, 2014, 3:38 PM EDT

    David Pelletier Getty Images

    Canadian from memorable 2002 Olympic pairs competition to coach NHL players.

  11. Kaitlyn Farrington, Olympic halfpipe champ, eyes slopestyle at Dew Tour

    Sep 17, 2014, 2:13 PM EDT

    Kaitlyn Farrington Getty Images

    Olympic halfpipe champion is focused on two competitions this season.

  12. Curling sculpture unveiled at Olympic Museum (photos)

    Sep 17, 2014, 10:54 AM EDT

    Curling statue

    Curling is the first Winter Olympic sport to have a sculpture in the Olympic Museum park.

  13. Paula Radcliffe set for first race since pulling out of London Olympics

    Sep 17, 2014, 10:38 AM EDT

    Paula Radcliffe Getty Images

    World record holder, now 40, could enter two more major marathons.

  14. Hicham El Guerrouj, King of the Mile, could still run fast at 40

    Sep 17, 2014, 10:04 AM EDT

    Hicham El Guerrouj Getty Images

    Two-time Olympic champion runs five or six times per week.

  15. Shaun White ‘more motivated’ to compete than before Sochi

    Sep 17, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    Shaun White Getty Images

    Two-time Olympic halfpipe champion “more poised” for slopestyle success in 2018.

  16. Lolo Jones eliminated from ‘Dancing with the Stars’

    Sep 17, 2014, 8:41 AM EDT

    Lolo Jones Getty Images

    Jones posted she had “flashbacks of the three Olympics and that people constantly tease me about.”

  17. Rio Olympic ticket prices start at about $20 in Brazil

    Sep 16, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT

    Rio 2016

    More than 7.5 million tickets will be available for the Games.

  18. Kohei Uchimura’s mother competes in gymnastics meet

    Sep 16, 2014, 11:35 AM EDT

    Kohei Uchimura Getty Images

    Shuko Uchimura hadn’t competed in some 30 years, according to Japanese report.