McKayla Maroney

McKayla Maroney grabs some redemption by winning World Championships vault title (video)

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McKayla Maroney defended her vault title at the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, on Saturday. It was the same event she won silver on at the Olympics, where she entered as the favorite and became famous for her “not impressed” face on the podium.

Maroney, 17, stuck her first vault, a high-flying Amanar, for 15.966 points, though she came a bit off balance in saluting. It was the highest-scoring vault of the competition.

She had a bit of a delay before being able to perform her second vault. No matter, she scored a 15.483 for a 15.724 average to beat teammate Simone Biles for gold by .129 of a point. Biles (15.595) picked up her second medal of the meet, coupling the silver with all-around gold. North Korea’s Hong Un Jong earned bronze with a two-vault average of 15.483.

“To be completely honest, it was kind of scary,” Maroney said in a video interview published by USA Gymnastics. “There definitely was some pressure on me.

“Looking back isn’t going to help you. Moving forward is the thing you have to do.”

The Olympic gold medalist ahead of Maroney in London, Romania’s Sandra Izbasa, did not compete in Saturday’s final.

An American has won women’s vault at four straight World Championships (Kayla Williams (2009), Alicia Sacramone (2010)).

Maroney came back from a fractured tibia suffered at a post-Olympics gymnastics tour in September with a goal of defending her championship from 2011.

“A lot of people didn’t really believe in me,” Maroney said. “They kind of thought it was a fakey comeback because a lot of gymnasts have kind of done that before.”

Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina, 38, finished fifth. She competed at the 1991 World Championships for the Soviet Union and owns nine World Championship vault medals, including 2011 silver.

Here was Maroney’s facial expression on the podium in London:

source: Reuters

Here was Maroney’s facial expression on the podium Saturday:

source:

“I was trying not to cry,” Maroney said of being on the podium.

Maroney also competed in the all-around at the World Championships, where she did not qualify for the 24-woman final because two Americans finished ahead of her in qualifying.

Maroney’s World Championships are over, but her career is most certainly not:

Women’s Vault Results

Gold: McKayla Maroney (USA) 15.724
Silver: Simone Biles (USA) 15.595
Bronze: Hong Un Jong (PRK) 15.483
4. Giulia Steingruber (SUI) 15.233
5. Oksana Chusovitina (UZB) 14.583
6. Thi Ha Thanh Phan (VIE) 14.299
7. Yamilet Pena Abreu (DOM) 13.966
8. Chantysha Netteb (NED) 6.950

Here are the results and recaps of the other apparatus finals at the World Gymnastics Championships on Saturday:

Men’s Floor Exercise

Gold: Kenzo Shirai (JPN) 16
SIlver: Jacob Dalton (USA) 15.6
Bronze: Kohei Uchimura (JPN) 15.5
4. Daniel Purvis (GBR) 15.4
5. Diego Hypolito (BRA) 15.366
5. Steven Legendre (USA) 15.366
7. Fabian Hambuechen (GER) 15.3
8. Scott Morgan (CAN) 14.833

Shirai, 17, is the youngest male competitor at worlds. His routine, which scored a whopping 16.233 in qualifying, included an unprecedented quadruple twist. No other man scored better than 15.6 in qualifying or finals.

Dalton became the first American man to win a floor exercise medal at a worlds or Olympics since Paul Hamm’s gold in 2003.

Uchimura, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist and 2011 worlds gold medalist, won his 11th career World Championships medal.

Men’s Pommel Horse

Gold: Kohei Kameyama (JPN) 15.833
Silver: Max Whitlock (GBR) 15.633
Silver: Daniel Corral Barron (MEX) 15.633
4. Hongtao Zhang (CHN) 15.6
4. Alberto Busnari (ITA) 15.6
6. Robert Seligman (CRO) 15.433
7. Matvei Petrov (RUS) 15.416
8. Prashanth Sellathurai (AUS) 14.033

Kameyama became the third different Japanese gymnast to win gold in the first three events at the World Championships.

Reigning Olympic and world champion Krisztian Berki of Hungary shockingly failed to qualify for the final. Olympic silver medalist Louis Smith of Great Britain is not competing this year.

No Americans made the final on what is their Achilles heel event. The last U.S. man to win a medal on pommel horse at a worlds or Olympics was Sasha Artemev in 2006 (bronze).

Women’s Uneven Bars

Gold: Huang Huidan (CHN) 15.4
Silver: Kyla Ross (USA) 15.266
Bronze: Aliya Mustafina (RUS) 15.033
4. Simone Biles (USA) 14.716
5. Sophie Scheder (GER) 14.683
6. Yao Jinnan (CHN) 14.633
7. Ruby Harrold (GBR) 14.333
8. Rebecca Downie (GBR) 13.8

Biles’ pursuit of medals in all five events at worlds ended when Mustafina, the all-around bronze medalist, pushed her off the podium.

Still, Ross’ second silver of worlds put the U.S. in position to become the first nation to win a gold or silver in every event for one gender at a World Championships since 1992.

In 1992, the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Republics) men’s team accomplished the feat.

Ross and Biles are both qualified for the final two events Sunday — balance beam and floor exercise.

Men’s Still Rings

Gold: Arthur Zanetti (BRA) 15.8
Silver: Aleksandr Balendin (RUS) 15.733
Bronze: Brandon Wynn (USA) 15.666
4. Yang Liu (CHN) 15.633
5. Lambertus van Gelder (NED) 15.533
5. Samit Ait Said (FRA) 15.5
7. Koji Yamamuro (JPN) 15.433
8. Danny Pinheiro Rodrigues (FRA) 14.566

Wynn, the former Ohio State standout, won the first U.S. World Championships or Olympic medal on still rings since 1994. His score was challenged by the U.S., but the International Gymnastics Federation did not uphold it.

Wynn’s difficulty score had been one tenth higher in qualifying. An extra tenth would have elevated Wynn to silver.

Zanetti followed up his gold medal from the 2012 Olympics. The 2010 and 2011 world champion and 2012 Olympic silver medalist was not in the field. That’s China’s Chen Yibing, the “Lord of the Rings.”

Simone Biles’ future after winning all-around

Kristi Yamaguchi tells Nancy Kerrigan to ‘break a leg’ on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

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Kristi Yamaguchi told Nancy Kerrigan to “break a leg” on her “Dancing with the Stars” debut, an innocent tweet between friends that generated plenty of reaction.

“So excited for you @NancyAKerrigan ! Can’t wait to see you grace that ballroom floor, break a leg! #DWTS,” was posted on Yamaguchi’s account Monday morning.

It generated more than 6,000 likes, 3,000 retweets and 1,000 replies, many referencing the horrible attack on Kerrigan before the 1994 U.S. Championships (where Kerrigan’s knee was bruised, but not broken).

The tweet conjured memories of T-shirts sold leading up to the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics with the words “Harding-Kerrigan” on the front and “Norway ’94, Break a Leg!!!” on the back, reported by major media 23 years ago.

Yamaguchi and Kerrigan shared world championships and Olympic podiums in 1991 and 1992 (Yamaguchi winning both times; Kerrigan with bronze).

They remain friends. Kerrigan said she spoke with Yamaguchi, a past “Dancing with the Stars” winner, about the experience, according to TeamUSA.org.

“I said to Kristi, ‘You’ve seen me at shows, Kris, how demanding is it?’” Kerrigan said, according to the report. “She said it’s very demanding, but you have to do it. She’s like, ‘You’ve been through worse, you have to do it, it’s such a great experience.’”

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VIDEO: Nancy Kerrigan’s first ‘Dancing with the Stars’ waltz

Pressure on Ashley Wagner at world championships

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Ashley Wagner‘s four-year plan has her peaking in 2018, not at the 2017 World Championships, but many call Wagner to carry the U.S. women at worlds in Helsinki next week.

“Next year is the year that I am, like, in it to kill,” she said. “This year is maintaining. This year is my chance to work out all of the kinks, figure out where I want to be mentally going into next year.”

Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist, is the only skater of three American women on this year’s worlds team with prior worlds experience. She is the only one ranked higher than 20th in the world this season.

Normally, figure skating is an individual sport. But next week, the top two U.S. women’s results must add up to no greater than 13 (Wagner places third, and either U.S. champion Karen Chen or U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell places 10th or better, for example).

If not, the U.S. will have two rather than the maximum three women’s entries at the PyeongChang Olympics. The U.S. had three spots at four of the last five Olympics.

Anything less than three in 2018 would mean the U.S. is not keeping up with world power Russia and maybe even Canada and Japan. And it becomes that much harder for Wagner and everyone else to make the Olympic team.

“I know that I have a huge role in these three spots at these world championships,” Wagner said. “I need to set this team up as good as I possibly can, so that way the pressure’s off the other girls.”

The others are the 17-year-old Chen, the surprise winner at the U.S. Championships in January, who then placed 12th at February’s Four Continents Championships, an event that doesn’t include Europeans. Chen said she suffered from nerves, a flu and foot pain caused by broken boots at Four Continents.

And Bell, who took silver at October’s Skate America behind training partner Wagner. Bell, 20, finished sixth at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, where she competed with an amount of pressure she had never before felt.

Of skaters entered at worlds, Bell has the 10th-best total score this season. The skater with the 12th-best total in the worlds field is more than nine points shy of Bell. Chen comes in seeded 16th.

“The tough thing about this worlds is that we have two rookies going into a very stressful event,” Wagner said. “So these two girls are in a really tough position, and I really feel for them. It’s kind of like you have to buckle up and deal with this, and that’s like your only option.”

There is reason for optimism, should Wagner put up something close to the performance of her life from last year’s worlds, where she became the first U.S. women’s medalist in a decade.

“Success in Finland is getting onto that podium,” Wagner said.

But Wagner is nearing the end of her (so far) least impressive season in probably six years. She is seeded eighth at worlds by this season’s top international scores.

She failed to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2011. She was beaten at nationals despite longtime rival Gracie Gold underperforming.

However, Wagner’s goal at nationals wasn’t to win, but to finish in the top three to make the worlds team. She called the runner-up result “perfect.” She focused the last two months on firming up the areas where she lost points.

“Even though to some on the outside looking in, it wouldn’t look like it was the most successful season for me,” Wagner said. “I think at the end of the day this season has been exactly what I needed it to be.”

The favorite in Helsinki is clearly Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who hasn’t lost since November 2015 and can become the first repeat world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001.

Wagner said she hasn’t watched any of Medvedeva’s programs this season.

“The only thing that I know about is her long program music is not my favorite piece of music,” Wagner said, alluding to Medvedeva’s choice of sound from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” a 2011 film relating to the 9/11 attacks. The music includes, at one point, the voice of George W. Bush declaring that two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center.

But Wagner was effusive of Medvedeva, the latest in a string of Russian Olympic and world champions dating to the Sochi Olympics.

“She is a set bar that everybody is chasing after, and I think in years past that bar was always changing,” Wagner said. “Now it’s one set thing I know exactly the quality of skating I have to reach, I know exactly the technical program that I have to be able to accomplish.”

Wagner, a seasoned 25 years old, noted a key point this week. She is the only active women’s skater in her class, with her length of experience, who hasn’t taken a break.

Italian Carolina Kostner is 30, but she’s competing at worlds for the first time since 2014, following two seasons off. Japan’s three-time world champion Mao Asada is 26, but she took a season off after Sochi and this year failed to make the worlds team.

Wagner reflected on her world silver medal and her three national championships. She knows they mean nothing next week.

“I have to prove myself all over again,” she said.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.