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

World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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MORE: Ashley Wagner knows pressure’s on her at worlds

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

Ashley Caldwell will win or lose Olympic aerials gold with triples

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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — As a teenager, Ashley Caldwell never had problems hanging with the boys when it came to doing the biggest flips off the aerials ramp. Now in her 20s, she sees no reason for that to change.

Caldwell will make or miss her third U.S. Olympic team, then potentially win or lose the gold medal in South Korea, by doing triple flips off the kicker while most of the women are doing doubles. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition that sets the bar high, and sends a certain message, regardless of whether she finishes first or last.

“It’s not just about trying to be there by myself,” Caldwell says. “It’s about maybe inspiring some younger girls to say, `I should be able to push to whatever I’m capable of doing, not necessarily what people say my gender is capable of doing.”‘

Caldwell never shirked from joining the teenage boys when they started moving to the bigger kickers and adding an extra flip to the doubles they did as kids.

Triples are the price of admission for the men, and while not unheard of among the women, the list of athletes who will try them is short: Jacqui Cooper, Alla Tsuper and Xu Mengtao are among the few who have tried them over the years. They’re also among the best to ever fly off a ramp.

At the Sochi Olympics, Lydia Lassila of Australia became the first woman to land a quadruple-twisting triple flip on snow in training. The next night, she brought it to the medals round, and though she touched her hand to the ground on the landing, she won a bronze medal anyway and stole the headlines.

“That’s who I’m inspired by,” Caldwell said that night. “She’s trying to push the sport so that girls are jumping like the boys, and she’s doing it, and it’s really impressive.”

At freestyle world championships earlier this month, Caldwell sent her message when she became the first woman to cleanly land that same triple-flipping, quadruple-twisting jump in competition (video here).

“It was the first time I had every coach come up to me and shake my hand before the score even came up,” said Todd Ossian, who works with Caldwell as head coach of the U.S. aerials team.

And yet, Caldwell was oh-so-close to not being able to even try that winning jump.

Aerials competitions go through a series of qualifying and elimination rounds that include only one jump each. Consistency is rewarded, and most women train a variety of double flips to make it through the rounds, then bring out their most intricate jump – more often than not, also a double – for when the medals are awarded.

Caldwell doesn’t go that route. She tries triples every time she steps onto the hill.

It adds extra – some might say unnecessary – risk to the early rounds. When the field was being cut from 12 to nine at world championships, for instance, Caldwell didn’t land her triple flip. She was able to squeak into the top nine and advance only because her degree of difficulty for the triple was so high.

“I’m OK sacrificing some good competition results to increase my consistency on the triple,” says Caldwell, giving a nod to the reality that training days on snow are precious and she needs to use them to focus on the jumps she’ll be performing when the contests start.

The recently ended season tested the limits of how much Caldwell was willing to sacrifice. In meet after meet, from Moscow to Minsk to an Olympic test event in South Korea, difficulties with the triple kept her far away from the podium. In the World Cup standings, Caldwell finished 10th.

To her, that’s more a badge of honor than a sign of failure. In a sport that oddly transforms daredevils into conformists, and rewards consistency over risk-taking, Caldwell plans to keep pushing anyway.

In doing triples, her mission is as much about winning as bringing others along for the ride.

“I want the crowd to feel like they know who won,” Caldwell said. “I want it to be impressive. I just want people to say, `That’s sweet. That’s what’s deserved.’ If a lot of girls are doing triples up there and I fall, there would still be a lot of girls who would do well. I’m cool with that. If I mess up, that’s OK. But I want the sport to look good.”

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VIDEO: Top U.S. aerials skier crashes hard at World Cup