Simone Biles

Simone Biles a tall favorite at P&G Championships; women’s preview

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PITTSBURGH — Simone Biles flinched and froze at a startling sight before walking out of Pittsburgh International Airport on Monday.

“Yeah, you’re on the wall,” Biles’ coach, Aimee Boorman, said about a large sign promoting the P&G Championships. “And you’re 30 feet tall in the arena.”

The real Biles’ feet don’t touch the floor in sitdown interviews, but everything about the Texan is bigger in and around the site of the P&G Championships.

Look up, and she’s a banner above a bridge crossing one of the three rivers. Look down, and she’s sidewalk art directing downtown foot traffic to the Consol Energy Center for the meet. The women’s competition at the P&G Championships starts Thursday and wraps Saturday (8 p.m. ET, live on NBC).

“It’s really weird seeing my face everywhere,” Biles said.

She said she isn’t immune to nerves, but Biles feels the same as last year in Hartford, where she entered P&Gs as a relative unknown and won the all-around title.

Biles, who is printed on room keys at one downtown hotel, is favored to successfully defend her crown. (Biles’ family, which is not staying at that hotel, made sure to take a key as a souvenir.)

“I find it a little weird,” Boorman said, “because she’s just Simone. She’s not a star at home.”

Biles stopped again walking into the arena Monday. Fans were waiting for her outside the athlete entrance. One gave her a card.

“It freaks her out,” Boorman said, “because she’s very humble.”

And very accomplished.

The home-schooled Biles became the third American woman to win four medals at a single World Championships last October, including the most coveted, all-around gold. She’s been compared to Shawn Johnson for her powerful, athletic skills and strengths on floor exercise, balance beam and vault.

Biles bought a belly ring and lost her braces after Worlds, went back to driving her little sister to school and returned to competition at the Secret Classic on Aug. 2 and ran away with the all-around title.

That cemented her ultra-favorite status for Pittsburgh, though she modestly said her goal this week is top three in the all-around. Perhaps only 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross, often Biles’ roommate at camps and competitions, could challenge her this week.

If Biles makes the six-woman team for the World Championships in Nanning, China, in October (chosen not in Pittsburgh but after a later selection camp), she will attempt to end a trend.

In the last 10 years, 10 different women have been the top American all-around finisher at the year’s biggest competition — Worlds or the Olympics.

Speaking of the Olympics, Biles may currently be the world’s greatest gymnast, but that is no guarantee she will wear red, white and blue in Rio de Janeiro in two years.

The best U.S. gymnast in 2010 was Rebecca Bross, who didn’t make the London Olympic team in 2012. Biles will turn 19 before the Rio Games in 2016. The oldest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team that won gold was 18.

“Not only getting to the top is important, but staying on the top is sometimes even harder,” U.S. National Team coordinator Martha Karolyi said. “In order to stay up there and repeat, you have to keep the discipline, the lifestyle the same. … It takes some sacrifices.”

Karolyi spoke of the sport’s rapid turnover rate after the 2013 World Championships when she said there were “several 13-year-olds gearing up for Rio.”

They aren’t ready to challenge Biles yet. The 2011, 2012 and 2013 U.S. junior all-around champions are all out of this week’s competition with injuries (an indication of another reason why it won’t be easy for Biles to sustain the next two years.)

Eight senior women are scheduled to compete on all four events on Thursday and Saturday, the lowest number since at least 1986, USA Gymnastics said. Thirteen in total are in the field.

One would think such a small pool to select from would hurt the overall U.S. team going into Worlds, but Karolyi doesn’t see it that way.

Only three routines per apparatus are needed in Nanning.

Biles and Ross were the world’s two best all-around gymnasts last year, and Karolyi pointed to others competing in Pittsburgh who could fill in the gaps — mentioning Brenna Dowell (strong on uneven bars), MyKayla Skinner (vault) and Madison Kocian (also bars) by name.

“I think, at this moment, we’re still standing pretty good in that direction,” Karolyi said. “We have the pieces that we need.”

U.S. gymnast wins all-around bronze at Youth Olympics

Simone Biles surprises world’s oldest gymnast on NBC

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The world’s greatest gymnast meets the world’s oldest gymnast on NBC’s “Little Big Shots: Forever Young” on Wednesday.

Simone Biles surprises German Johanna Quaas, the Guinness World Record holder for oldest gymnast at the age of 91.

More on Quaas here.

The oldest gymnast Biles has competed against was Oksana Chusovitina, the Uzbek who competed at her gymnastics record seventh Olympics in Rio at age 41.

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Olympic champions chasing world records face tests in Paris

Omar McLeod, Devon Allen
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Omar McLeod and Christian Taylor, both on world-record quests this season, face their top challengers at a Diamond League meet in Paris on Saturday.

McLeod, the 110m hurdles gold medalist, the triple jump champion Taylor and sprint queen Elaine Thompson headline the Paris meet, live on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold and 2 p.m. on NBCSN.

McLeod, who last Saturday ran the fastest 110m hurdles in five years, could take aim at the world record as part of a field including the five fastest men in the world this year.

Taylor faces Will Claye in the most anticipated head-to-head in Paris. Taylor relegated countryman Claye to silver at the last two Olympics, but Claye won the U.S. title last weekend with a personal-best leap.

Olympic 100m and 200m champion Thompson is coming off winning the Jamaican 100m title in 10.71 seconds last week, .01 off her shared national record.

Athletes are preparing for the world championships in London in August.

Paris start lists are available here. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):

1:08 p.m. — Men’s high jump
1:25 p.m. — Women’s shot put
1:32 p.m. — Men’s pole vault
2:03 p.m. — Women’s 400m
2:14 p.m. — Men’s 3000m
2:29 p.m. — Women’s 100m
2:35 p.m. — Men’s javelin
2:38 p.m. — Men’s triple jump
2:40 p.m. — Men’s 800m
2:50 p.m. — Men’s 100m
3 p.m. — Women’s 3000m steeplechase
3:25 p.m. — Men’s 110m hurdles
3:40 p.m. — Women’s 1500m
3:52 p.m. — Men’s 200m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s Pole Vault — 1:32 p.m. ET

World-record holder Renaud Lavillenie is the only French track and field athlete to take Olympic gold in the last 20 years (at the 2012 London Games), so he is certainly the crowd favorite across all events Saturday.

That said, Lavillenie is not the favorite. He was third in a domestic competition on Wednesday, failing to clear 5.71 meters, which wasn’t an Olympic medal height. Lavillenie, the Rio silver medalist, was beaten by Sam Kendricks, the Rio bronze medalist, at two previous Diamond League meets this season. Kendricks, who just cleared six meters for the first time at the U.S. Championships last week, is in the Paris field.

Women’s 100m — 2:29 p.m. ET

Thompson has won 14 straight 100m events that she’s finished, according to Tilastopaja.org, and the two-year streak should extend here. The question is whether she can break 10.7 for the first time to claim the Jamaican record outright and move into solo third on the all-time list.

The field does not include her biggest threat at the world championships — Rio silver medalist Tori Bowie — but present are Ivorians Murielle Ahoure (ranked No. 3 in the world this year) and Marie-Josee Ta Lou (fourth at the Olympics).

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:38 p.m. ET

Taylor’s three losses since July 2014 have come to either Claye or Cuban Pedro Pablo Pichardo. Here, he faces both of them in a final for the first time since 2013, but Claye is the clear challenger.

Taylor ranks No. 1 in the world this year with his 18.11-meter jump from the Prefontaine Classic on May 27, just 18 centimeters off the world record he covets.

Claye is on a roll, having gone at least 17 meters in all 12 of his competition jumps this year, including a personal-best 17.91 to win the U.S. title last week (Taylor didn’t have to compete at nationals as he had a world championships bye). Claye also jumped 18.05 with slightly too much tailwind at Pre. Claye has the second-through-sixth best triple jumps in the world this year.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — 3 p.m. ET

Fresh off another U.S. title, Olympic bronze medalist Emma Coburn takes aim at Olympic champion and world-record holder Ruth Jebet of Bahrain and 18-year-old phenom Celliphine Chespol of Kenya.

Jebet, a Kenyan-born 20-year-old, has looked shaky this year, finishing third in two of three Diamond League starts. But the only women to beat her were Kenyans. Including Chespol, who won the Pre Classic in the second-fastest time ever despite stopping to fix her shoe.

Coburn was routinely finishing 10 seconds behind Jebet in 2016, but at Pre managed to close the gap to four seconds, running three tenths shy of her American record from Rio.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 3:25 p.m. ET

There will be two early heats to qualify into this final, but expect McLeod to lead the field. The Olympic champion broke his national record in lowering his personal best by seven hundredths at the Jamaican Championships last week.

McLeod ran 12.90 seconds, but spoke confidently afterward, reportedly saying his target was actually 12.85. Nonetheless, it was the fastest time in the world since Aries Merritt set the current world record of 12.80 in 2012.

Merritt isn’t in this field, but McLeod is joined by the other four fastest men in the world this year — France’s Garfield Darien, Jamaican Ronald Levy, South African Antonio Alkana and the American Allen.

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