Simone Biles

Simone Biles dominates to open P&G Championships

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PITTSBURGH — Simone Biles‘ coach has taught the gymnast not to look at her scores during competition.

“As time went on, I’ve just looked at them anyways,” Biles said. “It scares me if I don’t know my score.”

Biles didn’t need to look to know on the first night of the P&G Championships. She performed like the globe’s greatest gymnast.

The reigning World all-around champion took a whopping 3.15-point lead halfway through the U.S. all-around competition at Consol Energy Center. Biles, 17, can wrap up her second straight title Saturday night.

She notched the highest scores on balance beam (15.7, video), floor exercise (15.65, video) and vault (15.9, video) on Thursday. The short-but-powerful Texan wrapped her night with a 14.55 on uneven bars (video), her weakest event.

Biles’ all-around total is 61.8 points, 1.3 higher than her first-day total in 2013, when she entered the P&G Championships with little fanfare, coming off a horrendous warm-up meet two weeks earlier.

Maggie Nichols is a distant second with 58.65 points. Biles’ lead is comfortable, but consider Jordyn Wieber won the 2011 title by 6.15 points after two days.

Olympian Kyla Ross had the worst day of competition she could remember, falling on floor exercise and putting her knee down on her uneven bars dismount. Ross is in fourth place out of just eight all-around competitors.

“I don’t remember ever falling twice in a meet,” said Ross, who is 3.85 points behind.

Biles leads much more comfortably than at last year’s P&G Championships, where she edged Ross by .75 on the first day. Biles finished just .2 ahead of Ross after the final day.

“[Biles] is a year better trained, and she has more confidence,” said her coach, Aimee Boorman. “She has more experience under her belt. She went to World Championships last year and did her thing [becoming the third U.S. woman to ever win four medals at a Worlds].”

Biles received advice from the most important woman in U.S. gymnastics before competing Thursday. Be confident, U.S. National Team coordinator Martha Karolyi told her.

“Simone’s still intimidated by her,” Boorman said. “She really values Martha’s opinion.”

But Biles admitted to nerves on her first apparatus, because she was last up in the order on the four-inch-wide balance beam.

“I was freaking out,” Biles said, “because Kyla’s always last.”

She was shaky in warm-up and approached Boorman.

“I just need to trust myself, right?” Biles said.

“Exactly,” her coach responded.

“I didn’t need to say anything,” Boorman said. “She was coaching herself in that moment.”

The not-quite-five-feet Biles bobbled slightly and took a slight hop forward on her dismount, but her score was a half-point better than anybody else.

“I thought beam was shaky,” Biles said. “I guess that’s just because I can feel it more than people see.”

She improved on floor and vault, outscoring her routines from last year’s meet, and finished with a satisfactory effort by her standard on bars.

How did Boorman see it?

“As her coach?” Boorman said. “I saw a lot of mistakes.”

Boorman said Biles didn’t stick any landings, could have displayed tighter form and executed with greater precision.

“[Biles] knows all of that,” Boorman said.

Which brought Boorman to her tenet, not looking up at that giant scoreboard.

“It is about their performance, not about their score,” she said. “They have no control over their score. It could be a tough day of judging. It could be an easy day of judging. It’s all about, do you feel like you improved from what you did before.”

NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra will air coverage of the women’s all-around first day Friday at 7 p.m. ET.

Sam Mikulak leads decorated men’s field

Michael Phelps to participate in Shark Week

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NEW YORK (AP) — Olympic champ Michael Phelps is participating in Discovery network’s Shark Week this summer, although he won’t be asked to outswim one.

It’s not immediately clear what Phelps will be doing, although Discovery President Rich Ross said Tuesday he’s intrigued about seeing the fastest human swimmer interact with nature’s fastest. Perhaps Phelps can be encouraged to go underwater in a shark cage, he said.

The week of shark-themed programming in mid-summer is annually Discovery’s biggest event. Now that it is approaching its 29th year, programmers are on the lookout for a new wrinkle.

Phelps has won 28 Olympic swimming medals, 23 of them gold.

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World Figure Skating Championships ice dance preview

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Alex Shibutani says he and sister Maia have made a statement the past two years.

“With our ability to perform when the stakes are highest,” he said.

The stakes don’t get much higher than this week.

The Shibutani siblings, breakout world silver medalists a year ago, lead three U.S. couples who finished in the top six at the 2016 World Championships into this year’s worlds in Helsinki.

It is the strongest ice dance field since the Sochi Olympics. The PyeongChang Winter Games medal contenders will be confirmed this week.

The clear favorites are Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympic champions competing this season for the first time since taking silver in Sochi. Virtue and Moir returned from their two-year break to post the three highest total scores of all time in their last three international competitions.

“This is probably the most prepared we’ve been for a world championships,” Moir said, while adding, “this was a warm-up season.”

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The Shibutanis finished second (with a personal-best score) to Virtue and Moir at the most recent event, the Four Continents Championships at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea in February. The margin separating the two couples — 5.1 points — was considerable.

“We’re sort of in a way in a race against ourselves to try and see how good we can get and how good we can become,” Alex Shibutani said. “Each competition along the way is another step to that eventual goal [the Olympics].”

At worlds, the Shibutanis are in the medal mix with France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who won the last two world titles.

The French, already the youngest world champs in 40 years, are trying for the first ice dance three-peat in 20 years.

But they have not progressed this season, unable to match or better their winning score from the 2016 World Championships.

Papadakis and Cizeron train in Montreal with Virtue and Moir, but they struggled (held against their own standard) in both competitions outside of French borders this season. And in different areas — step sequences, twizzles, lifts.

Conversely, it looks like the Shibutanis’ biggest obstacles are well behind them. They went from a world bronze medal in their first senior season together in 2011 to four straight years off the podium.

The Shibutanis hit a nadir at the Sochi Olympics with a ninth-place finish, worst of the three U.S. couples. Maia’s tights snagged on Alex’s sequined jacket during a lift.

The devoted vloggers countered doubts after Sochi by stressing their youth — Alex was 22 then; Maia was 19. They talked about weathering the journey and sticking to a meticulous creative process.

It paid off with their first U.S. title last year, followed by that world silver medal in Boston.

“Last year’s results at the world championships were very energizing for us,” Alex Shibutani said. “People are aware of the career trajectory that we have had. We’ve set ambitious goals because we were so motivated following that result and that exciting string of competitions that we had last season.”

The Shibutanis were actually outscored by two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates in the U.S. Championships free dance in January. They stormed back with that personal best at Four Continents, though, erasing any doubt that they are the U.S. couple expected to make the podium in Helsinki.

The U.S. has earned 12 ice dance medals at the last 12 World Championships. In that same span, the U.S. brought home eight medals combined from men’s, women’s and pairs.

The Shibutanis feel confident they will extend recent American success in their discipline.

They would also create more history for sibling skaters. They’re already the most accomplished brother-sister duo since Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay of France won three straight world medals followed by Olympic silver in Albertville.

“We really elevated the way that we compete and perform,” at Four Continents last month, Alex Shibutani said. “Our skating has reached another level.”

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