Simone Biles

Simone Biles awes judges, U.S. legend to repeat at P&G Championships

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PITTSBURGH — This dominant era of U.S. women’s gymnastics began with Mary Lou Retton in Los Angeles a little more than 30 years ago. So Retton’s words two hours before competition Saturday night shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Simone Biles is in her own category, Retton said. Not just among her peers, but against all of the champion tumblers over the last three decades.

“She’s not human,” Retton said. “She may be the most talented gymnast I’ve ever seen in my life, honestly. And I don’t even think she’s tapped into what she really can do. I think she’s unbeatable.”

Biles won her second straight P&G Championships all-around title Saturday, despite falling on her final routine on the balance beam.

The reigning World all-around champion scored 122.55 points over two nights of competition. Even with the beam spill, that’s 2.1 points more than she scored last year.

Biles built up such a lead that she could afford dropping a full point on beam with that fall. She defeated a depleted field by 4.25 points.

London Olympian Kyla Ross took second. Ross, the world’s second-best gymnast in 2013 who struggled on the first night Thursday, lost to Biles by .2 last year.

Biles guessed that in her current form she would beat the Biles that ramped up training in the month before Worlds last year and won four medals at the meet.

Biles’ floor exercise routine is particularly perfect, with a signature tumbling pass named after her. The Olympic champion on floor, Aly Raisman, is in awe of it.

But Biles’ coach sees flaws.

“I think that consistency wise she needs to continue to improve,” Aimee Boorman said. “We knew that this meet right here, we don’t necessarily want to be 100 percent. We want to make sure we’re 100 percent for Worlds. That’s the most important meet of the year.”

Biles, too, said she needs straighter body lines on uneven bars, an apparatus she would like to take a chainsaw to, better landings on floor exercise and vault and prettier overall skills.

Next up? The World Championships in Nanning, China, in six weeks.

“We are permanently reminding that [Biles’] goal is not winning the U.S. championships,” U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said, “but her goal is to be competitive at world level.”

At Worlds, Biles will try to end this streak: 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.

That speaks to the high turnover in women’s gymnastics, leading the sport’s followers to ask if Biles could possibly sustain this level of excellence for another two years.

In terms of the Olympics, keep this in mind: four members of the Fierce Five were competing in the junior division two years before the London Games. And the top U.S. woman at the year’s biggest all-around competition in 2002, 2006 and 2010 did not make the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

Biles, who got her braces off between P&G titles, will have to fend off girls born in the 21st century who aren’t even allowed to compete against her yet.

Take Retton, who said she was maybe the fifth best gymnast on her Junior Olympic team in 1982.

“Two years before my Olympic Games,” Retton said, “I was an unknown.”

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air coverage of the final day of men’s competition Sunday from 2:30-4 p.m. ET. London Olympian John Orozco leads.

Bond between Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles

Mikaela Shiffrin wins final slalom for best career season (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin won her 12th World Cup race this season and seventh slalom, both personal bests, at the World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden, on Saturday.

Shiffrin, who clinched her second World Cup overall title and fifth slalom season title before the last races of the campaign this weekend, prevailed by 1.58 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener. PyeongChang gold medalist Frida Hansdotter of Sweden was third.

“The slalom has always been really close to my heart,” said Shiffrin, who won the last two slaloms this season after a shocking fourth-place finish in PyeongChang. “To finish with a run like that was super special.”

Full results are here.

Shiffrin matched Lindsey Vonn‘s American record for World Cup wins in one season — 12 — with one more race Sunday. Only Swiss Vreni Schneider has more women’s World Cup wins in a single campaign with 14.

Shiffrin, who turned 23 on Tuesday, also moved into solo fifth place on the women’s World Cup wins list with 43, including 23 victories in the last two seasons.

If Shiffrin keeps it up, she can move into the top three next season, though Lindsey Vonn‘s record 82 is a ways off.

“I’m not thinking about that so much,” Shiffrin said. “It’s way too soon to set that as my goal.”

Shiffrin is also three World Cup slalom wins shy of the record 35 held by retired Austrian Marlies Schild, whom Shiffrin supplanted as the world’s top slalom skier in 2013.

The World Cup Finals conclude Sunday with the women’s giant slalom. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air live coverage of the second run at 7:30 a.m. ET.

“After today I’m really looking forward to going to the start one more time this season and hammering down,” Shiffrin said.

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Katie Ledecky beaten in NCAA Championships individual medley

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Katie Ledecky lost an NCAA Championships race for the first time in eight career finals, taking second in the 400-yard individual medley on Friday.

Stanford teammate Ella Eastin easily beat Ledecky by 3.69 seconds and grabbed the American and NCAA records from Ledecky, too. Eastin’s 3:54.60 is 1.93 seconds faster than Ledecky’s time from the Pac-12 Championships last month.

How did she do it?

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Eastin said on ESPNU. “I’ve built a lot of endurance this year, and it really showed.”

Eastin is decorated in her own right. She three-peated as NCAA 400-yard IM champion and held the American record in the event before Ledecky lowered it last month.

Eastin would have made the 2017 World Championships team had she not been disqualified for an illegal turn after finishing in second place at nationals.

Ledecky, a sophomore, has never contested the 400m IM at a U.S. Championships, Olympics or world championships, nor did she race the 400-yard IM at 2017 NCAAs. She raced the 400 IM instead of the 200 freestyle on Friday.

All of Ledecky’s races at major meets before Friday were in freestyle events. Her only defeat in a major international meet individual final was the 200m freestyle at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky won five NCAA titles last year and the last two nights anchored the 800-yard freestyle relay and captured the 500-yard freestyle by eight seconds.

Meet results are here.

Later Friday, Lilly King of Indiana three-peated in the 100-yard breaststroke, breaking her American and NCAA records and winning in 56.25 seconds. King is also the Olympic and world champion in the 100m breast, plus the world-record holder.

“Always excited to get the record, but was really hoping to break 56 today,” King said.

Louisville’s Mallory Comerford became the second woman after Missy Franklin to break 1:40 in the 200-yard freestyle, winning in 1:39.80. Co-Olympic 100m free champ Simone Manuel of Stanford was third. Comerford and Ledecky tied for the 2017 NCAA 200 free title.

Stanford’s Ally Howe won the 100-yard backstroke in 49.70, one hundredth shy of her NCAA and American records. Olympic 100m backstroke silver medalist Kathleen Baker of Cal-Berkeley was third.

NCAAs conclude Saturday. Ledecky swims the 1,650-yard freestyle. She is the overwhelming favorite, having gone 35 seconds faster than anyone this season.

Ledecky hasn’t discussed with Stanford whether she will return for her junior season or turn pro, according to the school.

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