Simone Biles

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

Leave a comment

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

U.S. Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 02: Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea of the United States react after completing their routine in the Pairs Free Skate on Day 6 of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 at TD Garden on April 2, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The U.S. pairs field opened up when Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim, the top American team internationally in recent seasons, pulled out of the national championships due to Scimeca’s September stomach surgery that kept them out all fall.

“Without Scimeca and Knierim, I don’t think the United States has a team that can challenge for the top six, or some moments, even the top 10 in the world,” NBC Olympics analyst Johnny Weir said. “Scimeca and Knierim are, far and away, the best team in the United States.”

The remaining field this week is led by Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, who upset Scimeca and Knierim for last year’s national title.

Kayne and O’Shea followed that up with the exact same finishes in the fall Grand Prix series as a year ago, opening up a question of whether they can repeat in Kansas City. Kayne’s knee injury hasn’t helped matters.

Enter Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who missed all of last season due to Denney’s knee surgery. They were looking strong until their most recent lower-level event in December, where they were fourth and finished behind another American pair, Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc.

Regardless of the two pairs that advance from the U.S. championships to the world championships in two months, it’s clear the U.S. is still lacking consistency in its weakest of the four disciplines.

None of the contending pairs after Kayne and O’Shea and Denney and Frazier have spent two full season together.

“Breakups, makeups, partner changes, coaching changes,” Weir said. “There’s a very high divorce rate within the pairs community of the United States compared to the rest of the world, where teams stick it out through thick and thin. As soon as the going gets tough for the U.S. pairs, they break up.”

Thursday
Pairs short program — 5:30-7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday
Pairs free skate; free dance — 3-6 p.m. ET, NBC

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule

Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea
Ages: 23/25
Hometown: Ellenton, Fla.
2016 U.S. champions
13th at 2016 World Championships

Kayne and O’Shea fell to the No. 2 U.S. pair at last year’s worlds, behind Scimeca and Knierim, who were ninth. In the fall, they had the third-best total score among U.S. pairs, nearly 20 points behind Denney and Frazier.

Johnny Weir’s Take: They haven’t had the most successful international season. They are coming in as defending national champions, which is a huge amount of pressure.

Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier
Ages: 21/24
Hometown: Canton, Mich.
2015 U.S. silver medalists
2014, 2016 Skate America silver medalists

Denney and Frazier came back after a full season off and repeated their best senior international result, a second place at Skate America in October. Their total was a full 16 points better than the next-best U.S pair this season. Denney and Frazier were 2013 World junior champions but hope to better their only senior worlds finish, 12th in 2015.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Obviously, in American pairs, we haven’t been the strongest in the world. But if you’re going to look at who’s holding us up right now, it’s Denney and Frazier.

Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran
Ages: 26/26
Hometown: Montreal
2016 U.S. bronze medalists
Castelli: 2013, 2014 U.S. champion with Simon Shnapir

Castelli, a 2014 Olympian and team event bronze medalist with Shnapir, paired with Tran two years ago, but their first full season wasn’t until 2015-16. They finished sixth at the 2015 U.S. Championships and earned bronze last year, just missing the two-pair world championships team.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Last year, I was so excited when they were such a new pair. So much to learn and getting to know each other. Marissa, looking back at her Olympic experience, I think she’s such a firecracker. I think she’s meant to be a competitive, winning pairs skater. You hope that this matchup can be right.

Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay
Ages: 33/27
Hometown: Ellenton, Fla.
Stellato: 2000 World junior silver medalist (singles)
Bartholomay: 12th at 2014 Olympics with Felicia Zhang

It’s not often in pairs where the woman is six years older than the man, but this team is truly unique. Stellato was the 2000 World junior silver medalist but ended her singles career as a teen due to injuries. After more than a decade away from competition, she joined the 2014 Olympian Bartholomay before this season. The duo has the fifth-highest score this season of the pairs in the U.S. Championships field.

Johnny Weir’s Take: Deanna was one of my favorite skaters when I was little. We traveled together on the Junior Grand Prix, and I always loved watching her. Having seen a couple of small video clips of them, I’m excited to see how they develop and how they perform underneath the bright lights. She has a very wonderful, experienced partner.

Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc
Ages: 21/26
Hometown: Euless, Texas
Cain: 2011 U.S. junior champion with Joshua Reagan

Cain and LeDuc may be the hottest team going into nationals. They outscored Denney and Frazier at a lower-level event last month with their best score in three lower-level events this season.

MORE: Olympic pairs champions skip 2016-17 season

Jamaica bobsled team crowdfunds for new coach

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 14:  Winston Watts of Jamaica pilots a run during a Men's Two-Man Bobsleigh training session on day 7 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Sanki Sliding Center on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Jamaica bobsled team is asking for $60,000 to hire a coach through a crowdfunding campaign.

The Jamaicans hope to qualify men’s and women’s bobsled teams for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which will mark the 30-year anniversary of their Olympic debut in Calgary, which inspired the 1993 Disney film “Cool Runnings.”

“We have the talent, the discipline and the determination, needed to contend in the 2018 Winter Olympics,” was written on the crowdfunding page. “With a coach on staff we believe we can not only contend for a medal, but also bring a medal home, and commemorate this outstanding achievement.”

The Jamaicans can attempt next season to qualify for the Olympics. It will not be easy. Jamaica has zero World Cup results this season, a best finish on the lower-level North American Cup of seventh and was briefly stranded in Canada.

Jamaica bobsled returned to the Olympics in Sochi, for the first time in 12 years, and was the last of 29 finishers in the two-man race.

That driver, Winston Watt, turned 49 years old in December and is no longer competing with the Jamaican program.

The new Jamaican program athletes include Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, a 2014 U.S. Olympic driver, and Michael Blair, a running back for the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers in 1998.

The Jamaicans recently had a coach, hiring U.S. Olympian and coach Todd Hays in July 2014.

MORE: Bobsled, luge, skeleton season broadcast schedule