Simone Biles, record breaker, Gabby Douglas go 1-2 in World all-around

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Simone Biles came to the World Championships without a rival the last three years. She’ll leave them peerless in gymnastics history.

Biles became the first woman to win three straight World all-around titles, prevailing by 1.083 points over Olympic champion Gabby Douglas in Glasgow, Scotland, on Thursday. It’s the largest margin of victory of her three titles.

“I just keep blowing my own mind,” Biles, who said she has a variation of that phrase as her phone background, told media in Glasgow. “If I could crawl out of my skin and see it, it would be amazing.”

And Biles did it with clear mistakes on her final two routines, nearly falling off the balance beam — “the save of the century,” her coach said — and going out of bounds on floor exercise.

“On beam, I think I gave the whole world a heart attack, as well as myself out there,” Biles said in a USA Gymnastics interview. “Then floor, I had never gone out of bounds, but I guess there is a first for everything.”

Douglas, who also struggled on beam, earned silver after taking two years off following her Olympic all-around title. Douglas is the first Olympic women’s all-around champion to come back and earn a Worlds all-around medal since 1981.

“I’ll take it,” said Douglas, who last year roomed with Biles at her first national team camp since the Olympics. “I really wanted to prove everyone that my comeback was real. It wasn’t fake. It wasn’t for the fame.”

Romania’s Larisa Iordache followed her 2014 silver medal with bronze behind the American duo that posed flexing their biceps as “American Woman” played through the arena after they finished.

Biles, 18, is arguably the greatest female gymnast of all time, and she hasn’t been to an Olympics. She was too young for London 2012, though she wasn’t considered the best U.S. junior gymnast at the time anyway.

In 2013, she started a streak of all-around victories that has now reached double digits across all competitions.

On Thursday, Biles broke U.S. records for World all-around titles (Shannon Miller also won two) and World Championships medals with her 11th (Alicia Sacramone earned 10).

She performed nearly at her best on her first two events, hitting her high-flying Amanar vault with a hop forward and sticking her dismount on uneven bars, her weak apparatus.

Then Biles lost control on a front flip on the four-inch-wide beam, needing to put both of her hands on the apparatus to keep from falling off. She scored 14.4 points, which was .566 lower than her qualifying mark. Biles has fought the beam this year, even coming to tears during training at the P&G Championships in August.

“Oh my gosh, what am I doing right now?” Biles said she thought to herself. “It was very weird.”

But Biles’ difficulty and execution on vault and her last event, floor exercise, are unmatched, which gave her the cushion going in to make a mistake and still win. For example, Biles’ vault includes one-half twist more than Douglas’ vault, which equates to an extra half-point in difficulty value.

Douglas, too, struggled on beam with several wobbles and scored a matching 14.4.

Biles is scheduled to compete three more times at Worlds, as the top qualifier into apparatus finals on vault (Saturday) and balance beam and floor exercise (Sunday). Douglas reached the eight-woman uneven bars final Saturday.

Biles and Douglas will be favored to make the five-woman U.S. Olympic team at or following the July 8-10 trials in San Jose. And Douglas isn’t satisfied with her current form.

“I’ve got to add those upgrades in and hopefully be on top,” she said in a USA Gymnastics interview.

In Rio, Biles can tie the record for combined women’s Olympic and World all-around titles of four, held by the Soviet Union’s Larisa Latynina, the second-most decorated Olympian across all sports. Douglas can become the first Olympic all-around champion to earn a medal at the following Games since Nadia Comaneci in 1980.

NBC Olympics researcher Amanda Doyle contributed to this report from Glasgow.

MORE GYMNASTICS: World Championships broadcast schedule

WOMEN’S ALL-AROUND
GOLD: Simone Biles (USA) — 60.399
SILVER: Gabby Douglas (USA) — 59.316
BRONZE: Larisa Iordache (ROU) — 59.107
4. Shang Chungsong (CHN) — 58.265
5. Giulia Steingruber (SUI) — 57.333

Emma Coburn, Sam Kendricks win USATF Athlete of the Year awards

Emma Coburn, Sam Kendricks
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Emma Coburn and Sam Kendricks followed Rio Olympic bronze medals with their first world titles in August. And now, they both won USATF Athlete of the Year honors.

Coburn, 27, took the female award named after Jackie Joyner-Kersee after becoming the first American woman to bag 3000m steeplechase gold at the Olympics or worlds.

Coburn led an emotional U.S. one-two with Courtney Frerichs in London on Aug. 11 (video here). She broke the American record (by five seconds) and the world championships record by winning in 9:02.58.

Kendricks, 25, captured the Jesse Owens Award after an undefeated season that included the first Olympic or world pole vault title by an American man in 10 years.

The first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve won all 17 of his competitions in 2017, clearing six meters for the first time. No American had eclipsed that barrier since 2008.

Coburn and Kendricks won the USATF honors over the likes of fellow world champions Justin Gatlin and Tori Bowie (100m), Christian Taylor (triple jump), Phyllis Francis (400m), Kori Carter (400m hurdles) and Brittney Reese (long jump). Plus Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp, who each won World Marathon Majors this fall.

Rio gold medalists Michelle Carter (shot put) and Matthew Centrowitz (1500m) won the awards last year.

Coburn is the first steeplechaser to take home a USATF Athlete of the Year award. They’ve been handed out since 1981.

Kendricks joined 2000 Olympic champion Stacy Dragila as the only pole vaulters to earn the honor.

More from USATF on the awards here.

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Jana Novotna, Wimbledon champ and Olympic medalist, dies at 49

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PRAGUE (AP) — Jana Novotna, who won the hearts of the tennis world when she sobbed on the shoulder of a member of the British royal family after a heartbreaking loss in the Wimbledon final, has died at the age of 49.

The WTA announced Novotna’s death on Monday, saying she died Sunday in her native Czech Republic following a long battle with cancer.

Novotna died “peacefully, surrounded by her family,” the women’s tennis body said.

Her family confirmed her death to the Czech Republic’s CTK news agency. No details were given.

Martina Navratilova, the tennis great who was also born in what was then Czechoslovakia, tweeted: “The tennis world is so sad about the passing of Jana Novotna. I am gutted and beyond words. Jana was a true friend and an amazing woman.”

Novotna won her only Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 1998, eventually triumphing after two losses in the final at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in 1993 and 1997.

She added three Olympic tennis medals — singles bronze at Altanta 1996 (knocking out top seed Monica Seles) and doubles silver in 1988 and 1996 with Helena Sukova.

She also lost in the 1991 Australian Open final.

While she finally captured the Grand Slam singles title she longed for in 1998, she won over the Wimbledon crowd five years earlier after wasting a big lead in the decisive set in a tough three-set loss to Steffi Graf.

Unable to hide her disappointment, Novotna cried on the shoulder of Britain’s Duchess of Kent at the prize giving ceremony and was gently comforted by the royal, who told her: “I know you will win it one day, don’t worry.”

Novotna ultimately had her moment five years later when she beat Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets to win Wimbledon. At the time, she was the oldest first-time winner of a Grand Slam singles title at age 29.

There wear tears again from Novotna, this time of joy, and the Duchess of Kent was present again to congratulate her.

“She was a true champion in all senses of the word, and her 1998 triumph will live long in the memory,” Wimbledon organizers the All England Club said in tribute to Novotna. “The thoughts of all those at Wimbledon are with her family and friends.”

Fellow Czech and four-time Grand Slam champion Hana Mandlikova, who coached Novotna for her Wimbledon win, said: “It’s hard to find words. Jana was a great girl and I’m happy that she won Wimbledon after all. It’s so sad when someone so young dies.”

During a 14-year professional career, Novotna won 24 singles titles and reached a career-high No. 2 in the singles rankings in 1997. She was a prolific and top-ranked doubles player, collecting 16 slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles.

She also won the Fed Cup with her country in 1988. Novotna was inducted into tennis’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

Even after retiring in 1999, Novotna was desperate to stay involved in tennis and became a commentator and coach.

“I’m dependent on tennis,” she said in an interview two years ago. “A day without it would be terrible.”

Members of the current Czech Fed Cup team said Novotna “supported us in the stands any time she could be there. We’ll miss her.”

“Jana was an inspiration both on and off court to anyone who had the opportunity to know her,” WTA chief executive Steve Simon said. “Her star will always shine brightly in the history of the WTA.”