Simone Biles returns to Secret Classic a different gymnast

Simone Biles
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Before Simone Biles won the P&G and World Championships all-arounds last year, she competed at the Secret U.S. Classic.

“The meet wasn’t so great,” her coach, Aimee Boorman, said this week.

Biles fell on uneven bars and floor exercise, barely stayed on the balance beam and didn’t attempt a vault at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

She rewatched those performances a couple months later and apologized to her coach.

“I have no idea who that was that day,” Biles told Boorman.

A different Biles, aided by a sports psychologist, captured the P&G Championship all-around title less than a month after the Secret Classic in her first senior appearance at the meet. She then won the World Championship in Antwerp, Belgium, on Oct. 4.

Biles, the powerful 4-foot, 8-inch Texan, returns to the Secret Classic in the same Chicago suburb on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, Universal Sports) for her first competition since the World Championships. She leads a field that also includes the reigning P&G and Worlds runner-up, 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross.

The Secret Classic is the final tune-up meet for the P&G Championships, which are Aug. 21-24 in Pittsburgh. The World Championships are in Nanning, China, in October.

Biles, who had ankle surgery after Worlds, missed the American Cup in March with a right shoulder aggravation (Boorman said it wasn’t an injury, but a result of overtraining).

She flew to British Columbia for the Pacific Rim Championships and showed off a new floor exercise routine in podium training at the 2010 Olympic speed skating venue. But the shoulder bothered on bars, and she withdrew before the meet as a precautionary measure, Biles said.

“[The shoulder] still spazzes, but it’s fine,” Biles, 17, said. “We’re not worried about it at all.”

Biles, who mapped out short- and long-term goals at the beginning of 2013, said her goals this year are modest — top three in the all-around at the P&G Championships, which would probably be enough to make the World Championships team.

She said she won an all-around competition at a recent camp in front of U.S. National Team coordinator Martha Karolyi.

“[Karolyi has] pushed me this year to get back into shape and remember what it felt like last year and how confident I was,” Biles said.

Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas was also at that camp but wasn’t part of the all-around competition, Biles said. The home-schooled Biles, who sat up in the seat and drove her little sister to school before morning training this past year, looks up to Douglas like an older sister.

Douglas, who hasn’t competed since the London Games, was expected to compete at the P&G Championships, but the Des Moines Register reports she will not be at the meet.

“We’re really good friends, so I don’t think we’re competing against each other,” Biles said. “I never think in training that I’m training to beat people or to compete against other people. You have to beat yourself, actually.”

Biles recognizes the pressure accompanying a World champion going into this year’s big meets. So does Boorman.

“She was a relative unknown at this time last year,” the coach said. “I think she is a little bit nervous going into this competition for the main fact she hasn’t competed since last October.”

Biles will be competing against a startling trend in U.S. women’s gymnastics, too. In the last 10 years, 10 different women have been the top American finisher at the year’s biggest competition.

Karolyi said after last year’s World Championships that there were “several 13-year-olds gearing up for Rio” as well.

Biles will turn 19 in 2016. The oldest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team that won gold was 18. The U.S. women who went one-two in the 2009 World Championships all-around, Bridget Sloan and Rebecca Bross, did not make the 2012 Olympics.

Does Biles, whose talents and body type have been compared to Shawn Johnson, have the staying power?

“I don’t see her as being someone who wins Worlds one year and she’s done,” said NBC analyst Nastia Liukin, the 2008 Olympic all-around champion. “I think it’s quite possible [for Biles to make Rio 2016].”

Liukin was second in the 2005 World Championships all-around and persevered another three years to Beijing.

“It’s all about your training and your preparation and how you handle the whole three years,” Liukin said. “You can’t look at it as a quadrennium. You have to look at it year by year. She definitely has everything to stay on top through these next three years. Now it’s kind of about staying healthy, which is obviously the most important thing. It’s very difficult to do so when your’e at this stage of the game and at this level.”

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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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