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

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

Skate America
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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

MORE: World’s top skater leaves famed coach

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Respectfully, Donavan Brazier believes he has a chance at legendary record

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On the night of the biggest race of his life, Donavan Brazier met the man whom he is trying to succeed and, perhaps, supplant.

David Rudisha, the two-time Olympic 800m champion and world-record holder, told Brazier before the Oct. 1 world championships 800m final that he believed in the 22-year-old American more than any other man in that night’s event.

Later that evening in Doha, Brazier proved the sidelined Kenyan prophetic, winning in a national record 1:42.34 and becoming the first American to win a world title in the event.

Brazier, in his first global championship final, also ran the fastest time by somebody that young since Rudisha’s 2012 Olympic title and world-record epic pulled that field to personal bests.

Rudisha’s mark of 1:40.91 — from a race Brazier has watched dozens of times — is still significantly faster. That hasn’t stopped followers from wondering if Rudisha’s days as world-record holder may be numbered.

Sounds like Brazier may be wondering, too.

“I think I definitely have the opportunity,” Brazier told NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey in a watchback of his 2019 Diamond League and world titles. “If we’re looking at guys that are currently racing right now, I think I might have the best opportunity to do it.”

Brazier exercised caution. He was by no means predicting such a feat.

“David Rudisha, when he first broke it, he was a once-in-a-century athlete,” Brazier said. “For someone to break it so quick and just to say it so nonchalantly, I think it’s not really giving David Rudisha the respect that he deserves. A 1:40.91 is a really dangerous record to break.”

Brazier, who took up running in middle school in Michigan rather than football because he was “terribly skinny,” quickly became a dangerous prospect. In 2016, he went into the Olympic Trials ranked third in the world as a Texas A&M freshman.

Then came the obstacles. Brazier was eliminated in the first round of trials, three weeks after winning the NCAA title on the same Oregon track. In 2017, he won the U.S. title but failed to make the world final. He didn’t race at all outdoors in 2018 due to a foot injury.

Brazier looked at 2019 as a redemption year. He hit a series of successes: an American indoor 800m record, the world’s fastest indoor 600m in history, his first Diamond League win, a repeat national title and the Diamond League Final title.

Brazier said that last victory in Zurich took him from “not a well known guy, maybe a medal contender, maybe not,” to the world championships favorite. Rudisha hasn’t raced since 2017 due to injuries.

Brazier, after meeting Rudisha and former world-record holder Seb Coe, capped the season with his biggest title yet in Doha. The feeling was more relief than happiness. Brazier, after getting knocked down repeatedly in his first two seasons as a pro, noted that Muhammad Ali also won his first world title at age 22.

Brazier mouthed “thank you” after crossing the finish line, a salute to everybody who helped him reach that point.

“I’m thanking myself, too, because I’m the one who put in all the hard work to do it,” Brazier said. “I’m not saying that this is the end of my career, but it was definitely the peak of my career and the pinnacle of it. I never accomplished anything on a stage like that.”

MORE: Dalilah Muhammad rewatches 2019 world records

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