Analyzing the U.S. gymnastics women’s World Championships team

Simone Biles, Kyla Ross
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The world’s two best gymnasts last year, Simone Biles and Kyla Ross, will lead the U.S. at the World Championships in Nanning, China, from Oct. 5-12.

Biles, Ross and four women who have never competed at an Olympics or Worlds are charged with winning a third straight global gold, something no nation has done since the Romanian dynasty of the late 1990s. The Americans, then led by Gabby DouglasJordyn WieberAly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, won the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics.

There was no team event at the 2013 World Championships. This U.S. squad is far different from the Fierce Five of the London Games. For one, there are six gymnasts on a World Championships roster.

In Nanning, the U.S.’ biggest competition should be Russia, which won silver at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics.

The Russian team pillar is Aliya Mustafina, who led the nation to team gold at the 2010 Worlds, tore an ACL in 2011, won Olympic all-around bronze in 2012 and World all-around bronze in 2013.

Viktoria Komova, the 2011 World and 2012 Olympic all-around silver medalist, could miss a second straight World Championships. She wasn’t on Russia’s nominative team and has dealt with injury since the London Games.

The U.S. has issues of its own. Maroney isn’t competing this season after March knee surgery. Several other up-and-coming gymnasts have been knocked out by injuries this year, including the 2011 and 2012 U.S. junior all-around champions and the third-place finisher from this year’s P&G Championships senior all-around.

As far as the Rio Olympic outlook, keep in mind that one of the seven gymnasts on the 2010 World Championships team made it back for the 2012 Olympic team — Raisman.

Here’s a look at the U.S. team and each gymnast’s credentials (*one of the seven will be designated the alternate once in China):

Simone Biles: The two-time reigning U.S. all-around champion and the reigning World all-around champion will be counted on heavily. Biles, 17, won medals on every apparatus except uneven bars (where she finished fourth) at the 2013 World Championships in perhaps the greatest single-meet performance in U.S. gymnastics history.

Kyla Ross: The only Olympian on the U.S. roster finished second to Biles in the all-around at the last two P&G Championships and the 2013 World Championships. She is arguably the second-best gymnast in the world. Ross won silver on uneven bars and balance beam at the 2013 Worlds and placed fifth in the floor exercise final. Like Biles, she will be leaned on in the team competition.

Alyssa Baumann: Baumann, from the same gym that produced Nastia Liukin and Carly Patterson, finished fourth in the all-around at the P&G Championships. She turned 16 on May 17 and is the youngest member of the U.S. team. She could join Biles and Ross on balance beam and floor exercise in the team final.

MyKayla Skinner: Not to be confused with Maroney, Skinner has won medals on vault at the last three U.S. Championships. An American woman has won a vault medal at each of the last seven World Championships. If Biles can’t keep the streak going in Nanning, Skinner could very well.

Ashton Locklear: The North Carolina native won the P&G Championships title on uneven bars, an event in which the U.S. has lacked depth in recent years. It is Biles’ weakest event, creating an opening for Locklear to be an asset in the three-up, three-count format in the team final.

Madison Kocian: Kocian appears to have edged 2013 Worlds selection Brenna Dowell for this spot on the strength of her P&G Championships bars silver behind Locklear. (Dowell, the 2013 P&G Championships bronze medalist on bars, has dealt with an ankle injury and is the non-traveling alternate.)

Madison Desch: Desch, part of the Pan American Championships team with Skinner, Locklear and Kocian, has performed her best on floor exercise at the last two P&G Championships. Before that, she won balance beam and was second in the all-around in the junior division at Nationals in 2012.

Kohei Uchimura’s mother competes in gymnastics meet

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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