Simone Biles

Simone Biles, U.S. women better Russia in World Gymnastics Championships qualifying

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Reigning World all-around champion Simone Biles paced the U.S. to the early lead in World Gymnastics Championships qualifying in Nanning, China, on Sunday.

Biles, Olympic team champion Kyla Ross and World Championships rookies MyKayla SkinnerAlyssa BaumannMadison Kocian and Ashton Locklear combined for 235.038 points, a whopping 6.903 points better than Russia totaled earlier Sunday.

Russia won the team event at the 2010 World Championships and finished second to the U.S. in 2011 and at the 2012 Olympics. There was no team event at the 2013 World Championships.

Biles, looking to become the first woman to win back-to-back World all-around titles since Svetlana Khorkina in 2001 and 2003, posted 59.599 points to take the individual all-around qualifying lead. Biles had the top provisional scores on vault, balance beam and floor exercise but struggled on her weak event, uneven bars (scoring 13.3).

“It went OK,” Biles said in a USA Gymnastics interview. “I’m really disappointed with bars, but other than that I was pretty happy.”

She’s safely into the all-around final Friday, along with Ross, who came from behind Skinner on the last apparatus, uneven bars, to lock up the second and final U.S. spot with 57.941 points. Ross suffered a hip injury before Worlds and has trained and competed with her thigh and hip taped. She said she wasn’t sure last week she would be able to perform her standard vault given the injury.

“Ever since podium [training], my hamstring and my hip has been getting better,” Ross said in a USA Gymnastics interview. “I was happy to be able to have a little bit more power.”

Russian Olympic and World all-around bronze medalist Aliya Mustafina scored 58.874 points earlier Sunday to make the all-around final.

Team medal contenders China, Great Britain and Romania go through qualifying Monday.

Team Qualifying
1. USA — 235.038
2. Russia — 228.135

All-Around Qualifying
1. Simone Biles (USA) — 59.599
2. Aliya Mustafina (RUS) — 58.874
3. Kyla Ross (USA) — 57.941

The U.S. women in position to qualify for individual event finals (top eight, maximum two per country) with one day of qualifying to go:

Vault
1. Simone Biles — 15.45 (Biles is the 2013 World silver medalist on vault)
2. MyKayla Skinner — 15.349

Uneven Bars
1. Ashton Locklear — 15.233
4. Kyla Ross — 14.65 (2013 World silver medalist)

Balance Beam
1. Simone Biles — 15.133 (2013 World bronze medalist)
3. Kyla Ross — 14.391 (2013 World silver medalist)

Floor Exercise
1. Simone Biles — 15.366 (2013 World champion)
2. MyKayla Skinner — 14.7

World Gymnastics Championships broadcast schedule

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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