Simone Biles still buzzing after World Championships whirlwind

Simone Biles

NEW YORK — Simone Biles joked before the World Gymnastics Championships all-around final on Friday that she hadn’t seen a single animal in nearly three weeks training and competing in China.

“I haven’t seen a bird fly, or anything,” she said.

She was, of course, attacked by a bee hours later, on the top step of the podium after winning the all-around title a second straight year. That gold was part of a record five-medal haul that consolidated her status as, far and away, the world’s greatest gymnast.

Biles, 17, escaped the flying tormentor, walked off the podium and retreated to a therapy room Friday night.

You know, a team doctor told her, that bee incident will spread like honey. Yeah, yeah, sure, she responded, brushing it off.

“Then it actually started going viral,” said Biles, who is very active on social media. “It blew my mind. Oh my gosh, I’m jumping off a podium, running from a bee.”

Biles hasn’t stopped buzzing.

She won three more medals over the weekend, flew home to Houston on Monday and then to New York on Tuesday.

Her rewards included headphones and an ear piercing (she got her belly button pierced last year), according to The Associated Press, and the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year award, for her 2013 achievements, in a Wall Street ceremony Wednesday night.

She appeared on “TODAY” on Thursday morning.

Producers from Ellen DeGeneres‘ talk show contacted her parents during that stretch. They’re working on scheduling her appearance.

“My dad told me about it, and I freaked out at the airport,” said Biles, whose legs may not be long enough for her feet to touch the floor in a sitdown interview.

The bee incident generated more response than any of her eye-popping routines last week. Social media followers sent Biles photoshopped pictures of her in a bee costume, or a bee-themed leotard.

Biles is steamrolling toward the Rio Olympics, but she said she needs to improve on balance beam and vault.

She is working on adding eight tenths of difficulty to her second vault, according to the AP, which would match her with the woman who beat her on the event in China, North Korea’s Hong Un-jong. That upgraded vault is a “Cheng,” which Biles has trained for more than a year.

It would also be more difficult than the vaults we’ve seen from McKayla Maroney, the only woman to beat Biles on the event at the 2013 World Championships.

Then there are the uneven bars. That was only apparatus where Biles failed to win a medal at 2013 Worlds — where she finished fourth. Biles was 57th in bars qualifying this year, but she didn’t mind.

“I would rather not compete bars,” Biles said. “Last year, when I made bar finals, I was yelling at the computer, saying, please, somebody bump me out [of the eight-woman field for the bars final], because I didn’t want to touch the bars ever again.”

NBC Olympics analyst Nastia Liukin agreed with fellow Olympic all-around champion Mary Lou Retton that Biles may be the best gymnast she’s ever seen. Liukin, retired since 2012, said she’s happy she’s not competing with her.

Biles must fight a little bit of history to make the Rio Olympics. The top U.S. women’s all-around gymnast at the 2006 World Championships did not make the 2008 Olympics. The top U.S. gymnast at the 2010 World Championships did not make the 2012 Olympics.

But she shouldn’t be as concerned as the rest of the deep U.S. field, such as 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas, floor exercise champion Aly Raisman and Maroney. None of that trio competed this year, but all signs point to them trying to compete in 2015. No U.S. woman has made back-to-back Olympic teams since 1996 and 2000.

Maroney, for one, now faces competition from MyKayla Skinner, who won vault bronze and was fourth on floor exercise at her first World Championships last week. Vault and floor are Maroney’s primary events.

“We haven’t seen these girls compete, but what we do know and what we have seen is Simone out there on the floor and being above and beyond everybody else,” Liukin said. “As of right now, everybody is a factor.”

Gracie Gold calls audible, adds lyrics for post-Olympic season

Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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