Simone Biles still buzzing after World Championships whirlwind

Simone Biles
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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

A wild Grand Prix Final has a quadruple Axel, the Brits and a figure skating tale for the ages

Ilia Malinin
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The world’s best figure skaters gather for the first time this season at this week’s Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy. The Who’s Who is a very different group than from February’s Olympics, as expected, with the fall Grand Prix Series also producing some unpredictable stories.

Of the 18 skaters who won Olympic medals outside of the team event, just two of them competed internationally this fall. As was known before the season, all Russians are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. China’s top skaters didn’t enter the Grand Prix Series. Nathan Chen and the French ice dance couple of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are on indefinite, possibly permanent breaks after winning long-awaited golds.

It is time for new stars to emerge. That happened. American Ilia Malinin, last year’s world junior champion at age 17, became the first skater to land a quadruple Axel in competition in September. Then he did it again in October, and again in November.

It is time for new stories to emerge. The Grand Prix Final is the most exclusive event in figure skating — taking the top six per discipline from the Grand Prix Series — since it was introduced in 1996. This year, Belgium and Great Britain qualified skaters for the first time in more than a decade. Japanese men who were seventh and eighth at their national championships last season are in the field. As is a 39-year-old pairs’ skater from Canada who competed against Michelle Kwan in the 6.0 scoring era.

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Broadcast Schedule

The U.S. qualified skaters into the Final in every discipline for the first time in 15 years. The team is led statistically by Malinin, the world No. 1 bidding to be the second-youngest man to win a Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko.

Malinin, whose mom won the 1999 Grand Prix Final, is one half of the most anticipated head-to-head showdown this week. He takes on Japan’s Shoma Uno for the first time since the world championships in March, when Uno won and Malinin placed ninth in his debut on that stage. This season, Malinin and Uno each won their two separate Grand Prix starts, with Malinin having the best total score by a scant 61 hundredths of a point.

NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir called Malinin the favorite for the Final and for March’s worlds (which could include Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama of Japan, who has been sidelined this fall due to leg and ankle injuries). But Weir also said that if Malinin and Uno skate clean this week, the 24-year-old Uno has the advantage.

“He’s had the longevity. He’s had the time in front of these top judges. And artistically, he’s so excellent,” Weir said.

The world’s highest-scoring women’s singles skater this season will compete at the Final, but in the junior division. Japan’s Mao Shimada won both of her junior Grand Prix starts. She is 14 years old, and with the age limit being raised in coming seasons will not be old enough for the next Olympics in 2026 (reminiscent of countrywoman Mao Asada, who was too young the last time Italy hosted the Winter Games in 2006).

Without Shimada, and without the Russians who dominated recent seasons, the women’s field is the most closely bunched at the Final. Mai Mihara, who missed the Olympics after placing fourth at Japan’s Nationals last December, was the lone woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this fall. Kaori Sakamoto, last season’s world champion in the Russians’ absence, has the top score this season among senior women (and a shout out from Janet Jackson). But the six skaters at the Final are separated by just 4.47 points in best scores this fall.

American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, is the youngest woman in the field by four years. NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said that Levito has a total package of jumps, artistry and competitive fire not seen in U.S. skating in many years. Levito, who has made short films, including “The Pickle Murder,” is reminiscent of Sasha Cohen, the last U.S. women’s singles skater to win an Olympic medal in 2006.

“There’s never a hand, finger, hair out of place when it comes to Isabeau’s skating,” Lipinski said. “Looking back at my first year as a senior, I was terrified. I looked like a junior coming up to the senior ranks. Isabeau, she’s gone past that phase.”

Pairs’ skating saw the highest turnover. The top five teams at the Olympics were Russian and Chinese, and none have competed internationally since. Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier took advantage at March’s worlds, becoming the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Knierim and Frazier won both of their Grand Prix starts this fall, but were flawed. Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who took silver at worlds, averaged 10 more points in their separate Grand Prix victories.

“Comparing people based on the scores that they accrue in different competitions is a nice way to see how people are faring in front of international panels, but it’s not a direct comparison between the two at all,” Weir said. “They’re very evenly matched.”

But the coolest story in pairs, and arguably in all of figure skating, is 39-year-old Canadian Deanna Stellato-Dudek. With partner Maxime Deschamps, she became the oldest Grand Prix podium finisher in October and the oldest champion in November. Stellato-Dudek, the 2000 World junior silver medalist in singles from Chicagoland, retired from figure skating in 2001 due to injuries, then came back in 2016 in pairs and switched nationality.

Weir recently came across photos of him with Stellato-Dudek when they competed at the same junior Grand Prix event in Norway in 1999.

“I’m pretty sure she was skating when I was skating, so that is a crazy feat in itself,” said Lipinski, whose last competition was winning the 1998 Olympics.

Ice dance, usually the most predictable of the four disciplines, sprung surprises this fall. Three-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates were the top returning couple based on results from last season’s Olympics and worlds, but the Americans rank outside the top three this fall by results and best total score.

Still, 2006 Olympic silver medalist Ben Agosto said they’re looking better than ever, having improved from their first Grand Prix to their second Grand Prix.

“The challenge for them is they’ve been so good for so long that they don’t want to get stale,” Agosto said of a couple that’s in their 12th season together. “They don’t want people to start to think, well, you know, two seasons ago was better than this, or five seasons ago was better than this. They want to always be reinventing, but then also capitalizing on their biggest strengths.”

Canadian veterans Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, ranked third among returning couples going into the fall, won both of their Grand Prix starts with the world’s top two scores across all events. Agosto believes that the field is closer than the point totals suggest and that some couples have been underscored, including Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who qualified into the Final in the sixth and last spot.

Agosto said that Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson, Great Britain’s first Grand Prix Final qualifiers since 2009, can “blow the roof off” with their Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez rhythm dance and Lady Gaga free dance.

“You can just feel the the intensity that everyone is bringing after their Olympic experience and coming back and feeling rejuvenated and maybe feeling the adrenaline effect of having a little bit more of an opportunity because Papadakis and Cizeron are not there, because the Russians are not there,” Agosto said. “I’ve really seen across the board this group stepping up from last season, so I don’t think that it would just be a clear OK, well, if those other teams were in the game this year, they would, by default, be on top.”

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2022 Grand Prix Final figure skating TV, live stream schedule

Ilia Malinin
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The Grand Prix Final, the most exclusive figure skating competition of the season and a preview of March’s world championships, airs live on Peacock and E! this week.

The top six per discipline from the six-event fall Grand Prix Series gather in Turin, Italy, at the Palavela, the 2006 Olympic venue. It’s the first Grand Prix Final in three years after the 2020 and 2021 events were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. qualified skaters in all four disciplines for the first time since 2007, led by the world’s top-ranked man. Ilia Malinin, who turned 18 last Friday, has been the story of the season, becoming the first skater to land a quadruple Axel in competition.

Malinin, the reigning world junior champion, won both of his Grand Prix starts and posted the best total score among all fall events, edging world champion Shoma Uno of Japan. Malinin and Uno will go head-to-head for the first time this season at the Final.

Isabeau Levito, a 15-year-old world junior champion, is the youngest American at a Final since Caroline Zhang in 2007. She qualified in fifth place. The favorites are Japan’s Mai Mihara and Kaori Sakamoto and Belgian Loena Hendrickx.

The U.S. also qualified two pairs’ teams — world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier and Emily Chan and Spencer Howe — and two ice dance couples — three-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker.

For the first time, the Final has no Russian skaters. They are banned from international competition due to the war in Ukraine. For the first time in 25 years, there are no Chinese skaters. China’s top pairs’ teams did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Grand Prix Final Broadcast Schedule
All TV coverage also streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

Day Event Time (ET) Platform
Thursday Pairs’ Short Program 1:20-2:15 p.m. Peacock
Men’s Short Program 2:35-3:20 p.m. Peacock
Friday Pairs’ Free Skate 11:35 a.m.-12:40 p.m. Peacock
Rhythm Dance 1:50-2:45 p.m. Peacock
Women’s Short Program 3:05-3:50 p.m. Peacock
Saturday Men’s Short Program* 6:30-7:30 a.m. E!
Men’s Free Skate 7:30-8:30 a.m. E!, Peacock
Women’s Short Program* 8:30-9:30 a.m. E!
Free Dance 1:40-2:40 p.m. Peacock
Women’s Free Skate 3-3:55 p.m. Peacock
Sunday Highlights* 4-6 p.m. NBC

*Delayed broadcast.

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