Is Simone Biles unbeatable?

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Is Simone Biles unbeatable if she hits all four routines in an all-around competition?

“Not necessarily,” said Mykayla Skinner, who will try to prove that at the American Cup in Arlington, Texas, on March 7. “I guess I’d have to take it step by step and see.”

Biles, 17, is the overwhelming favorite at next week’s competition, her first since bagging four gold medals at the World Championships in Nanning, China, in October.

The Texan known to light a candle to the patron saint of athletes before meets is undefeated in senior U.S. and World Championships all-around finals. She overtook American Kyla Ross going into the last rotation at the 2013 World Championships and rolled to victories at the 2014 P&G Championships (despite a balance beam fall) and 2014 World Championships.

“She’s not human,” 1984 U.S. Olympic all-around champ Mary Lou Retton said at the P&G Championships in August. “She may be the most talented gymnast I’ve ever seen in my life, honestly. And I don’t even think she’s tapped into what she really can do. I think she’s unbeatable.”

Skinner disagreed.

The 18-year-old was sixth in all-around qualifying at the 2014 World Championships, 1.8 points behind Biles, and didn’t get to contest the final because she was the third-ranked American in qualifying. Finals can include a maximum of two gymnasts per country.

Skinner, similar to McKayla Maroney in not only name but also her best events, then finished third in vault and fourth on floor exercise in apparatus finals in Nanning. Biles took silver and gold in those events.

Biles plans upgraded routines at the American Cup on her first tumbling pass on floor and on the uneven bars, her weak event. Biles has such hatred for bars that she jokingly hoped competitors posted better scores to knock her out of the uneven bars final at the 2013 World Championships (they didn’t; she finished fourth).

Biles, a home-schooled high school senior, declined Thursday to say if or when she will turn professional.

“So far, what I have my eyes set on are college gymnastics for now,” she said, referring to her commitment to UCLA in August (Biles has said she will defer her enrollment until after the 2016 Olympics).

One thing she’s not focused on is what just about everyone asks her about. The Olympics. She said there are no references to them at her training gym in Conroe, Texas. A couple of posters of Biles, but no Olympic rings in sight.

“Thinking of next year scares me a bit, so if anyone brings up the Olympics, it’s definitely not me,” Biles said.

It’s difficult as the Rio Games near. The 500-days-out mark is coming.

Biles recently attended national team camps with 2012 Olympic champions Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, who haven’t competed since London but are hoping to become the first U.S. women to make back-to-back Olympic gymnastics teams since 2000.

“I know how bad they want to compete,” Biles said. “Last year, at the beginning I was out for a while.”

In February 2014, Biles withdrew before the American Cup due to a shoulder problem from overtraining. She also missed the Pacific Rim Championships in April.

She came back to sweep the Secret U.S. Classic, P&G Championships and World Championships, posting arguably the two most dominant Worlds performances in U.S. history in 2013 and 2014.

The American Cup will feel different, even if Biles easily prevails. That’s because it’s at AT&T Stadium, nicknamed JerryWorld. Biles will compete in front of many friends and family members, for a change, and in a venue much larger than she has ever seen.

“We’re going to look like ants,” she said. “I guess you need a big stadium for big gymnastics.”

Romanian champions signal gymnastics comebacks

French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

Karolina Pliskova
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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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