Simone Biles deals with rising expectations ahead of P&G Championships

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INDIANAPOLIS — Simone Biles shed tears Wednesday.

Biles, the two-time reigning U.S. and World all-around champion who hasn’t lost in more than two years, did something unexpected on the balance beam while practicing ahead of the P&G Championships at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

She fell.

“A lot,” coach Aimee Boorman said, unconcerned. “Even on a bad day, it would have been better than what she did today.”

Biles called it a “waste of a workout,” one day before she begins a quest to become the first woman in 23 years to win three straight U.S. all-around titles (broadcast schedule here).

“I cried it all out, so it’s good,” she said, unconcerned. “I just get so frustrated with myself that the first thing I go to is to cry.”

Boorman’s coaching advice?

“She told me to screw my head on,” Biles said.

The sequence was a reminder that no matter how many gymnastics legends pump Biles up as the greatest to ever wear a leotard, she is capable of mistakes. Even defeat.

“We get so nervous because we have to be perfect all the time, and that’s not even possible,” Biles said.

Her last loss in a public all-around competition was March 30, 2013. Biles has won eight straight meets since and is the prohibitive favorite to win the Olympic all-around title in Rio de Janeiro next year.

But behind closed doors, at a national team camp at the Karolyi ranch in Texas earlier this year, Biles finished second in “verifications,” combining scores from all four apparatuses.

“I would rather see you at the top,” U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi told Biles that day, unconcerned, according to Biles. “It is what it is.”

Biles will compete Thursday and Saturday against a field much deeper than in 2013 or 2014. It includes Olympic champions Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, at their first nationals since 2012, and 2013 U.S. junior champion Bailie Key, who missed last year’s meet due to injury.

“Everybody wants to knock down the champion and be the new champion,” Karolyi said. “Mentally, it’s a little bit more pressure.”

Performances at the P&G Championships will go a long way in determining who is chosen for the six-woman team for October’s World Championships. That team will be named following a more important fall national team camp.

Biles is in no danger of missing the Worlds team. She will win in Indianapolis if she hits all eight of her routines, NBC Olympics analyst Nastia Liukin said.

“I think all the girls are just like, ‘Simone’s just in her own league, and whoever gets second place, that’s the winner,'” Raisman joked in a USA Today podcast recently. “Simone’s just doing her own thing. Her and [Japanese Olympic all-around champion] Kohei Uchimura just can do their own thing together.”

With a reputation like that comes expectations.

“She’s human, and I think people see her as being something other than human,” Boorman said.

Australian swimming champion Ian Thorpe once said, “If you turn those expectations into a negative, that becomes pressure. If you turn those expectations into a positive, it becomes support.”

The support is there. Biles feels it around her native Houston area, where she graced a local magazine cover and is recognized more and more.

But Boorman said she thinks sometimes people see Biles “as being something other than human.”

“If she were to not win at this point in her career, she wouldn’t be disappointed in herself or upset that someone else beat her,” Boorman said. “She would be worried about disappointing other people, the people that hold the expectations of her.”

Gabby Douglas looks to disprove social media doubters at P&G Championships

Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in his own tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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