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

Dan Hicks, Rowdy Gaines call backyard pool swim race

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Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines covered swimming together at the last six Olympics, including every one of Michael Phelps‘ finals, but they’ve never called a “race” quite like this.

“We heard you were looking for something to commentate during the down time….might this short short short course 100 IM help?” tweeted Cathleen Pruden, posting a video of younger sister Mary Pruden, a sophomore swimmer at Columbia University, taking individual medley strokes in what appeared to be an inflatable backyard pool.

“Hang on,” Gaines replied. “This race of the century deserves the right call. @DanHicksNBC and I are working some magic!”

Later, Hicks posted a revised video dubbed with commentary from he and Gaines.

They became the latest commentators to go beyond the booth to post calls on social media while sports are halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC Sports hockey voice Doc Emrick (who has also called Olympic hockey and water polo) did play-by-play of a windshield wiper installation.

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Which athletes are qualified for the U.S. Olympic team?

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Soon after Tokyo Olympic qualifying events began getting postponed, the International Olympic Committee announced that all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes.

The IOC repeated that position over the last week, after the Tokyo Games were postponed (now to open July 23, 2021). What does that mean for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee?

Well, 76 athletes qualified for the U.S. Olympic team before the Olympic postponement was announced. That full list is here.

Those 76 athletes can be separated into two categories.

  • Athletes who earned Olympic spots BY NAME via International Federation (i.e. International Surfing Association or International Aquatics Federation) selection procedures.
  • Athletes named to the U.S. Olympic team by their national governing body (i.e. USA Swimming or USA Track and Field) and confirmed by the USOPC using NGB selection procedures after the NGB earned a quota spot.

When the IOC says “all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes,” it means just that. USA Softball still has 15 athlete quota spots from qualifying a full team via international results. Surfer Kolohe Andino still has his Olympic spot from qualifying BY NAME via the International Surfing Association selection procedures route.

USA Softball named its 15-player Olympic roster last fall. Those 15 athletes did not earn Olympic quota spots for themselves. Unlike Andino (and 13 other American qualifiers across all sports), the 15 softball players had to be nominated by USA Softball and confirmed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Unless and until the USOPC confirms that any of those other 62 athletes remain qualified, for now the list of U.S. Olympic qualifiers is these 14 who qualified BY NAME:

Karate (1)
Sakura Kokumai

Modern Pentathlon (2)
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Swimming (3)
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Sport Climbing (4)
Kyra Condie
Brooke Raboutou
Nathaniel Coleman
Colin Duffy

Surfing (4)
Caroline Marks
Carissa Moore
Kolohe Andino
John John Florence

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MORE: Qualified athletes go into limbo with Tokyo postponement