Simone Biles routs Olympic champions for third straight P&G Championship

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INDIANAPOLIS — Martha Karolyi said five words to Simone Biles as she draped yet another medal around the neck of the 4-foot, 8-inch dynamo on Saturday night.

“That’s the Simone I know,” the longtime U.S. national team coordinator said.

One could disagree. Biles’ own assessment was that her performance on the second and final night of the P&G Championships was better than she’s ever known.

“So far, in my life, yes,” Biles said. “Hopefully, it will get better.”

Biles recorded her best-ever scores at a P&G Championships on three of four events to run away with her third straight U.S. all-around title.

“I just keep surprising myself, I guess,” she said.

Biles, the two-time reigning World all-around champion and the prohibitive favorite for Rio Olympic all-around gold, scored 124.1 total points and prevailed by 4.95 over best friend Maggie Nichols to become the first woman in 23 years to three-peat at Nationals. Full results are here.

Watch Biles’ routines: Floor exerciseBalance beam | Vault | Uneven bars

Olympic champions Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas were third and fifth, respectively, in their first Nationals in three years. Raisman said her primary feeling afterward was relief, while Douglas graded herself a B for the night.

Biles, an 18-year-old Texan, improved on her 1.4-point lead from the first night of competition Thursday with her best-ever P&G Championships scores on her first three events — balance beam (15.9), floor exercise (15.85) and vault (16.3).

She finished with a 14.95 on uneven bars (an apparatus she’s said in the past she would like to chainsaw) and bettered her winning margin from 2014 by seven tenths of a point. It marked the second-biggest winning margin in Nationals history, since the new Code of Points scoring system was implemented in 2006. Jordyn Wieber won by 6.15 points in 2011.

The last woman to win three straight U.S. all-around titles was Kim Zmeskal from 1990-92. In 2016, Biles could become the first woman to win four straight since Joan Moore Gnat from 1971-74. Biles has won nine straight overall all-around competitions dating to 2013.

“To be put next to Kim Zmeskal is really an honor, because I look up to her,” Biles said on NBC.

Biles is expected to lead a six-woman U.S. team to the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, in the last week of October. The full team will be announced following a national team camp at the Karolyi ranch in Texas in October.

Nichols, Raisman, fourth-place Bailie Key and Douglas appear headed for Worlds with Biles, but 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross has work to do. 

Ross, who won World all-around silver and bronze medals the last two years, finished 10th on Saturday. That continued a season of struggles.

“It was pretty scary to know that I made that last spot on the [10-woman] national team [from which the Worlds team will be picked] when, usually, I’m one of the top all-arounders,” said Ross, who along with Raisman and Douglas, is trying to become the first woman to make back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000.

Nichols, a Little Canada, Minn., native whose Twitter handle is @MagsGotSwag12, finished third at the 2014 P&G Championships and looked destined for her first Worlds team until dislocating her left kneecap the following week.

“I don’t really think I had a shot of beating [Biles],” Nichols said. “Standing next to her on the podium, that was an honor.”

Raisman improved 1.25 points from her Thursday night score and has finished third, third and fifth in the all-around in her three meets this year coming back from a two-year break from competition.

“I still feel kind of like a little junior [gymnast], like for the first time out there,” said Raisman, the Olympic floor exercise champion who fell off the balance beam Thursday. “It’s still pretty nerve-racking, and I still feel a little shaky.”

Douglas has placed fourth, second and fifth in the same three meets and struggled to stay on the balance beam Saturday but didn’t fall. She will return to her Columbus, Ohio, gym, hoping to increase difficulty on all four of her events before the World Championships.

“I have a plan,” she said, chuckling.

What could Biles possibly have to work on?

“I know it sounds like a baloney answer, but consistency,” said her coach, Aimee Boorman. “That’s what wins.”

The P&G Championships conclude with the final day of men’s competition Sunday (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra). Olympian Sam Mikulak leads by 2.35 points, seeking his third straight U.S. all-around title.

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Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping