Simone Biles ready to take charge as Rio Olympics near

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CONROE, Texas (AP) — The little girl had to be in charge. It was her way of taking control. Of protecting her younger sister. Of trying to find order during a time when it was in short supply.

So Simone Biles anointed herself the boss, ordering around little sis Adria in their new home to give her something familiar to hold onto. The girls, Adria still in diapers, were living with their grandparents in Texas while their mother struggled with addiction back in Ohio.

“She thought she was a little mom in the house,” Nellie Biles said. “She made decisions for herself and her sister because this was all they knew.”

Nellie Biles and husband Ron adopted the girls 15 years ago, providing the structure they needed. They also unknowingly set the foundation that helped produce what could be the greatest gymnast of her generation.

Stardom, the kind that truly changes a life, awaits Simone Biles. The two-time defending world all-around champion will go for a three-peat at the 2015 championships Glasgow, Scotland starting this weekend. The ever-growing speck in the distance that is the 2016 Summer Olympics creeps closer by the day.

“It’s a little bit scary,” Biles said.

Yet hardly intimidating.

Biles has almost everything she’ll need for that journey. The infectious smile that already has sponsors writing checks. The accessible personality and the soaring routines that NBC’s high-definition cameras will beam into millions of homes next summer. The talent to make her the next in a long line of American gymnastics royalty that stretches from Gabby to Nastia to Carly to Mary Lou.

Most important: the support of a home life that strips away the hype and her own towering expectations and allows her to be just another 18-year-old.

“I want her to be normal,” Nellie Biles said. “I want her to be able to say, ‘I’m tired, I don’t want to be bothered.”

At home, she’s just a teenager who requested a belly ring after her first world title in 2013. The daughter whose chores include feeding the family’s four dogs. The girl who better be at her seat for Sunday dinner regardless of whatever time zone she may have been in the day before.

MORE GYMNASTICS: World Championships broadcast schedule

It’s a contrast to those difficult early days.

Simone Biles was born in Columbus, Ohio on March 14, 1997. Her mother, Shanon Biles, struggled off and on with drugs and alcohol.

At one point, Ron Biles received a phone call from a social worker telling him all four of his grandchildren were in foster care. He flew to Ohio and brought all of them to Texas only to have them head back with their mother after less than a year. It didn’t last.

His daughter’s parental rights were terminated shortly thereafter, with Ron Biles taking in Simone and Adria while his older sister adopted Shanon’s two other children.

It wasn’t exactly the life Nellie Biles had planned. When the girls arrived for good in late 2000, she was preparing to be an empty nester, with two sons getting ready for college. Now she had a 3-year-old old and a toddler. There were tears and prayer and the kind of soul-searching she wasn’t expecting at 50 approached.

“It was a hard transition for me because they didn’t have any connection to me and I didn’t have any connection to them,” Nellie Biles said.

Two years of counseling followed, Ron and Nellie figuring out how to make it work. And it did. Maybe that’s why the Biles have never felt the need to talk about it.

Even Simone’s coach, Aimee Boorman, didn’t know. Biles walked into Bannon’s Gymnastix on a daycare field trip and walked out with a bug that transformed into something far more than flipping around. But the Biles didn’t share their backstory until years later. They weren’t keeping a secret, exactly. It just didn’t seem important.

Though Simone remains in contact with Shanon Biles, she is quick to correct anyone that calls Shanon her mother. Shanon Biles is her biological mother. Nellie Biles is Mom.

Shanon Biles made the drive from Ohio to watch Simone win her second straight national title at the 2014 P&G Championships in Pittsburgh. It was nice weekend, but it wasn’t the beginning of some kind fresh start. There will be no shot of Shanon Biles in the stands at Rio next summer.

“It’s not something we bring her into because that would just blow it up and make it bigger,” Simone said. “We’re just trying to keep it small.”

As small as possible anyway. The drumbeat of celebrity is growing louder. There have been random knocks at the hotel room door by well-meaning but overzealous fans. There are major brands lining up to be associated with Biles, something she admits kind of “freaks me out.” Mention to her she’s still not verified on Twitter and she counters that she is on Instagram.

She verbally committed to UCLA, but then signed with an agent this summer. School will always be there. The opportunities that could pop up if she wins Olympic gold will not.

Her parents offered advice but left the choice up to her, just as they did when she graduated from the eighth grade and had to pick between attending high school or being home schooled, which offered a flexible schedule more amenable to a world-class athlete who spends over 30 hours a week in the gym.

She chose to stay home, another important step in a journey that has brought her simultaneously to the cusp of adulthood and stardom.

In a way, the Biles have all found a new identity through gymnastics. It is more than something their daughter does. The Biles are in the process of moving into a massive new space for their gym, a 50,000 square foot monolith that will include a taekwondo studio, a fitness center for parents, a study room for siblings and a training facility that will make the Karolyi Ranch — the home of USA Gymnastics located 45 minutes north — look antiquated.

Biles has no plans to one day join the family business. Her parents are fine with that, for now anyway. Like most 18-year-olds, Biles has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up. For now, she is the Olympics’ Next Big Thing.

That’s a lot of weight to carry on even her well-defined shoulders. Yet if the pressure gets to her, it hardly shows. Blame it on a sense of normalcy provided by a family cobbled together by circumstance and kept together by something far deeper. And blame it on a toughness that simply can’t be taught.

“She’s a survivor,” Nellie Biles said. “She’s been a survivor from a very, very young age.”

MORE GYMNASTICS: Nadia Comaneci chimes in on Simone Biles

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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