Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas make all-around final as U.S. leads World Championships qualifying

Simone Biles
AP
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GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — In 15 minutes, it was over. Done. The message had been sent.

Five dynamic floor routines — one of them unforgettably done without the music — and whatever initial jitters the U.S. women’s gymnastics team felt heading into the 2015 World Championships vanished.

They were in their element. Packed arena. Bright lights. Ridiculous expectations. Even on a day the best team on the planet wasn’t always at its best, the six young women in the bedazzled magenta leotards left little doubt. The gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world shows no signs of closing less than a year before the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Led by two-time defending World champion Simone Biles and resurgent Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, the Americans posted a team score of 236.611, more than five points clear of second-place Russia, the equivalent to a three-touchdown blowout.

Barring the unexpected, Tuesday night’s eight-team final is on pace to end just like every other major international competition has over the last four years: with the U.S. on top of the podium and the rest of the world looking up.

Way up.

Biles, Douglas, Aly Raisman, Maggie Nichols, Brenna Dowell and Madison Kocian spent four rotations showcasing the depth that makes the U.S. nearly unstoppable. One of them would start each stop around the SSE Hydro with a solid set only to have a teammate come right out and top it. When the rare misstep popped up, the mistake was easily erased under a format that allowed each team to drop its lowest score.

“We’re all really strong,” said Douglas, who finished second to Biles in all-around qualifying. “We’re all really strong. We all have different things, different treasures we can contribute to U.S.”

And no gymnast has more to add than Biles. Part powder keg, part technical marvel and all boundless energy, the 18-year-old hardly seemed burdened by her quest for a three-peat.

Biles’ electric floor exercise ended with a bounce and a flourish. Her 15.933 was an exclamation point that the struggles endured by the so-so Russians, the sluggish Chinese and the injury decimated Romanians would not happen to the U.S. until things were well in hand.

“We love ending on (floor exercise),” said Biles, whose all-around total of 61.598 easily topped qualifying. “(But) to start off with a bang is pretty exciting too.”

One no other country can match.

MORE GYMNASTICS: Full list of Worlds finals qualifiers

The Americans were so locked in they could do their routines blindfolded, which is basically what happened to Dowell on the floor. Her music played briefly only to cut out. Dowell walked off the floor only to race back on and give it a shot anyway, getting an assist from the crowd, which tried to clap along as she ripped through arguably the oddest 75 seconds of her competitive life.

National team coordinator Martha Karolyi‘s voice cut the silence.

“I heard Martha saying ‘Go! Go! Go!’ because the timing was all the way down, so I just went,” Dowell said. “I’ve done that routines so many times, I knew exactly how to do it.”

Though her mark of 13.966 was the lowest among her teammates, it hardly mattered. Dowell’s perseverance — she was an alternate on both the 2013 and 2014 world championship teams — proved emblematic of a team whose mental toughness is nearly as remarkable as its considerable skill.

At the moment, there is the U.S. and everyone else, which can lead to some awkward moments even among good friends. The only real drama came in the race to see which of Biles’ teammates would finish second to her in the all-around. Douglas and Raisman, a fellow member of the “Fierce Five” team that rolled to gold at the 2012 Olympics, spent four rotations shadow boxing each other.

The rules stipulate that only two athletes per country can compete in any one individual final, regardless of where they end up in the overall all-around race. Douglas and Raisman are well-versed in the stakes, though Douglas appeared to have the opening she needed when Raisman slipped off the uneven bars. Douglas then nearly squandered it, smacking her ribs onto the balance beam. Raisman followed moments later with a steady routine that put it in the hands of the judges.

The two oldest members of the team stood 15 feet from each other staring at the scoreboard. When Raisman’s mark of 14.066 posted — good enough for fourth overall but not quite enough to catch Douglas’s second-place total of 57.516 — Raisman stoically tried to mask her disappointment.

“It’s probably one of the worst meets I’ve ever had in my life and I’m still fourth in the world,” Raisman said, “so that’s pretty ridiculous.”

So is the mental edge the Americans seem to have over the field. China opened Saturday’s competition with a string of unusual slip-ups on bars, typically a strength. The ended up fourth behind the U.S., Russia and host Britain and more than 10 points behind the U.S.

“We have improvements to make as a team,” said Chang Sungchong. “We will try our very best in every step. Although we won’t (beat) the Americans, we should put up an air like the Chinese men’s team.”

One problem: the only squad with that kind of swagger is the one the Chinese women — and everyone else — are trying to catch

MORE GYMNASTICS: World Championships broadcast schedule

Olympian Derrick Mein ends U.S. men’s trap drought at shotgun worlds

Derrick Mein
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Tokyo Olympian Derrick Mein became the first U.S. male shooter to win a world title in the trap event since 1966, prevailing at the world shotgun championships in Osijek, Croatia, on Wednesday.

Mein, who grew up on a small farm in Southeast Kansas, hunting deer and quail, nearly squandered a place in the final when he missed his last three shots in the semifinal round after hitting his first 22. He rallied in a sudden-death shoot-off for the last spot in the final by hitting all five of his targets.

He hit 33 of 34 targets in the final to win by two over Brit Nathan Hales with one round to spare.

The last U.S. man to win an Olympic trap title was Donald Haldeman in 1976.

Mein, 37, was 24th in his Olympic debut in Tokyo (and placed 13th with Kayle Browning in the mixed-gender team event).

The U.S. swept the Tokyo golds in the other shotgun event — skeet — with Vincent Hancock and Amber English. Browning took silver in women’s trap.

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Mo Farah withdraws before London Marathon

Mo Farah
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British track legend Mo Farah withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon, citing a right hip injury before what would have been his first 26.2-mile race in nearly two years.

Farah, who swept the 2012 and 2016 Olympic track titles at 5000m and 10,000m, said he hoped “to be back out there” next April, when the London Marathon returns to its traditional month after COVID moved it to the fall for three consecutive years. Farah turns 40 on March 23.

“I’ve been training really hard over the past few months and I’d got myself back into good shape and was feeling pretty optimistic about being able to put in a good performance,” in London, Farah said in a press release. “However, over the past 10 days I’ve been feeling pain and tightness in my right hip. I’ve had extensive physio and treatment and done everything I can to be on the start line, but it hasn’t improved enough to compete on Sunday.”

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

Sunday’s London Marathon men’s race is headlined by Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and Birhanu Legese, the second- and third-fastest marathoners in history.

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