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

Simone Biles

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

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini

Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

USA Boxing

USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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