Simone Biles
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Simone Biles opens Olympic year with changes at Pacific Rim Championships

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She’s done “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” thing. The “Vogue” thing. The “get a massive shipment from Coca-Cola and Instagram it because it’s cool to be 19 and a professional athlete” thing.

Now, Simone Biles gets a chance to go out and do her thing — which she does better than any gymnast on the planet.

The three-time World all-around champion makes her 2016 debut on Saturday at the Pacific Rim Championships (NBC Sports Live Extra, 10 p.m.-midnight ET), a team competition in reality but a showcase for Biles in spirit and — she hopes — a springboard to Olympic gold.

Not that she wants to talk about it or anything.

“It stresses me out thinking about the Olympics, so why stress yourself out?” Biles said. “I just think of what’s next to come.”

This weekend includes unveiling a new floor routine and an upgraded second vault designed to make it that much harder for the rest of the world to catch her in Rio de Janeiro in August. Of course, Biles demurs when asked to discuss her chances of making history in Brazil. Last she checked, the U.S. team won’t be named for another three months, and she’s not taking anything for granted no matter how high she soars.

Imagine Usain Bolt saying that.

And in a very real sense the relentlessly dynamic teenager from the Houston suburbs has spent the quadrennium since the London Games serving as her sport’s version of Bolt, collecting a record 14 World Championships medals and doing it using a formula that seems borderline unfair. Biles doesn’t just put together the hardest routines. She executes them better than contemporaries doing challenging but slightly less difficult sets.

“I think she needs to compete with the men to make it fair,” 1984 Olympic champion Mary Lou Retton said.

Retton is kidding, but only a little. Biles doesn’t just win, she typically dominates. There have been few close calls during a winning streak that started with her first national championship in 2013 and she heads to floor of the XFINITY Arena in Everett, Wash., rested after a five-month break, part of a carefully calibrated plan for 2016 that will — barring injury — have Biles peaking by mid-summer.

Of course, Biles has been peaking for the better part of three years. It’s an incomparable run of success in a sport where windows of greatness are typically limited to months.

“I don’t think there’s anyone close,” Retton said.

Yet Biles refuses to play it safe. There’s a competitive restlessness to her that demands coach Aimee Boorman and national team coordinator Martha Karolyi find ways to keep her engaged. It’s why she’s debuting her third different floor routine in three years this weekend while throwing in a new secondary vault to go with an Amanar that is right there with two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney in “OMG” factor.

Named after three-time World champion Cheng Fei of China, the vault requires Biles to do a round off onto the board followed by a back handspring with a half-twist onto the vault before finishing with 1 1/2 twists while simultaneously doing a layout.

Sounds kind of impossible. Biles stressed she’s landed it “every single time” over the last few months but is curious to see how it will play under the lights, concerned about how far she’ll be bent over when she lands.

If the way drilled it during practice on Wednesday — powering down the runway and effortlessly twisting through the air — is any indication, she should be just fine.

If anything, getting back to competition will give her a sense of normalcy. She’s spent the downtime since her triumphant two weeks in Scotland last fall trying to find a balance between preparing for Rio, fulfilling sponsor obligations and trying to make time for herself.

Chasing gold while taking time to still be 19 can be tough, but it does have its perks. Her deal with Coke includes a stack of cases that combined would tower over her 4-foot-9 frame.

After another fistful of medals at worlds, Ellen DeGeneres finally called and asked Biles to stop by, an invitation Biles coveted for years. The spot included the two chatting about Biles’ 32-hour-a-week training, her crush on actor Zac Efron (with DeGeneres offering her an Efron-inspired leotard) and footage of Biles climbing up a 30-foot rope using only her arms with a speed that would make the most ardent Crossfitter blush. She finished it off with a watered down exhibition on the balance beam, the equivalent of LeBron James in a layup-line.

On Saturday night, however, it’s back to the one place she feels most at ease even as the spotlight grows brighter by the day.

“There’s a lot more eyes on me, but I don’t focus on the stress everyone puts on me,” she said. “I’m the only one that can control what happens when I go out there. I feel more confident in my routines, but there are always days in the gym where it’s a mess and I’m like really? But other days go smoothly and I feel confident. I’m normal. I’m 19.”

VIDEO: Biles on Ellen DeGeneres Show

Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

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Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was put into an induced coma Wednesday after suffering injuries in a crash on the final stretch of the Tour of Poland, organizers said.

A massive crash at the finish of the first stage resulted in Dylan Groenewegen‘s disqualification from the race.

Leading a bunch sprint, Groenewegen veered toward the right barrier, pinching countryman Jakobsen, who barreled into the barrier meters from the finish line.

Jakobsen went head over heels, his bike went airborne and the barriers exploded onto the road, causing more cyclists to crash.

Jakobsen was airlifted to a hospital in serious condition and was put into an induced coma, the Tour de Pologne press office said.

Groenewegen crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, giving Jakobsen the stage win, according to the stage race website.

Groenewegen, a 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider, owns four Tour de France stage wins among the last three years.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) “strongly condemned” Groenewegen’s “dangerous” and “unacceptable” behavior. It referred Groenewegen’s actions to a disciplinary commission for possible sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

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