Simone Biles opens Olympic year with dominating Pacific Rims title

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EVERETT, Wash. (AP) —€” Simone Biles began her preparations for the Rio Olympics in dominant fashion Saturday night in the Pacific Rim Championships, winning the all-around title to lead the U.S. women to the team title.

The 19-year-old Biles, the three-time World all-around champion, finished first in the vault, balance beam and floor routine, and third in the uneven bars to win the all-around title with 62.45 points in her season debut.

Biles has won 11 straight all-around competitions dating to 2013, dwarfing streaks from past Olympic champions Gabby DouglasNastia LiukinCarly Patterson and Mary Lou Retton and every other U.S. gymnast in that span.

Aly Raisman, a three-time medalist at the 2012 Olympics who struggled last year in the World Championships, finished second at 59.90.

The U.S. swept the top five spots against a weak field. Fifteen-year-old Laurie Hernandez was third, followed by Brenna Dowell and Ragan Smith.

The U.S. won all four events en route to a team score of 243.200. Canada was second at 219.100, followed by Australia at 217.850.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air Pacific Rim Championships coverage on Sunday from 1-3 p.m. ET.

Biles was pleased with the floor routine, which drew a tremendous response from the crowd.

“I felt like it was pretty good,” Biles said. “I’ll go back and look at the video to see, but there’s still things to improve in the floor routine definitely, but you have to start somewhere and it’s good that I still have things to improve.”

She also was satisfied with her second vault, called the Cheng after three-time World champion Cheng Fei of China.

The vault, which Biles said she has performed well in practice, requires her 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.

“That was the first time I ever competed it, so it was good to get that out of the way,” Biles said. “For the first time competing it, I’m fairly happy with it.”

National team coordinator Martha Karolyi was pleased with Biles’ efforts, as well as those of the entire team.

“For her, it was very important to see if she’s able to perform her second vault,” Karolyi said. “That was really one of our goals, even before the World Championships. We planned on this and it was important to debut and do it.

“For anybody, it is a challenge to add a high difficulty new skill,” Karolyi added. “Also, she had new choreography on the floor. All these competitions are very important for us to make sure we introduce this new stuff early, so with time it comes with much more confidence and is more normal. The first time you maybe have a little jitters to make sure you will be able to perform, but she passed the test.”

Karolyi also was pleased with the performance of Raisman, who took almost two years off following the London Olympics.

“After the World Championships, she looked too hyper and a little bit out of control, which was unusual for her,” Karolyi said. “Our main goal was to calm her down and I think we achieved the goal. She looked very composed and very much in control of what she’s doing.”

“Now, we have to go for things to perfect and we are in a good place,” Karolyi said. “I think she’s absolutely on the right track.”

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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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