Simone Biles halfway to fourth straight U.S. all-around title

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — When U.S. women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi met with Simone Biles to map out the three-time world gymnastics champion’s schedule, one designed to keep Biles fresh heading into the Olympics, it was the equivalent of pulling up to an intersection in a Ferrari and letting it idle when the light turned green.

“The plan was to (not) burn her out,” Karolyi said.

Done. Way done.

When Biles stepped onto the floor at the U.S. championships Friday night, it marked just her second all-around competition in eight months. Yet there was no rust. There never seems to be for Biles, whose three-year reign seems poised to continue unabated through the biggest summer of her life and beyond.

Turning each rotation into a showcase for her unmatched talent, Biles posted an eye-popping score of 62.900, well clear of runners up Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez and everybody else on the planet.

“It’s all about peaking for the right moment,” Biles said. “I think this is a stepping stone toward it.”

The gap the 19-year-old Texan has created between herself and the rest of the world during a winning streak that’s nearly three years and counting shows no signs of closing. If anything, it’s widening considering her nearest competitors are the four women who will join her on the plane to Brazil in August.

“There’s no one that can catch Simone,” said Raisman after her best night since her return to competition in March, 2015.

Not in the U.S. and certainly not in the rest of the world.

Biles was nearly flawless from the start, her beam routine a 45-second showcase of precision with nary a wobble or even a peak at the floor 4-feet below. Her score of 15.7 is a significant step up from the 15.388 she posted at world championships last fall, an event she won easily. Her floor routine includes a series of hand flourishes that seems as if she’s saying “follow me” and a series of tumbling passes that are the gymnastics version of Michael Jordan at the height of his “airness” prime.

Asked to nitpick her performance and Biles paused. It’s not that she’s perfect — gymnastics doesn’t do perfect anymore — it’s just that she’s as close as anyone has been in a long, long time. While she pointed to nearly imperceptible miscues during her beam dismount and her first vault, even she had to admit there was little else that went wrong.

“I was pretty happy with it,” Biles said.

So was Karolyi, who will have plenty to think about over the next two weeks as she tries to find the right four women to join Biles on the plane to Brazil in August. The one thing that’s not on her mind is the mental state of her star.

“Usually these very talented girls don’t have patience,” Karolyi said. “They’re explosive and full with energy but sometimes they can be annoyed with doing the very same routine.”

Biles hardly looked bored while putting on a show no one else can match. And she wasn’t the only one who looked ready for the stage that awaits in Brazil.

Raisman wanted to “vomit” while starting out on beam, where she won bronze in London four years ago. She didn’t exactly look nervous while putting up a 15.150, something she credited on the poker face she inherited from her father. After beating herself up for months after a poor showing — by her standards anyway — at world championships last fall, Raisman is right back where she was in 2012, maybe even a bit better.

Defending Olympic champion Gabby Douglas, who won the American Cup and in Italy earlier this spring, wasn’t quite as sharp. She wobbled twice on beam and needed a world-class save to stay on at one point. Yet she did to avoid a major deduction, a trait Karolyi welcomes nearly as much as a flawlessly executed routine. Still, her score of 58.9 needs to improve on Sunday (9 p.m. ET, NBC and NBC Sports app) to remove any lingering doubt.

“I just got a little bit relaxed and let things slip,” she said. “I need to stay aggressive. The confidence level is there.”

It’s there too for the 16-year-old Hernandez. A newcomer on the national team, Hernandez hardly seems intimidated by the stakes. She put up scores that ranked in the top three in all four events, giving Karolyi yet another option as she puts together what will be the gymnastics equivalent of a “Dream Team” for Rio.

“I’d love to just have another day like I had today (on Sunday),” Hernandez said.

Madison Kocian, a world champion on uneven bars, put up the second-best score on her signature event and seems to be fully healed from a leg injury that slowed her training after placing in the top six in all four events.

Maggie Nichols, a member of last fall’s gold-medal winning world championship team, finished outside the top five on uneven bars and balance beam in her first competition since tearing the meniscus in her knee in April. Nichols remains upbeat but it appears open spots on the team appear to be dwindling.

Karolyi teased coming into nationals that she already has five women in mind for Rio. That list did not change on Friday, and time is running out.

“The first five are right there,” she said. “The process is going step by step.”

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WATCH LIVE: Nathan Chen in U.S. Figure Skating Championships free skate

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Nathan Chen tries to become the first man to win four straight U.S. figure skating titles since 1988, live on NBC Sports on Sunday.

NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of the men’s free skate for subscribers starting at 2:30 p.m. ET in Greensboro, N.C. NBC joins with TV coverage at 3.

LIVE STREAM: Men’s Free Skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Chen, a 20-year-old Yale sophomore, is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics. He can become the seventh man since World War II to win four straight national titles.

Five of the previous six went on to earn Olympic gold, including Dick ButtonScott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano in 1988.

Chen carries a substantial 13.14-point lead from Saturday’s short program, where he landed two quadruple jumps on one week of full training following a flu bout.

The anticipated drama Sunday comes in the battle for silver and bronze medals and the last two world championships team spots.

Jason BrownAndrew TorgashevVincent Zhou and Tomoki Hiwatashi are separated by 8.78 points. Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, and Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist, are the only men in the field other than Chen with world team experience.

Key Skate Times
5:01 p.m. (ET) — Vincent Zhou
5:18 — Tomoki Hiwatashi
5:26 — Andrew Torgashev
5:35 — Nathan Chen
5:43 — Jason Brown

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Mikaela Shiffrin, with 66th World Cup win, moves one shy of career dream

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Mikaela Shiffrin has said one of her career dreams is to win in every discipline in one season. She is now one victory shy of realizing it.

Shiffrin earned her 66th World Cup victory — and her second in three days — at a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria, on Sunday.

She prevailed by .29 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino and .70 over Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami. Gut-Behrami, the last skier other than Shiffrin to win a World Cup overall title back in 2016, earned her first podium in exactly one year.

Full results are here.

“Perfect weekend for me,” said Shiffrin, who moved one shy of recently retired Austrian Marcel Hirscher for third place on the World Cup career wins list. “The whole team is excited about the whole weekend, but especially today.”

She is en route to a fourth straight World Cup overall title. And she is a combined victory away from wins in all five disciplines in one season. Only Marc GirardelliPetra KronbergerJanica Kostelic and Tina Maze have done it.

“The thing that I’m most proud of right now is that I know how to win in slalom, [giant slalom], super-G and downhill, which I never expected that would really happen,” she said.

Shiffrin struggled with confidence during a winless stretch in early January, trying not to compare herself to last season, when she won a record 17 times. She still leads the men’s and women’s tours with six victories this season, a little more than halfway through.

“Every race is such a big fight, and I haven’t been the one on top of this fight every time,” she said. “Certainly I’ve been like sometimes the expectations that I have or that other people might have, I’m not quite living up to that. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like I’m failing sometimes, even though this is still just an incredible season.”

There are two combined races left this season for Shiffrin to achieve the dream — Feb. 23 in Switzerland and March 1 in Italy. While combined — mixing a speed run and a technical run — might seem perfect for Shiffrin, she has one victory in four starts in the discipline between the World Cup and Olympics.

And Shiffrin is careful about her race schedule. She is undecided on entering a downhill and super-G next weekend at the 2014 Olympic venue in Russia.

“After this weekend my brain is a little bit dead,” she joked.

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