Simone Biles halfway to automatic Olympic berth at Trials; Gabby Douglas 7th

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Laurie Hernandez likes to joke that any gymnastics meet that includes three-time world champion Simone Biles is really just a race for second.

Hernandez is kidding, but not really.

For the last three years, there has been Biles and then everyone else. During the opening round of Olympic Trials on Friday night, “everyone else” drew as close to Biles as they have in a while, led by the electric 16-year-old Hernandez.

While Biles led the way as usual with a 61.850, Hernandez was just a point back at 60.850. The gap is sizable to be sure. It may even be insurmountable. Yet the fact Hernandez is in the same area code is a testament to her level of comfort on the biggest stage.

“You kind of have to act naive to it,” Hernandez said with a laugh. “This is just another meet. The arena is just bigger than usual.”

The stakes too.

While there were others — even Biles and defending Olympic champion Gabby Douglas — who had to tamp down the adrenaline or the mistakes (or both), Hernandez erased any lingering doubt about her readiness for Rio de Janeiro. Each of her scores on the four individual events ranked in the top five, including a beam routine that’s good enough to win Olympic gold on its own.

Heady territory for someone who turned 16 a month ago. Yet Hernandez seems to thrive on the pressure, pressure that ever so briefly seemed to get to Biles. The overwhelming favorite to win the all-around in Rio overshot her landing on vault and had to muscle her way through an awkward spin, a rare wobble during a skill coach Aimee Boorman said her star has been drilling “for weeks.”

Blame it on the adrenaline that comes with a spot on what could be the most loaded U.S. team in history on the line.

“What you saw was the adrenaline today,” Boorman said. “There were a lot of people that can’t reign in the adrenaline. I don’t think we need to change much of her gymnastics.”

Aly Raisman‘s continued her resurgence to the form she showed while winning three medals at the London Olympics while finishing third, followed by MyKayla Skinner in fourth.

National team coordinator Martha Karolyi is picking from an embarrassment of riches as she pieces together a squad that will head to Rio as the heavy favorite to win a second straight Olympic team gold. Karolyi, who is retiring after the games, said following the national championships last month that she already had five names in mind and doesn’t appear ready to break out an eraser just yet.

“The list is staying pretty solid,” Karolyi said. “Even with some mistakes here or there. We look for the potential and you look for the fact of what you see what the girls were able to do in the past also.”

Biles, Hernandez and Raisman appear to be in solid position while Douglas is still searching for the form that helped her win an eye-opening silver in the all-around to Biles at the world championships last fall. Douglas was only so-so at nationals and adjusted her coaching situation heading into Trials, with Christian Gallardo taking a more prominent role with less than a month to go before opening ceremonies.

Gallardo, who has served as Douglas’ co-coach along with Kittia Carpenter since Douglas moved to Buckeye Gymnastics in Columbus, Ohio two years ago, called the move a collective decision. Olympic rules only allow one personal coach on the event floor, and Douglas’ comfortability with Gallardo made the difference.

“We always thought it was a good idea, especially leading into trials,” Douglas said. “We do a lot of numbers and a lot of reps. He was always my coach in the gym and you can only have one coach on the floor. It just made sense.”

If there was any immediate impact on the decision, it didn’t show under the lights, a place where Douglas so often thrives. While Douglas was third on uneven bars, the event that first caught Karolyi’s eye five years ago, she was iffy elsewhere, her occasionally shaky night ending with a hop off the beam.

Douglas’ wobble may open the door for other candidates to slip into the group. Skinner put a strong 59.450, including top four scores on vault, beam and floor.

Madison Kocian and Ashton Locklear, who came into the trials as the leading candidate for the fifth spot, posted matching 15.750s on bars — the best of the night by far — with Kocian adding a steady 14.7 on balance beam.

There is no drama at the top, though there might be company for Biles.

The high-flying star hasn’t lost a meet since the summer of 2013 while cementing herself as the best gymnast of her generation. Though she’s still in a class by herself, she wasn’t quite as crisp as she was while winning her fourth national title in St. Louis two weeks ago. In a way, Biles is a victim of her own success. She’s separated herself from the rest of the world so completely that anything less than dominance seems like disappointment.

Biles, however, prefers not to look at it that way. She’s spent the better part of her life preparing for this moment. She’s not about to let it slip away. Yes she was a little amped on Friday. She’ll adjust.

“I feel like it’s a world selection camp except this one is a competition held publicly,” she said. “That’s fine. It’s like crickets out there (at selection camp). Here at least you have the crowd to pump it up. That’s what we train for.”

VIDEO: Why Gabby Douglas made coaching adjustment for Trials

Genzebe Dibaba, 1500m world record holder, to miss world championships

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Genzebe Dibaba, the 1500m world record holder, will miss the world track and field championships that start next week due to a right foot injury, according to her agency.

The Ethiopian Dibaba lowered the 1500m world record to 3:50.07 in 2015, then won the world title a month later. Kenyan Faith Kipyegon relegated her to silver at the Rio Olympics. Dibaba was last in the 12-woman final at the 2017 Worlds, then withdrew from the 5000m at that meet, citing illness.

Dibaba’s absence further opens the door for Americans Shelby Houlihan (second-fastest in the world last year) and Jenny Simpson, the Olympic bronze medalist and 2017 World silver medalist.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan is fastest in the world this year and broke the mile world record on July 12. Hassan has range from 800m through 10,000m, and it’s not guaranteed she will contest the 1500m in Doha starting with the first round Oct. 2.

The event is already lacking Caster Semenya, the two-time Olympic 800m champion who took bronze in her world 1500m debut in 2017. Semenya is excluded from races from 400m through the mile under the IAAF’s new rule capping testosterone in those events.

MORE: U.S. roster for track and field worlds

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How to watch, stream U.S. International Classic on NBC Sports Gold

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The U.S. International Figure Skating Classic gets underway in Salt Lake City, Utah this weekend and NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will be live streaming all of the action.

The event is the third stop of the ISU’s Challenger Series and often serves as a warm-up for Grand Prix events for skaters, which start in October.

The men’s field is headlined by world bronze medalist and 2018 Olympian Vincent Zhou, joined by the 2019 world junior bronze medalist in the ladies’ event, Ting Cui. Reigning U.S. pairs champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc will make their season debut in Salt Lake. And in ice dance, Four Continents gold medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates are slated to compete.

Check out the schedule below (all times Eastern):

Friday, Sept. 19

8:30 p.m.: Pairs’ short program (LINK)

10 p.m.: Men’s short program (LINK)

Saturday, Sept. 20

4:30 p.m.: Rhythm dance (LINK)

6:15 p.m.: Ladies’ short program (LINK)

8:35 p.m.: Pairs’ short program (LINK)

10:30 p.m.: Men’s free skate (LINK)

Sunday, Sept. 21

6:25 p.m.: Free dance (LINK)

8:15 p.m.: Ladies’ free skate (LINK)

MORE: Vincent Zhou to attend Brown University, details new skating situation

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.

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