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Simone Biles’ first day of dance training leaves her in pain

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Laurie Hernandez gave Simone Biles one key piece of advice for “Dancing with the Stars.”

Take care of your feet.

Biles won’t forget that after leaving with blisters following her first practice with partner Sasha Farber on Thursday.

“My feet are like torn up,” the four-time 2016 Olympic gymnastics champion said Friday from Texas, where she was participating in Kellogg’s Buckets for Breakfast Challenge to raise money and awareness to end child hunger.

Biles is rehearsing for “Dancing with the Stars” near her Texas home for now, but plans to shift to Los Angeles soon. Hopefully, by then, the foot problems will be behind her.

For Biles’ first session, Farber said he would re-teach her “how to walk like a baby.”

“I was like, yeah, right, but that’s literally what we did,” Biles said. “We spent 15 minutes walking across the dance room. I was like, is this for real? Like, real life? But it’s a different technique and different style, so it’s a little bit harder.”

Biles’ feet started hurting before the practice ended, but she chose not to tell Farber.

“Tell Sasha,” Biles said Hernandez advised her, “and then wear tennis shoes the rest of the practice. If not, your feet will hurt the next day, and it’s just going to get worse.”

It marked a rare misstep for Biles, who is on a break from gymnastics this year after training in that sport since age 6. All four of the previous gymnasts on “Dancing with the Stars” finished in the top four, including winners Shawn Johnson and Hernandez.

Biles said she was invited to compete on the show last summer but had already committed to a nationwide USA Gymnastics post-Olympic tour. Unlike Hernandez, Biles said she couldn’t juggle both sets of shows.

Biles knew that after the gymnastics tour ended, she would tuck away her skills for all of 2017. She needed a rest, and that thought was reinforced by what happened with about eight or nine shows left.

At one tour stop, Biles felt her midsection crack while performing her eponymous skill on floor exercise, the Biles, or a double layout with a half-twist.

“I couldn’t breathe for a second. It knocked the wind out of me,” Biles said. “I was like, oh my god, it really hurt, but we were in the ending number. It’s like a five-minute number. So I had to keep going because I had like three more tumbling passes left. … But I knew something was really wrong.”

Biles said she visited medical personnel after the routine and was told she might have popped a rib out of place. She could barely walk or talk without it hurting. Still, she decided to finish out the tour without watering down her routines.

Biles said she “could barely move” after shows. After the tour ended, she remembered telling her mom in an airport, “I’m not being dramatic, but I think my rib is broken.”

Once home, she saw a doctor who confirmed the suspicion. It was healing fine, as Biles saw the doctor 2 1/2 weeks after she broke it. But she was told not do gymnastics while it finished healing.

Not a problem, as Biles had already said she wouldn’t compete in a meet in 2017.

She has shifted focus to the dance floor. The pain has moved, too, with the rib healed but the feet feeling on fire. Biles, who was home-schooled, has never danced with a guy before.

“I was actually weirded out how I wasn’t as nervous for the first rehearsal as I thought I would be,” Biles said. “I’m sure there will be some awkward moments … But we’re used to performing. So I don’t think that will change too much. It’s a different kind of performance. And we know how to handle our nerves, so that should be OK, too.”

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Chock, Bates charge to second U.S. title; Hubbell, Donohue charge the wrong way

Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Evan Bates, who had just won his second U.S. ice dance title with partner Madison Chock, put it best.

“Ice dance is a strange sport in some ways,” he said.

Chock and Bates have had their share of unusual mishaps in their near 10-year career, but on Saturday night at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, everything was smooth sailing.

The couple’s exotic “Egyptian Snake Dance” free dance went off without a hitch, gaining the highest possible levels for nearly all of its elements and impressing judges with its intricacy, synchronization and striking lifts. It earned 134.23 points, giving the Montreal-based team the win with 221.86.

“It was (our coach Marie-France Dubreuil’s) idea for me to be a snake, and Evan a traveler who finds me,” Chock said of the routine. “It was just such a fun process, cool new characters for us to dive into, and we’ve really been enjoying it. It shows when we skate.”

Greensboro has been lucky for the skaters, who teamed up in 2011; they won their first U.S. title here in 2015. The five-year title gap is the longest in history for U.S. ice dance champions.

“It feels longer than five years,” Chock said with a breezy laugh. “It feels so much has changed, and in us as people as well (as dancers). We’re in a very good place, we could not be happier with the way the season has been going.”

If Chock’s humor was lighthearted, Madison Hubbell’s can only be described grim.

Hubbell and her partner, Zach Donohue, trailed their long-time rivals and Montreal training partners by about 1.3 points following Friday’s rhythm dance. A stellar outing of their Star is Born free dance might have won a third consecutive U.S. title; instead, it became a living nightmare.

“Out of the first element, the dance spin, we got turned around somehow and came out the wrong direction,” Hubbell said. “The next four elements, which are pretty valuable elements, all were facing the wrong direction.”

(Video available here for NBC Sports Gold subscribers; Hubbell and Donohue skate at the 1:06:50 mark.)

Not until their fifth element, a step sequence, did the skaters get back on track. In between, there was a world of hurt, likely unnoticed by many members of the audience but readily apparent to the judges, who had seen the free dance in  practice.

“Our twizzle sequence, it’s a high-scoring element, is supposed to charge right at the judges, and today it charged away from them,” Hubbell said. “In the rotational life, there’s a large leg flare that looks very cool going the opposite direction, and today I just opened my crotch right in front of the judges.”

The score was far from disastrous; Hubbell and Donohue’s 130.88 points for their “wrong-way” free dance gave them 217.19 overall. But it was a missed opportunity to show judges, and fans, the improvements they had made to A Star Is Born since the Grand Prix Final in December.

“It was probably one of the hardest performances, and not the most enjoyable,” Hubbell said. “It was a really thoughtful focus on the elements, and somehow putting one portion of the brain aside to fix things as best we could.”

The silver medal was Hubbell and Donohue’s first. They also won bronze medals in 2012, and 2015-17.

Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, whose rhythm dance to Saturday Night Fever stole the show on Friday, felt their Flamenco-style free dance didn’t pack the same punch.

“Yesterday was such a high for us, in terms of (audience) reaction and performance, that tonight didn’t have the same euphoria when we finished,” Hawayek said. “Both Jean-Luc and I see the potential for it being much higher than what we were able to put out today.”

Despite the disappointment, the third team in the Montreal troika earned 118.57 points and won a second consecutive bronze medal with 201.16.

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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.

Coco Gauff eliminated from Australian Open by Sofia Kenin

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Coco Gauff‘s run at the Australian Open ended in the round of 16, foiled by fellow American Sofia Kenin on Sunday.

Kenin ousted the 15-year-old phenom 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Gauff, too, was bidding for her first major quarterfinal after a sterling seven months ignited by her march to the Wimbledon fourth round.

Gauff, ranked No. 684 this time last year, will near the top 50 after the Australian Open. She beat Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and took out defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka in the third round on Friday.

Gauff’s play catapulted her to fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying, but she has half the points as fourth-place Madison Keys, and a country can’t qualify more than four players in singles. The Olympic field will be determined by the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

The 14th seed Kenin, who beat Serena Williams in the 2019 French Open third round, ranks second behind Williams in U.S. Olympic qualifying. She will face No. 27 Wang Qiang or Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals.

Kenin and Alison Riske are the two remaining U.S. women in the draw.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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