Simone Biles, Sasha Farber
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Simone Biles steps into ‘Dancing with the Stars’ as favorite

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Simone Biles is a clear favorite of 12 celebrities on this season’s “Dancing with the Stars,” starting Monday, to lift the Mirrorball Trophy later this spring.

All four Olympic gymnasts who have competed in the ABC show’s 23-season history have finished in the top four.

Two were crowned champions — Shawn Johnson in 2009 and Laurie Hernandez just last year. Johnson and Hernandez, as teens, were the youngest champions in show history.

But there are factors working against Biles.

Biles, who turned 20 years old on Tuesday, is paired with Russian-born Australian professional dancer Sasha Farber, who has never made the top four in four show appearances.

Biles also admits her lack of dance experience. The Texan emphasized that she never danced with a man before Farber (though she did get pretty close with singer Jake Miller in a music video last year).

Early training for the show has not been kind to the 4-foot-9 Biles’ feet.

“I want to learn how to dance,” Biles said after being announced as a cast member March 1. “I’m so nervous, because you have to get out of your comfort zone.”

In competing, Biles knows little else than winning. She hasn’t been beaten in an all-around competition in nearly four years. But Farber doesn’t want to make this contest about results.

“We set one goal, and that’s to make sure we have a good time,” he said.

Olympians as a whole tend to perform well on the show — see winners Apolo Anton OhnoKristi Yamaguchi and Meryl Davis.

And Biles is not the only Olympian competing this season.

Enter Nancy Kerrigan, the 1992 and 1994 Olympic medalist best known for being attacked by a man hired by rival Tonya Harding‘s ex-husband at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Kerrigan has largely been out of the public eye in the last 20 years — she said she preferred it that way — making her inclusion on “Dancing with the Stars” a shock.

All previous figure skaters on the show finished in the top five (save Dorothy Hamill, who withdrew during season 16 in 2003 due to a back injury).

But Kerrigan is 47, more than 10 years older than the previous figure skaters to finish so high. Only two celebrities older than Kerrigan have won the Mirrorball Trophy — actors Donny Osmond and Jennifer Grey.

Like Biles, Kerrigan expressed nervousness.

“Because of skating, it’s prepared [me] in that I know how to move my body,” said Kerrigan, a mother of three paired with Russian-born Artem Chigvintsev. “Not necessarily in the ballroom, because the positions and things are very different, but I can follow direction and, as an athlete, have been told what to do my whole life. And then do it. As a skater, we perform to music. That may help me to feel the music.”

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MORE: Biles in pain after first day of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ training

A list of Olympians (and one Paralympian) to compete on Dancing with the Stars:

Season 1 — Evander Holyfield (1984, boxing)
Season 4 — Apolo Ohno (2002-2010, short track speed skating) — WINNER, Clyde Drexler (1992, basketball)
Season 5 — Floyd Mayweather Jr. (1996, boxing)
Season 6 — Kristi Yamaguchi (1992, figure skating) — WINNER, Monica Seles (1996-2000, tennis)
Season 7 — Maurice Greene (2000-2004, track and field), Misty May-Treanor (2000-2012, volleyball)
Season 8 — Shawn Johnson (2008, gymnastics) — WINNER
Season 9 — Louie Vito (2010, snowboarding), Natalie Coughlin (2004-2012, swimming)
Season 10 — Evan Lysacek (2006-2010, figure skating)
Season 12 — Sugar Ray Leonard (1976, boxing)
Season 13 — Hope Solo (2004-2016, soccer)
Season 14 — Martina Navratilova (2004, tennis)
Season 15 — Shawn Johnson, Apolo Ohno
Season 16 — Dorothy Hamill (1976, figure skating), Aly Raisman (2012-2016, gymnastics)
Season 18 — Meryl Davis (2010-2014, figure skating) — WINNER, Charlie White (2010-2014, figure skating), Amy Purdy (2014, snowboarding)
Season 19 — Lolo Jones (2008, 2012, 2014, track and field/bobsled)
Season 20 — Nastia Liukin (2008, gymnastics)
Season 23 — Laurie Hernandez (2016, gymnastics) — WINNER, Ryan Lochte (2004-2016, swimming)
Season 24 — Simone Biles (2016, gymnastics), Nancy Kerrigan (1992-94, figure skating)

With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

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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Maddie Bowman, first Olympic ski halfpipe champion, ends competitive career

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Maddie Bowman knows she has been very fortunate. She just turned 26 years old and has already accomplished everything she wanted in her sport, halfpipe skiing.

Bowman, who won the event’s Olympic debut in Sochi in 2014, recently decided to retire from competition.

“I’ve really given the sport everything I could that was positive, and I knew the sport would be in great hands when I walked away,” she said. “So I decided it was my time to be done.

“I just felt like I couldn’t give anything else to the sport because I was a little bit afraid [of injury], but also it’s mentally exhausting. It drained my mental health for sure, but I loved doing it, and I still love skiing. Competition just isn’t for me anymore.”

The decision weighed on the South Lake Tahoe native last season. She competed at the Winter X Games for the last time, taking fifth place. She earned medals each of the previous seven years, including five golds, despite undergoing two major knee surgeries in that span.

“I was thinking [last year] that this is really hard, and I don’t know if I want to keep doing this,” she said. “It was really hard for me to get into the right mental state again. It’s painful. My knees hurt, but I was torn. I was torn between wanting to walk away and the love I had for the people I was around, people I competed against and just the lifestyle. I worked really hard on opening up other doors for myself besides skiing, which is making my transition a lot smoother.”

Those opportunities include activism, spreading awareness around climate change for Protect Our Winters. Bowman wants to finish her college degree and teach high school biology and health. She aims to continue public speaking regarding motivational talks and mental health.

Bowman struggled with depression between the Sochi and PyeongChang Olympics. She is equally proud of her second Olympic performance — finishing 11th in South Korea — as her landmark gold medal in Russia. While in PyeongChang, she believed it would likely be her last Olympics.

“I had doubts if I would even make it to PyeongChang, and making it there was one of my huge accomplishments,” Bowman said. “It was such a special event. Even though I only got 11th, I skied my freakin’ heart out. I gave it everything I had.”

Bowman, the daughter of two former professional skiers, took gold in Sochi as the youngest finalist. She landed back-to-back 900s for the first time in her career (by accident after having to improvise her opening run). She did so in front of family that included 78-year-old Lorna Perpall, who wore a T-shirt that read “badass grandma.”

Afterward, Bowman spoke about friend Sarah Burke, the Canadian ski halfpipe pioneer who died after a training accident in 2012.

“It means so much for us to be able to show the world what our sport is,” Bowman said that night in Russia. “She’s here with us.

“I sure hope I, and everyone else, made her proud because we would not be here without her.”

Bowman has her own place in history. No matter how long ski halfpipe is in the Olympics, she will always be the first woman to earn gold.

“I know as our sport gets more solidified into the Olympic Games, it can become pretty national, cutthroat and competitive,” she said. “I would love to see it stay this free-spirited work of art, something beautiful like that.”

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MORE: Torah Bright, Olympic champion, no longer competing in halfpipe