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Commonwealth Games set to start with 11-year-old among the athletes

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An 11-year-old table tennis player is one of some 5,000 athletes set to compete at the Commonwealth Games, which open this week in Gold Coast, Australia.

Anna Hursey of Wales could be the youngest competitor in the history of the games, a stat that has gone unconfirmed with records from the earliest editions in the 1930s reportedly incomplete.

The Commonwealth Games are the biggest summer multi-sport competition outside of the Olympics, held every four years. The Opening Ceremony is Wednesday. The Closing Ceremony is April 15.

The U.S. is not part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Instead, the notable delegations competing in Gold Coast are host Australia, Canada, Jamaica, South Africa and those that make up Great Britain at the Olympics, led by England.

Most of the sports are also in the Olympics, but some are not, such as lawn bowls.

Usain Bolt competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. The Gold Coast edition is headlined by Olympic champions Elaine Thompson and Caster Semenya in track and field, Chad le Clos and Adam Peaty in swimming and Max Whitlock in gymnastics.

Then there is Hursey, the 11-year-old table tennis prodigy from Cardiff with a website and YouTube channel.

Hursey, whose parents reportedly met in the table tennis hotbed of China, started playing when she was 4 or 5 and advanced after receiving coaching in China on a trip with her mother. Her father, Larry, used to play the sport.

The table was nearly the height of her shoulders when she started, evidenced by the YouTube channel, which has separate highlights of Hursey playing at ages 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10.

By 2015, the BBC started covering Hursey. A coach told the network that at age 9, she had probably beaten everyone in the under-18 division in Wales.

“Those people [are] not her target,” her mom, Xiuli Zhang, told the BBC in 2016. “Asian countries, those players should be her target. If she can beat them, she probably can be one of the best.”

Hursey made her senior international debut for Wales last year, winning four of six matches in a lower division at the European Championships. She is No. 568 in the senior world rankings and third in Wales. She’s No. 20 in the world under-15 age rankings.

The youngest recorded Olympian was Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras, who competed at the first modern Games in Athens in 1896 at age 10.

Hursey will be 14 come Tokyo 2020, but it appears unlikely she will be there as a competitor. Not only are there two women in Wales ranked ahead of her, but also four women from England. Plus, Great Britain last fielded a female Olympic table tennis player in 1996, aside from when it hosted at London 2012.

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Simone Biles, her name sparkling, extends 6-year win streak

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Simone Biles has long stood out for her gymnastics, but on Saturday she competed with her last name sparkling in silver beads on her World Champions Centre leotard for the first time. The gym’s other athletes had “WCC” on the back.

Biles lived up to the billing, extending her six-year win streak to 19 straight all-arounds, capturing the U.S. Classic, a tune-up for next month’s U.S. Championships.

Biles, the four-time Rio Olympic champion, scored 60 points in Louisville at the meet where she made her comeback last year after nearly two years off from competition. She prevailed by a comfortable 2.1 points over Riley McCusker, her largest margin of victory of her four U.S. Classic titles.

“I’m very satisfied,” she said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’m a little sad that I went out of bounds on floor [exercise], but overall I feel like there are improvements to be made.”

Full results are here.

Biles is prepping for nationals in Kansas City in three weeks, when she eyes a sixth U.S. all-around title to tie Clara Schroth Lomady‘s record from the AAU era in the 1940s and ’50s.

Then come the world championships in October in Stuttgart, Germany. Biles could win a fifth all-around to move one shy of Kohei Uchimura‘s record.

The world’s other top gymnasts may be her countrywomen.

Biles was outscored on balance beam on Saturday by 2018 World teammates Kara Eaker and McCusker and beaten on uneven bars by 2017 World all-around champion Morgan HurdSunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and McCusker. Biles swept all the gold medals at last year’s nationals.

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Geraint Thomas struggles; Julian Alaphilippe ups Tour de France lead

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LA MONGIE, France (AP) — When the team of Geraint Thomas was in its pomp at the Tour de France, a time trial followed by a big mountain stage would have been playgrounds for Sky — now in new colors as Ineos — to take cycling’s greatest race by the scruff of the neck and leave everyone else fighting for second place.

Not this year.

Thomas, the defending champion, cracked on Saturday on the Tour’s first encounter with a climb to above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), exposing unprecedented weaknesses in his team that has won six Tours in the past seven years.

The time trial on Friday and the climb up to the legendary Tourmalet pass on Saturday seemed primed for Thomas to reel in Julian Alaphilippe, the yellow jersey-holder from France who is setting the Tour alight with his punchy riding and determination to keep the race lead, filling French fans’ heads with dreams of a first homegrown winner since 1985.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

But instead, Thomas has seen Alaphilippe only get further and further away. In two days, the Frenchman has put 50 seconds of extra daylight between him and the Welshman. His lead — up to 2 minutes, 2 seconds — is becoming large enough to start realistically envisioning Alaphilippe in yellow in Paris next weekend as the first French winner since Bernard Hinault.

Fueling the ecstasy of delirious crowds that lined Saturday’s steep uphill finish, French rider Thibaut Pinot won Stage 14, putting him back in the picture to fight for the podium after he lost mountains of time on Stage 10.

Thomas rightly pointed out that the Tour is far from done, with six more ascents to above 2,000 meters still to come.

But his inability to stay with Pinot, Alaphilippe and other title contenders at the top of the Tourmalet — he was eighth, 36 seconds behind Pinot — was a mini-earthquake for the Tour dominated by his British team since 2012 — with champions Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and, in 2018, Thomas.

“Not the best day. I just didn’t feel quite on it from the start. I was quite weak,” Thomas said.

“At the end I knew I just had to pace it. I didn’t really attempt to follow when they kicked. I just thought I should ride my own pace rather than follow them and blow up on the steepest bit at the end. It’s disappointing. I just tried to limit the damage.”

Having taken cycling to a new level since 2012 with its vast budget and attention to the minutest of details, the team run by David Brailsford has been hit both by misfortune and by the inevitability that, eventually, other teams would start to close the gap.

A horror crash in training for four-time winner Froome, now recovering from career-threatening broken bones, robbed the team of its ace. Thomas’ own preparations were hampered by a crash at the Tour of Switzerland last month.

And Egan Bernal, being groomed by Brailsford to succeed Froome and Thomas, looks increasingly unable to compete for the title this year. Bernal was fifth on the Tourmalet and is fourth overall, 3 minutes behind Alaphilippe.

Pinot, now sixth overall and 3:12 behind Alaphilippe, is showing remarkable grit in bouncing back from his Stage 10 misfortune, when he was part of a group that got separated from other title contenders in crosswinds.

“I have this rage inside me, because in my opinion it was an injustice,” said Pinot, a podium finisher in 2014.

“Since the start of the Tour I had this stage in the back of my mind. The Tourmalet, it’s mythical,” said Pinot, who has three career stage wins at the Tour.

French President Emmanuel Macron, on hand at the top of the Tourmalet to see Pinot win and Alaphilippe extend his lead, gushed about the “two fantastic riders.”

“They attack and they have heart,” Macron said.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

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